Surveying the semester with OMETs


Thomas J. Yang

Professors often have difficulty encouraging students to complete OMET surveys at the end of a semester. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Visual Editor)

By Bailey Frisco | Staff Writer

As each semester winds down and students begin to prepare for finals, they are burdened with one more task to complete — OMETs.

OMET — Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching — is a department at Pitt that administers a survey of student opinion for professors. The main objective of the survey is to evaluate teaching effectiveness.

Madison Heebner, a sophomore studying German, said she thinks OMETs are useful for the instructors, but can be repetitive for the students. Heebner noted a drawback to the OMETs is most of them ask the same questions.

“It’s difficult to tell someone what they should be doing when you have pretty basic questions,” Heebner said. “Even with the comments, it’s kind of hard to tell someone what you think they should be doing better when you have five more [surveys] to complete.”

Some of her past professors added their own questions onto the OMET form, and some seemed to take the OMETs more seriously than others. Heebner said she would put more time into the survey when it seemed like it was important to the professor, and worry about it less when the professor seemed not to care about it.

Lisa Votodian — assistant to the director at OMET — said the response to the survey from the faculty is positive, and they enjoy getting the student responses.

“Many instructors are very attentive to the survey process, and check their response rates periodically and contact us if they feel that there are any issues with any aspect of the survey administrations,” Votodian said.

Jeff Oaks, a Pitt professor in the department of English writing for the last 30 years, is among the professors who feel the OMETs are important.

Oaks said the OMETs can be beneficial to professors in terms of helping them get raises and promotions. He said part-time professors get new contracts every semester, whereas full-time, non-tenured professors — such as himself — get new contracts every five years. This means that a professor with a five-year contract and a generally positive reputation with OMETs, like Oaks, has a solid chance of getting his contract renewed, while part-time professors rely more heavily on the semestral evaluations to maintain their positions.

“If you are part-time, the OMET has a bigger effect on your being hired because you have to be hired more often, in a way,” he said.

There is one thing he doesn’t like about the OMETs — getting the students to actually fill them out. This becomes an added responsibility for the professor. In order to get his students to complete the OMETs, Oaks tells his students to bring a device to the last class and gives them 15 minutes at the beginning of the class to fill them out.

“It seems to me there needs to be some other system to get the students to respond better, if they want more responses,” he said.

Heebner said one of her professors used the same tactic as Oaks of setting aside time for the students to fill out the OMETs, even going so far as to leave the room so students could have some privacy.

Professors who utilize this tactic to get their students to complete the surveys are taking a similar approach to how the survey used to be completed. The only difference is they are no longer handwritten.

Oaks said the OMETs used to be proctored by a student who was paid to administer the survey while the professor left the room during the last 15 minutes of class. He said the survey was not digital then, but handwritten instead. There are still students, however, like Heebner, who don’t require this sort of pressure and voluntarily complete the survey in certain cases.

“I will say that I’ve never really looked forward to telling a professor off, but I did have one who I wasn’t really a fan of, and I did look forward to giving my feedback — but not in a scathing way,” Heebner said.

Nancy Reilly, director at OMET, said the OMETs have been in existence for a long time, but only started being completed online less than 10 years ago. She said the surveys emerged when she worked in the OMET office in 1979, but became widespread by the time she returned again in 1998.

“They started out just in the School of Arts and Sciences back in the mid-to-late 70s, and then slowly expanded to other schools like Education,” Reilly said.

Reilly said the survey format changed again slightly last year when the office signed onto a new survey software company that was more efficient and included more features. Since the OMETs were instituted, though, they have maintained the objective of protecting the identity of each student who completed the survey.

One misconception about the surveys is that they are entirely anonymous, but this is only true for professors who view them. According to Votodian, the OMET staff sees each response and its correlation to a specific student, but that information is kept confidential and not passed on to the instructors.

Students, though, appreciate the privacy when it comes to giving an honest review of their professors. The confidentiality allows them to provide feedback of their professors without fear of retribution.

“It’s nice that they’re confidential because you can provide your opinion to a professor — even if it’s negative. You don’t have to be afraid of them,” Heebner said.

Sarah Frumkin contributed reporting.