Students question opinion surveys

Leo Costello, Columnist

Every student at UW Oshkosh is required to fill out a Student Opinion Survey for their classes each semester to evaluate their instructors. However, the student body as a whole seems to be uncertain of who gets to see the results of these surveys or how effective they are at shaping instructor performances.

“We don’t know where they go and who actually sees them afterwards and what kind of help they actually do,” sophomore Shea Fabel said.

According to UWO’s Academic Affairs website, the SOS was first developed in 1987 with the need for an “All-University approach for surveying students.” UWO faculty seem to be the only ones allowed to see the results.

At the end of the semester, instructors are given a document summarizing their SOS results and optional write-in responses. The document also compares instructors’ score averages to their department’s average as well as the average to the entire University.

Geography professor Laura Carnahan said the results are mainly used to help professors make changes to their teaching strategy and serve as documentation to help get a promotion. She said she looks forward to her SOS results at the end of each semester.

“I like to get the feedback because I take that feedback, and I use it to make appropriate changes,” she said.

According to Carnahan, department heads get to decide whether or not their department uses any forms other than the required 18-question form. In the geography department, students are also given a chance to write in how they feel about their professor, which Carnahan said she appreciates.

“You can see how you rate on a scale of 1-5, but that’s not always as beneficial as having actual comments,” she said.

When a student wrote a comment about how Carnahan should include review guides for her exams, she said she began providing students with detailed note sheets for her lectures.

Other instructors on campus aren’t so fond of the SOS, including journalism professor Miles Maguire, who said he takes the results with a grain of salt.

“I think there’s an emotional quality to it,” he said. “If you go into a classroom and you feel very comfortable in that classroom, you’re likely to say, ‘This is a good instructor,’ but the learning process often involves painful reassessment of where you are and growth.”

Some specific questions in the SOS may not be relevant for a certain classes, skewing a professor’s results. In Maguire’s case, he said he often gets low marks for whether or not he is open to diverse opinions in his editing class since it naturally has strict rules students need to follow.

“Why would I be open to diverse opinions about whether there should be a comma there or not when the Stylebook says no comma?” he said.

From a survey of about 30 UWO students, there’s not a clear consensus over whether or not they think SOSs are useful and effective.

“I like having the chance to evaluate my professors, but I also think that the questions aren’t very in depth,” junior Hayley Zubke said.

Most students agree with Zubke in that all SOSs should have a section for students to write down their own comments.

Freshman Nicholas Cerro said he doesn’t believe the SOSs are a great way to determine a professor’s effectiveness because everyone learns in different ways; however, he still takes his time to fill them out thoughtfully.

“I take it seriously because I feel like it has impact on them,” he said. “There’s no need for me to give false information that affects a person’s career.”

Most students seem to take the SOS seriously and think it would be beneficial if they had access to the results.

“I look at and that’s not always the best thing because everyone on there has extreme opinions but everybody in class is taking that survey, so it would be good information to have,” sophomore Matthew Bennett said.

Carnahan said that though SOS results could be beneficial to students to see, it could complicate some things.

“We’ve all been in the place where we’re teaching the course for the first time, and our scores are a little bit lower because we’re still figuring things out in that course,” she said.

According to Maguire, students once had access to SOS results and could look at them at Polk Library. He, along with many students, would like to bring that back.

Maguire also said that the SOS has changed a lot over his time at UWO and the University now seems to rely on them more. Perhaps a more transparent approach to how the results from these surveys are used would help give students confidence that filling them out is worthwhile.

“I try to take them as seriously as I can, but I just don’t see any results coming out of it,” sophomore Samantha Cowan said.