SEI Anonymity Woes?
The Reflector sits down with SAMRU VP Academic David Cloutier to answer all of your ‘student evaluation of instruction’ questions
Tatianna Ducklow, Contributor
Reflector: How important are the SEI’s for the development of Mount Royal?
David Cloutier: They’re incredibly important for faculty and so they provide feedback, they provide a very unique perspective. Faculty obviously have a lot of inputs in terms of their teaching and learning but I think students are the one group demographic that can really speak to their experience in the classroom as a learner and so they’re very important. They’re actually mandated by the Alberta government so instructors have to take or as a university we have to deliver SEIs but in terms of the feedback […] I think the most important feedback they provide is directly for instructors in terms of formative development and in terms of a really critical voice and sort of their primary focus has to be their students, so let’s hear from the students who can provide feedback on how to be a better teacher.
Reflector: So how much of the student body is currently actually filling in the SEIs?
Cloutier: I don’t actually know how many students, what I can tell you is we had around a 60 per cent response rate to SEIs for last semester. When we switched to online we definitely saw a slight decrease in SEI response rates but they are better than they have been historically, and we have some faculties that achieved 90 per cent response rates. So they sort of vary across the institution, some of them are really low, but as an institution I think 59 per cent is the number of SEIs being responded to right now.
Reflector: Why did they end up switching from the paper system to the online system?
Cloutier: Primarily our provost had identified cost saving as the reason to transition into electronic SEIs, but they also afforded some additional opportunities in terms of customization. Being able to target more specific questions, being able to adapt the instrument more easily, […] I think one of the big advantages of online SEIs was (to) analyze institutional data, and so eventually we will get to a point where we can track trends across the university instead of just the paper format which has been obviously a little more difficult to manage in terms of getting things back to people.
Reflector: Do you find students now are more willing than before to fill them in, because before when it was during class time they didn’t have to take time out of their own day to do it?
Cloutier: You know I think that the paper versions were sort of a proxy for attendance in classes, so if you had a 70 per cent paper response rate then that was correlated with having 70 per cent of your students attending, versus now I think there are two things that we can focus on. One is making sure students know about it and they still have time to complete it. The time to complete the instrument is very important. So in the Department of Education for instance, the chair of that program went around to every class and talked about SEIs and gave the students time to fill in the SEIs and they had a 90 per cent response rate, which is obviously even higher than it was with the paper versions because the attendance wasn’t that high with paper. So if you’re willing to put in the time and willing to still have students do that then you’ll get those higher response rates because they’re going to capture the students that are there but they’re also going to capture the students, well some, of the students that are not showing up to class that can still fill out the online link.
Reflector: You said the Faculty of Education had that higher response rate, what do you think the rest of the faculties need to do to get it up there?
Cloutier: I think there’s a really great opportunity and were still working as the task force to figure out what the best way is to sort of proctor them. Last semester we had a video, we didn’t find that a lot of people were accessing or using the video, so this semester what we did was we prepared a script that a student in a class can read out to their classmates and then their classmates have the opportunity to fill out the SEI at that point in time.
Reflector: There has been a lot of concern whether they are anonymous still. Could you clarify if they are anonymous or confidential or what they actually are?
Cloutier: They are branded now as confidential. Confidential but not anonymous is what we’ve branded them as. The old ones by virtue of being paper forms were automatically confidential and anonymous because short of having forensic scientists come in it would be really difficult to track them back to a student. With the electronic SEIs for the time being, for last semester and this semester, they are effectively confidential and anonymous because we have not developed a process to look into further comments that are potentially challenging or troubling for instructors. So for last semester and this semester even though we’ve said they’re only confidential they are still anonymous for this semester and that’s just by virtue of the fact that we don’t actually have a conduct process that’s compatible with dealing with these types of potentially inappropriate comments, so we have not developed that.
Reflector: When we put in our student ID and password, it is associated with you as a student so I think this is where people are getting confused.
Cloutier: So the Office of Institutional Analysis and Planning (OIAP) can theoretically track comment back to a student, but they will not do that right now because we have not defined that to students. We have not made to students available a definition of the process, we’ve promised the confidentiality, so were upholding that promise of confidentiality to students. What that means is not revealing the comments, the students name to right now to anyone, in the future that could change, in the future that probably will change to an educative process. For this semester and last semester, they’re effectively anonymous and confidential even though technically the software has a tieback to your username.
Reflector: Online it says that it manages the information and who has access to this, does that mean if there was a troubling comment a teacher or professor could go back and find it?
Cloutier: Absolutely not. And that will never be the case. What we’re dealing with on the task force for student evaluations of learning right now is building a process that I hope will be educative and if there were a comment that was perhaps racist or sexist that we can follow up with that student to talk to them about what they wrote sort of as a first time conversation around constructive comments. But at the end of the day their identity will never be revealed to their instructor and that’s regardless of any conduct processes that might come forward in the future. What’s been the challenge is in terms of any comments that are troubling that the office of student conduct at Mount Royal University, their process requires that the identity of both parties, the defendant and the plaintiff, both know each others identities. Which obviously isn’t compatible with the SEI instrument saying that responses are confidential. As we move forward we will develop a process that involves third parties, neutral third parties can deal with anything that’s particularly, identify whether a) something is challenging and then b) proceed to follow up with it accordingly.
Reflector: What if a student wanted to change their evaluation?
Cloutier: If students had put something inadvertently into their SEIs and realized later that it was inappropriate or that they probably shouldn’t have made those particular remarks. On a case by case basis they can reach out to the OIAP and have those comments pulled out of their SEI response, and there’s no official or formal process around that right now but if students had made a comment that again they later felt crossed the line then they would have the opportunity to pull that out. And we’re working with a way we might be able to do that a little more efficiently moving forward.