College moves to online SOFIs to streamline faculty evaluation

GENESEO, N.Y. - This semester, for the first time, Geneseo students will complete their Student Opinion of Faculty Instruction (SOFI) forms online.

Geneseo has been using some form of faculty evaluation for at least the last 30 years. The most recent version, the SOFI, is administered at the conclusion of every semester. It is intended to provide a forum for student feedback and evaluation of professors.

The online SOFI evaluation system was piloted during the Spring 2006 semester with all students enrolled in psychology classes or astronomy labs. These students filled out both the online form and the traditional paper format. The pilot sample was composed of about 1800 students.

The idea to reformat the SOFIs online was first introduced to the Provost Katherine Conway-Turner about three years ago. She spoke with students, in particular those on the Student Affairs Committee, who were worried about anonymity, and also wanted quicker feedback. In addition, Turner noted some faculty also saw room for improvement. "Some faculty did not like the time it takes out of class and the time it took to get the evaluation back."

In past years, the paper SOFIs have resulted in about 25,000 to 27,000 forms a semester that needed to be sorted through. Although she stressed it was not a motivating factor to move the form online, Turner noted that the online system is "much less costly" than paper.

In charge of managing the transition process was Catherine Renner, director of institutional research at Geneseo. She managed many of the evaluations with the Online Course Evaluations sector of Gap Technologies, a Buffalo-based company contracted to format and upload the SOFI online form. "The company has been incredibly responsive. We have had no obstacles at all," Renner noted.

Statistical analysis has shown little to no difference within the piloted online SOFI results compared to paper results. Overall, most students and faculty questioned about the SOFIs felt there was little difference in the responses and evaluation when it was moved online. Participation in the piloted sample was slightly greater than the paper turnout, but not by any statistical significance.

Turner noted that some faculty raised concerns that the response rate might reduce if SOFIs were moved online. Although she has chosen to keep the SOFI evaluation voluntary, she said, "If participation does drop, I will work to resolve that. I don't see it as a concern based on the pilot."

To keep the response rate high, Renner is working hard to make the student body aware of the new transition. There are currently 100 pink signs throughout the academic buildings announcing the switch. "At this point, my biggest concern is that students check their Geneseo e-mail." Students were notified via Webmail of the change. No student will be able to complete a SOFI after Dec. 12 for the Fall 2006 semester.

When considering potential improvements to the SOFI system, Turner said she turned to what other schools were doing regarding faculty evaluation. "Many were moving online," she said. "Today's student is so comfortable with technology. My own college-age daughters won't travel anywhere without three important pieces of technology - a computer, a cell-phone and an iPod," she added. Online evaluations also have the benefit of a quicker turnaround and increased anonymity, especially for students in smaller classes.

"The most important thing is getting the word out," she added.