UI TIER: New Online Course Evaluation Tool Saves Departments Time, Money

The University of Iowa College of Engineering has operated its course evaluations online for about 15 years.

But, when the person who managed the course evaluation survey software decided to retire last year, administrators knew it was time to find a commercial solution.

And when Keri Hornbuckle, professor and associate dean of academic programs for the College of Engineering, heard about a TIER initiative aimed at rolling out a new online course-evaluation tool across campus, she thought her college would make an excellent pilot.

“This project created an opportunity for us to solve the problem,” Hornbuckle says. “We didn’t have a person lined up to take on this big task for our college, and we certainly didn’t want to go back to paper course evaluations in the interim.”

The Application Portfolio Management Project aims to consolidate the university’s application portfolio by identifying business needs and priorities and eliminating redundancy. A large part of the project, which is one of the 16 OneIT@Iowa initiatives, is devoted to getting departments and colleges across campus to adopt a streamlined course-evaluation system called ACE Online.

ACE Online, or “Assessing the Classroom Environment,” allows students to complete course-evaluation forms on any computer or mobile device, as opposed to a printed course-evaluation form.

In addition to eliminating paper waste and expense, ACE Online is customizable, which makes changing questions easy for faculty. Its digital nature also provides immediate results that allow faculty to see how many students are responding in real time. The tool is forecast to save the university $350,000.

“Our faculty had long discussed what questions to ask and how the surveys were to be handled,” Hornbuckle says. “We had a protocol for who had access to the results and how and when the evaluations were to be administered, and ITS worked closely with us to make sure the new system would be consistent with the policies we had already agreed upon.”

Throughout the process, Hornbuckle says she worked closely with IT support consultant Aaron Elam to develop a questionnaire that was completely consistent with what engineering faculty had agreed would be on the evaluation.

After a pilot in spring 2015, the College of Engineering implemented the ACE Online tool for all faculty.

“It went really well. We learned a lot and used it again in our summer courses, and now we are in the process of helping faculty understand how to incentivize it, so there’s been a lot of discussion about best practices for encouraging students to complete the survey,” Hornbuckle says.

Annette Beck, director of Enterprise Instructional Technology and Evaluation and Exam Service for the ITS Office of Teaching, Learning, and Technology, says the tool provides the university with a reporting function that brings the whole institution together.

“The surveys and reporting features allow us to archive data and see trends over several years, so we can help faculty see where they’re doing well and where they need guidance,” says Beck, who also serves on the project team. “We couldn’t do this kind of analysis with our old system.”

Beck says almost all other colleges are moving to ACE Online by the end of the academic year. Most of the savings are in staff time in the colleges, which allows employees to work on things they didn’t have time to do before.

Overall, Hornbuckle says, the project has provided the College of Engineering with a product that better fits its needs.

“TIER allowed us to move from an old, antiquated product to a new method for online evaluation of our courses that’s higher quality and more responsive to the needs of our faculty and students.”