Re-evaluating SIR II evaluations

SAFA president Doug Spurgeon says the current SIR II evaluation process is flawed, as too much emphasis is placed on the marks students give their instructor on question 40 of the test. Shown here is a copy of one of Spurgeon's latest SIR evaluations. Photo by Emily Kreiberg

Each semester, SAIT students are asked to fill out Student Instructional Reports (SIR II) to give feedback on their instructors. But recent debates about how the reports are processed have led some to believe the evaluation deserves a failing grade.
The SIR II evaluation form is handed to students who have completed at least 60 per cent of their course, and consists of 45 questions concerning their instructor’s performance.
Question 40 pertains to a student’s overall feelings about their instructor. In recent years, this question has been used as the sole indicator of an instructor’s success.
Educational Testing Service (ETS), the department that developes the reports, recommends using question 40 as an indicator, not as the sole focus of the evaluation, said SAIT Academic Faculty Association (SAFA) president Doug Spurgeon.
“Certain areas of management, we believe, want SIRs gone,” said Spurgeon. “We don’t want them gone, we just want them used properly. Let’s look at the other areas, not just number 40.”
VP Academic Gord Nixon cites the science behind the test to clarify why question 40 remains the standard.
“The research from ETS says generally if question 40 is positive, the rest of the SIR is positive because it’s an overall evaluation,” Nixon said. “And what gets measured gets improved. If you can’t measure something, how can you see if it’s improved?”
Nixon said he wants the SIR to be a point of discussion between instructors and their academic chairs. He said SIR results should be viewed as a support for improvement, not a disciplinary measure.
If an instructor fails to obtain a yearly average of 3.8 on question 40, he or she must prepare a SIR action plan that details ways to boost this mark.
Depending on the number obtained, academic chairs decide whether the instructor must also register for the Instructor Skills Workshop or the Teaching Excellence Foundation. These courses help instructors with teaching skills.
“We’ve had great success with the SIR improvement plans,” said Nixon. “(Instructors) take advantage of the support services and we see dramatic turnarounds.”
Low SIR scores are also considered in an instructor’s annual performance review and can be a focal point when it comes to making layoff or salary decisions.
“These SIRs are tied directly to the instructor’s employment,” said Spurgeon. “If you think your instructor is doing a good job, then anything lower then a four on question 40 puts their ability to teach in question.
“That’s why it’s important for students to understand what happens with their SIRs.”
Both Spurgeon and Nixon have concerns that SIR administration needs improvement.
In an effort to add consistency to the evaluation process, SAIT developed a SIR II comprehensive administration guide in the fall of 2010.
The guide was developed with the expectation that all staff members administering the SIR II would follow a script to explain the process and importance of the survey.
But library information technologies student Jenna Gutowski said she didn’t receive clear instruction before filling out the SIR.
“They don’t tell us anything when they give us the SIRs, like what happens to teachers after they get their results,” said Gutowski. “I think the concept’s really good, but I don’t think the SIRs are taken seriously.”
“We need to do a better job of managing that (the script),” said Nixon. “Maybe it’s not being administered properly.”
Kimberlee Forsyth, a 23-year-old SAIT energy asset management student, has filled out multiple SIR forms since she began her program, but feels she has yet to see any improvements.
SIRs are “a joke,” she said in a Facebook comment to the Weal. “Do they even look at them?”
Spurgeon said the length of time it takes for the SIR results to come back leads most students to believe they have no real effect on their instructors.
While SIR results typically come back to the instructor within two to four months, Nixon said there are no plans to speed up the process by conducting them earlier in the course.
“We don’t want SIR results to affect the attitude of the class,” Nixon said. “Instructors could take negative repercussions against the students.”

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