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CIF early grade incentive continues

Melissa Flanagan | Monday, December 6, 2010

After the University increased its response rate for Course Instructor Feedback (CIF) by offering an incentive during the 2009-2010 academic year, students who complete CIFs can once again see their grades a week earlier this year.

Students who complete CIFs will be able to view their semester grades Dec. 21, while others will not have access to their grades until Dec. 27.

In the fall of 2009, the first semester this incentive was offered, the response rate for online CIFs climbed from 63 to 87 percent, according to Dennis Jacobs, vice president and associate provost.

Not only was that higher than the previous two semesters, but it was also higher than response rates for the paper Teacher/Course Evaluations (TCE) used before 2008.

“We would get response rates in the mid-70 range, about three-fourths of students [with TCEs],” Jacobs said. “A lot of students weren’t in class, a lot of students just left.”

The University instituted the incentive last fall because the response rate dropped after switching from paper TCEs to online CIFs, Jacobs said.

He said that decline was alarming for the University because a high percentage of students must complete the CIF to accurately reflect students’ opinions.

“We talked to the Academic Affairs Committee of Student Senate, we had focus groups with the students to find out what incentives would be of the greatest influence on whether they took the time to fill out the CIF,” Jacobs said.

Students who complete their CIFs are able to access an additional feature of InsideND’s class search, the registrar’s Web-based application that allows students to see classes.

“Five questions of the CIF were designed by students, and the data that comes from those is then shared with students through class search,” Jacobs said.

Considering the current CIF response rate and the legitimacy of the site, Jacobs said the class search is much more accurate than other websites students use to learn about professors, such as ndtoday.com or ratemyprofessor.com.

“I would hope students consider the class search tool to be a more reliable source of information than third-party websites,” Jacobs said.

CIFs are especially important for graduate students and faculty. Monique Gregg, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, said she will rely on CIFs from this semester to further her career.

“Students don’t typically understand the importance of CIFs, especially to grad students,” Gregg said. “We have to use them to apply for jobs. It’s important that students take the process extremely seriously.”

Gregg, who will be using her CIFs to apply not only for jobs but also for teaching awards at Notre Dame, said professors take the CIFs seriously.

“It’s important to know whether or not the course was challenging, what the professor did right, where the professor can improve,” Gregg said.

Jacobs, who teaches in the College of Science, agreed with Gregg.

“If I tried a different approach I want to hear from students whether that was effective,” Jacobs said. “Should I continue that approach, should I improve upon it, should I discard it?”

The CIF forms also influence tenure and promotion, Jacobs said. Although factors such as a professor’s research and scholarship are considered, teaching is looked at very seriously.

“We need to establish whether they are in fact an effective teacher,” Jacobs said. “There are standards of excellence that the department tries to apply to the professor.”

Although the CIFs for some courses open at different times, most are currently available online. Adam Pierson, the University’s strategic planning program director, said alerting students to the availability of the CIFs is important.

“We try our best, we send out e-mails, although we don’t know how many students actually read them,” Pierson said. “This year we worked with student government to coordinate table tents.”

Pierson said the CIFs for most courses will close Thursday at 11:59 p.m.