Student feedback system to be revised

Faculty union mandates the creation of a committee to revise the USAT system

Image by: Anna Maria Li
The USAT design will be revised by a joint Committee

In the last three weeks of every course, students fill out a feedback survey, the USAT, which they often never hear of again.

The University Survey of Student Assessment of Teaching (USAT) is used by the Registrar’s Office to gather student responses on courses and their instructors.

The Administration and Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA), which represents all faculty, librarians and archivists, have agreed to create a new joint committee that will revise the USAT process, with a deadline of June 30, 2016.

The USAT has a number of questions about the instructor and course. All USATs have four university-wide evaluation questions, up to seven department-chosen questions and up to 10 instructor-chosen questions, according to the Office of the University Registrar website.

Instructors receive the completed survey, including student comments. The survey is then scanned and compiled into an “easy-to-read graphical report” to be given to department heads or faculty deans.

Tyler Lively, the AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner and incoming AMS president, told The Journal that QUFA hasn’t released the reason behind the review because “the conversations are confidential as part of a bargaining process.” 

Both the AMS and Queen’s professors have expressed concerns that the USAT process lacks clarity and transparency, however.

Craig Walker, the director of the Queen’s School of Drama and Music, wrote in an email to the Journal that the aggregate report produces a general overview of the findings so that, “the impression is often of a general judgement of the ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ sort.”

Walker also said the design of the current USAT lacks clarity and that the “Neither Agree nor Disagree” category is confusing for students.

“In a case, for example, when students have not received grades back yet, a question about grades should only generate N/A, but frequently generates “Neither Agree nor Disagree” responses.”

He suggests that many students select this option when they mean N/A.

“That column should be marked “Ambivalent” but it seems that Queen’s students are not trusted to understand what that word means,” Walker wrote.

Walker added that the category, “Showed Sensitivity to those of Different Backgrounds”, is inherently problematic.

“If there is only one member of a given group who feels that they were not respected, what does it matter that everyone else in the class thought that everything was fine?” he wrote.

The comment section allotted to students to clarify and elaborate on their specific recommendations, suggestions, and concerns, remains privy to the instructor only.

The AMS has similar concerns as Walker about the USAT process.

“There is no obligation that the instructor read or address student feedback” in the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) Collective Agreement, Tyler Lively wrote in an email to The Journal.

In the event that negative complaints are received through the USAT, the instructors, department heads and deans themselves determine the course of action.

“There is no university-wide policies as to what must be done,” Lively wrote.

Lively described the process as “opaque”, adding that instructors must opt-in to release the results of the USAT to students.

“As a result, we cannot track USAT responses and significant course modifications over time,” he wrote.

The QUFA Collective Agreement was renewed this summer for August 21, 2015, to April 30, 2019.

On Jan. 25, 2016, Lynne Hanson, president of QUFA, signed a Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) — a mutual agreement calling for a change to portions of the Collective Agreement — to review teaching assessments.

The MOA states that both parties — the University and QUFA — agree to appoint a joint committee to review the current USAT design and provide recommendations to another committee known as the Joint Committee to Administer the Agreement (JCAA).

The Joint Committee is “comprised of both union and management representatives who work together to resolve ongoing issues with the application and administration of the Collective Agreement,” Hanson wrote in an email to the Journal.

Click here to see the full Memorandum Agreement.

The deadline for the Committee to provide its report and recommendations to the JCAA is June 30, 2016.



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