New Course Evaluation Software Coming Fall 2016

This fall the University will be launching a new course evaluation tool – CTECs (Course and Teacher Evaluation Council) as they’re fondly known – called Blue by Explorance. Blue will allow for a greater variety of questions to be asked about the courses and instructors. From the user perspective, access and use of CTECs will remain the same, but the software that powers them will be updated.

CTECs have an interesting history at Northwestern. They were originally advocated for by students in the 1970s who wanted a way to find out what their peers thought about courses and instructors before enrolling in them. Up until the late 90’s, it was a paper-based process until it was moved online. Eventually this was incorporated into CAESAR, Northwestern’s student information portal.

Desire for greater flexibility drove the search for a new system. Whereas the current system has six core questions that appear on all evaluations supplemented by 70 different evaluation forms specific to schools and departments, the new system is more flexible in that it allows different questions types, interchangeable numerical questions with essay sections, and – most importantly – the ability to create triggers for questions (Example: if students answer yes to a question, the system will trigger a specific follow-up question).

Instructors may now also add their own questions to get a better sense of the effectiveness of their teaching style or the overall comprehension of the materials offered in class. Instructors could add three likert scales specific to each of their courses in the old system but that functionality was not widely used. In the new system, instructors can ask essay questions in addition to likert scale questions, something many faculty feel will enhance the evaluation process.

The University began piloting Blue with a small group of classes of varying sizes from a number of schools last fall, and it will roll out to the entire university in this coming 2016 Fall Quarter.

Rolling out Blue to the University is a multi-phase process. Plans for the future involve setting up faculty workgroups in order to evaluate and refine the process and information the system can provide. One workgroup will be devoted to submitting recommendations on the core questions that will be asked of all Northwestern courses; another will be tasked with surveying best practices specific to individual schools and groups. 

The CTEC office has been working in collaboration with the Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching to craft pilot questions that integrate each course’s specific learning objectives. If the pilot questions are approved, Blue is able to pull the objectives listed for each course in CAESAR to create the questions. By integrating learning objectives, the evaluations become more involved in the actual learning process – faculty can use this information to know what areas of their course are working well and which may need to be reevaluated for clarity. 

Undoubtedly, Blue will continue to evolve to meet the needs of both students and faculty at Northwestern.