Faculty pushes SOFIs, students apathetic

As finals approach, students will have the opportunity to evaluate professors they have loved or loathed for the last semester through the student opinion of faculty instruction surveys.

The current version of the SOFIs, available to students at each semester's end, has been used since fall 1995, although in 2006 the college switched from a paper and pencil version to online polling.

According to Provost Katherine Conway-Turner, SOFIs serve three important purposes: Faculty members receive their average scores and students' comments in order to evaluate the effectiveness of their courses and establish possible changes; the college uses SOFI averages when evaluating faculty for tenure and term renewal; and finally, students can access past SOFI results online at go.geneseo.edu/sofi when deciding which professors and courses they want to take.

All SOFI evaluations are confidential, and faculty members do not gain access to evaluations until after final grades have been given to assure grade neutrality from both students and professors.

Director of Institutional Research Julie Meyer Rao explained that the SOFIS are also turned off once course grades are made available. "We don't want students' grades to affect their rating of the professor."

When the proposal for the online SOFI came up, a suggestion was made to mandate SOFI participation as a part of the finals process. Conway-Turner chose not to implement this change, but according to Rao, the response rates have steadily declined since the first semester the online survey was offered.

Conway-Turner said she hopes that students recognize the importance of completing the SOFIs.

"To me, it is an important process for students to take seriously and to be involved in," she said. "How else can faculty members understand how students feel about their classes unless they provide feedback on the SOFIs?" She also pointed out that SOFI results provide "a more holistic look at faculty members" than the polar extremes of a Web site like RateMyProfessors.com.

Sophomore Nicole Mershimer said she fills out the SOFIs but is not sure that they are actually used by faculty members. "Some professors say they use them to reformat their syllabus, but I think most professors have a way they like to do things and stick to that," she said.

"At the end of the semester, I just don't have time," said sophomore Victoria Degregorio, who has never filled out the SOFIs.

"I don't really know how they use them, but in theory they're a good idea," said sophomore Catherine Martini. "I think students know what is fair, so if they think a class was a little tough professors can look at that and maybe tweak the syllabus. I think there are professors who do."

Once SOFIs are available, students will receive an e-mail notification, as well as reminders every few days. "I would like students to see it as their last responsibility as they finish a class to provide feedback for every course, every time, every semester," said Conway-Turner.

Rao hopes to encourage participation by making this semester's SOFIs available as early as Thanksgiving break and publicizing the SOFIs more.

"If you want to stop getting reminder e-mails from me, do your SOFIs!" she said.