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USRIs revisited

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The fall semester is coming to an end and with that comes invitations to complete the Universal Student Ratings of Instruction.

The USRIs were designed to give students a forum to provide feedback about professors and teaching assistants' quality of instruction. The surveys feature questions with statements that can be given ratings from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree' as well as sections where specific comments can be made by the evaluating student.

A review of the USRIs was done in 2003 to change the format from a pre-designed, one-size-fits-all paper sheet administered in lectures to an online form that can be customized for each class. It was hoped the new system would be more accessible to students and provide better feedback, but when campus-wide application of the online system was made available in fall 2005, response rates were dismal.

"The online format appeals to technology savvy students," said Dr. Robert E. Woodrow, University of Calgary vice-president academic. "Many students resented using class time to complete the USRIs and the online system is much more flexible."

While the new format is convenient for students, the response rates after first implementing the system dropped from 60 to 35 per cent. To tackle apathy, administration is working with the Students' Union to get students interested.

"We're trying bright posters to grab students' attention and to provide incentives for those who complete their USRIs," said SU VP academic Shannon O'Connor.

To encourgae participation the faculty of nursing is holding a scolarship draw where a 50 per cent response rate will be rrewarded with $1,000, 65 per cent with $2,500, and 80 per cent with $5,000, explained SU nursing representative Jenna Baumgartner.

Woodrow, O'Connor and Baumgartner all agree that getting students to complete their USRIs increases the validity of the data collected.

"Low response rates create many problems for reliability," said Woodrow.

While the USRIs can act as a reward for professors who provide good instruction, they can also serve as a red flag for those who may need improvement. The USRIs play a part in a professor's annual evaluation and can influence possible promotions and tenur within faculties.

"We want to do something about problems that may arise," said Woodrow. "There are many seminars that professors can take to improve."

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