College reconsiders SOFI format

The college is reconsidering how it conducts the Student Opinion of Faculty Instruction evaluations and will likely be incorporating the surveys into the KnightWeb system by fall 2011.

"Essentially, we'll have more control over the SOFIs and the presentation of their data," said Julie Meyer Rao, Director of Institutional Research at Geneseo.

The SOFIs are an important tool used by the college to gauge faculty performance. Currently, the college contracts a third-party organization, Online Course Evaluations, to conduct and tabulate the SOFI results.

The college began using OCE four years ago in a switch from a system based on machine-readable paper known as Scantrons. Before then, forms were completed in classes and included space for written comments.

Since the switch to an online format, however, many faculty members have noted a decrease in both the quantity and quality of responses. James Bearden, chair of the Faculty Affairs Committee, noted specifically that the quality of student comments has declined sharply.

"It's possible that [the decline is] due to the lack of pressure students feel out of the classroom, or that they simply go through the entire forms faster," Bearden said.

While numerical results from the SOFIs are made public, comments are sent directly to professors and are then considered their property.

Faculty members have also expressed dissatisfaction with OCE. A committee of faculty members from five different academic departments formed to explore the idea of incorporating SOFIs into the KnightWeb system.

OCE has tried to increase student completion of SOFIs with giveaways such as iPods. The company has also suggested that professors encourage student participation by offering extra credit to those who fill out the SOFIs, an idea that has made some faculty members uncomfortable. "The faculty doesn't think that's a great idea," Bearden said.

Another attractive feature of switching to a campus-based system would be the reduction of costs incurred from hiring an outside firm to perform what Geneseo is already capable of doing.

According to Rao, the college intends to test the integration of SOFIs with Knightweb using one or two departments during the spring semester.