New SGB members continue push for published OMET results

By Danielle Fox / Staff Writer

Do you have the time to take a five-minute survey?

What if that survey was the OMET survey, and your participation granted you access to every instructor’s results?

The OMET evaluation, which stands for the Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching, is often called the “student opinion of teaching survey.” Students get the chance at the end of each semester to complete the online survey and anonymously tell some of their professors what they really think about their classes. The responses are used to evaluate the faculty and help professors structure their classes.  

Members of the Student Government Board have another use in mind for the surveys and want to take the results from private opinions to public information.

Former Student Government Board member Tom Jabro and outgoing Academic Affairs Committee Chairman Nuwan Perera spearheaded efforts last semester along with Academic Affairs Committee members to press the University to grant students access to the results of Pitt’s Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching surveys. SGB started its fight for the results in 2010 and Jabro ran on finishing the job as one of his three platforms during his 2012 campaign to be a Board member. The Board has yet to find success with their push. 

The project won’t end here, however, and the current Board is set up to pick up where Jabro, Perera and the committee left off.

SGB won’t select its next Academic Affairs Committee chair until Jan. 21, but SGB President Mike Nites said the new Board will continue the efforts once it selects a chair.

“I think having OMETs published is something that a lot of students would be interested in having,” Nites said. “So we will definitely continue exploring that, regardless of who the chair is.”

Board member Brandon Benjamin worked on the project as the previous vice chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee. Benjamin, now a liaison to the committee, said he intends to work with the incoming committee to get the results published.

The advantages of public results

In order for Pitt to compete with high-ranked schools, Jabro said Pitt needs to act like one. 

Jabro was referring to Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University and Temple University, all of which currently make similar survey results available to students.

Jabro said making the OMET results public will keep professors accountable in the classroom and serve as a tool for scheduling classes. 

Jabro and David Waldeck, Pitt chemistry department chair, both said they believe making the information public will give students an incentive to complete the surveys.

Students are not required to complete the OMETs, and participation in the evaluations fell after the survey began to were move online at the end of the 2013 spring semester.

Nancy Reilly, director of the OMET program, said in a prepared statement that the overall response rate for spring 2013 surveys was 80 percent, but was only 54 percent for surveys administered online during that semester.

Waldeck said allowing students to use the results as an informational resource for class registration would give students an incentive to complete the surveys. 

“For example, when students are signing up for Introduction to Chemistry and there are three different professors, they could not only consider the time of day and what their friends say about the professor, but they could also look at the OMETs to see who might be best,” Waldeck said.

SGB’s efforts

SGB has a long road ahead of it on its journey to get OMETs published, and it’s already been quite a trip.

Jabro and Perera worked with the Academic Affairs Committee to collect roughly 550 signatures since they began to distribute a petition requesting that OMET results be made public in October 2013.

Jabro met with members of the University Faculty Senate’s Educational Policies Committee last January to discuss publishing OMET results, according to committee president Kathleen Kelly. The committee had been deliberating on whether to publish OMET results for roughly a year when members met with Jabro.

The committee eventually decided last February to continue to leave the decision up to the individual schools within the University. Kelly said the committee was cautious about the proposal because the surveys are designed to give instructors feedback, and administrators consult the information when determining whether to offer instructors promotions and tenure.

Kelly said on Nov. 18, 2013, that the committee is still considering the topic, but is focusing its efforts on making professors responsible for updating course descriptions, lengthening the extent of course information found on PeopleSoft and making syllabi public before class registration.

Perera met with Larry Shuman, senior associate dean of academic affairs for the Swanson School of Engineering, in spring 2013 to discuss the possibility of the engineering school publishing its instructors’ results.

Shuman said he is receptive to the idea, but wants SGB to show him the value of making the information public to students.

Shuman added that he is opposed to publishing the open-ended portion of the surveys.

He said he thinks the publication of results from the multiple-choice portion pressures instructors to be more efficient and fair.

“I’m not implying they aren’t conscious now, but it adds a bit of incentive to make sure when [the students] go into a class, it will be a rewarding experience,” Shuman said.

But Shuman said the average rate of teaching effectiveness reported on OMET evaluations for professors in his school already averages four out of five, and the impact may be small.

Shuman said the decision would most likely come to a vote by faculty or department heads after SGB presents a proposal to his department.

Perera said the Academic Affairs Committee will present a proposal to the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences next fall. 

Faculty concerns

Daniel Mossé, chairman of the Department of Computer Science, supports publishing the results, but said the idea has its disadvantages.

Mossé said the surveys do not tell a professor’s full story and said the data from the results can be skewed.   

“[The University] would have to do it very carefully, given that it would have large implications if the data were to be misinterpreted,” Mossé said in an email.

Nancy Reilly, director of the OMET program, told The Pitt News in February 2013 that since the OMET surveys were switched to the online platform, there has been a tendency for  more extreme responses on rating scales.

According to Waldeck, publishing skewed results shouldn’t pose a problem.

“That skewness is going to be around every course, so it’s something that will be applied across the board,” Waldeck said. “It’s going to be comparative.”

Waldeck said if the results are made public, the results will end up less skewed because all students would benefit, not just students who want to see their professor score a certain way.

Change in response

While Waldeck said making the results public would increase the response rate on OMET surveys, Jabro said public results would also change his answers.

Jabro said he currently only puts in comments that will help the professor improve the course. If the results were to be made public, Jabro said he would leave advice for other students.

“I would say, ‘Oh, this professor really likes to use PowerPoint.’ If someone was a visual learner and likes to learn from PowerPoint, they can read that and say, ‘This is someone who I’m going to take,’” Jabro said. 

Freshmen Sophie Greger and Shea McMurtry and senior Jay Cassidy all said making the results public would not affect their responses, but supported the idea.

Temple University

Just across the state, other students are already enjoying access to their professors’ evaluations. 

Darin Bartholomew, the president of Temple Student Government, said the student government members preceding his term surveyed the student body in 2012 about releasing evaluation results and had advocated to Temple to publish the results for roughly a year.

Bartholomew said the results were overwhelmingly positive. Temple Student Government presented the data and proposed the idea to Temple’s Faculty Senate. 

“There were concerns if [making results public] was an incentive for professors to make their classes easier to try and appease students, but in the end it went relatively smoothly,” Bartholomew said.

 Bartholomew said Temple students must complete their evaluations to see the results.

Rate My Professors

Even though Pitt does not publish OMET results, students use other outlets to browse opinions on professors. 

 Students often gather information on professor’s performance ratings on Rate My Professors, a website with no university affiliation that lists information for more than 1.5 million instructors at about 7,000 schools.

The website allows students to rate professors from their respective universities on one-to-five scales based on how easy the professor’s class was, how clearly information was presented, how helpful the professor was and even the instructor’s physical attractiveness. Perera and Bartholomew agreed that it was an unreliable tool overall for students.  

“Publishing the results does the professors a service by providing this accurate information for students to make decisions off of, rather than students running to Rate My Professors, where you don’t know if the person who rated the professor even goes to this school,” Bartholomew said.

Greger, Mcmurtry and Cassidy said they have visited this website.

Pitt’s SGB hasn’t had any luck yet with getting OMETs published, but it’s still possible that students won’t be running to Rate My Professors for much longer.  

“I want to push the project through. It’s something that has been worked on for a while, and I don’t want to see it fall apart,” Benjamin said.