SOFI improvement, rather than elimination, necessary for accurate professor evaluation

On April 3, the Geneseo College Senate held a discussion to recommend to President Christopher Dahl that he not consider the data or comments of online Student Opinion of Faculty Instruction evaluations in the college’s assessment of instructors.

The Senate Faculty Affairs Committee felt that because many students do not actively participate in the SOFIs, the reviews do not provide an accurate assessment.

We feel that the evaluation of an instructor’s performance should rely heavily on student reviews. Their jobs are – after all – to teach, and the result of their teaching is student progress. To eliminate this process of review from an evaluation would be like “Top Chef’s” head judge Thomas Colicchio scoring a contestant without trying their pan-roasted venison. Something’s missing, right?

That does not mean, however, that the way in which the surveys are administered is perfect. It’s true that a majority of students do not participate, and for various reasons. The SOFIs are tedious and time consuming and they come around at a time when students don’t have time to spare to assess four, five or even six instructors.

It’s obvious that to increase student participation in the evaluations, necessary strides should be taken in order to achieve the highest confidence possible.

If instructors administer the surveys during class, student participation could soar. By setting aside a mere 15 minutes for students to work on SOFIs during class, an increased rate is guaranteed and it can be assumed that students will put more thought into questions and responses as they won’t feel pressure to focus on school work and other demands.

The style of questions in the SOFIs also calls for a change. As it stands, the open-ended questions like, “Approximately how many hours do you dedicate to this class?” are not conducive to an accurate evaluation and comprehension of the instructor’s development and success within a class. Instead, questions should be a mix of the student’s perception of class curriculum and the presentation of that material.

Questions should also vary depending on academic departments. That is to say, the evaluation of an instructor in the math department should not have the exact same questions as that of a member of the English department. Although they are both “instructors,” to say that they have the same job and role in a student’s development is not accurate.

Whether administered online or on paper, the SOFIs are vital in the college’s assessment of an instructor and are necessary to allow students to share their opinions. While no solution to the proposed problem is perfect, to eliminate the SOFI evaluations without a replacement would be counterintuitive and the decision would point us in the wrong direction.