New course evaluation system, Blue, to replace CTECs

Kelli Nguyen, Reporter

Northwestern is set to replace the Course and Teacher Evaluation Council system with Blue, a third-party evaluation software. Similar to CTEC, Blue will serve as a data collection system for NU courses and instructors.

The new system, created by software company eXplorance, is currently in its technical implementation phase with hopes that it will be in widespread use by Spring Quarter, said Alison Lanser Phillips, senior assistant registrar and member of the CTEC committee, which manages the evaluation system.

Compared to the current system, Blue offers more options for accessibility, more frequent data collection, more flexibility in formatting and more advanced reporting capabilities, Phillips said.

“(EXplorance is) already kind of moving on to the next step of evaluations and we’re really interested to see where they’re going and how Northwestern can leverage some of those new innovative technologies,” Phillips said.

With Blue, students will be able to give feedback on the eXplorance website, through CAESAR and through Canvas, Phillips said.

Because the current CTEC system is housed in CAESAR, evaluations can feel more transactional than learning-based, said Steven Bennett, a Weinberg junior on the CTEC committee.

Blue offers more opportunities for students to give feedback as well. The program allows students to submit evaluations throughout the quarter, he said.

“(Professors are) able to get feedback at times other than the end of the quarter so they can improve their classes in real time,” Bennett said.

Phillips said the new software also features more technical options that will allow administrators to design more interesting response questions. She added the increased custom formatting will allow for more fluid evaluations.

“We’ll be able to do little things like have essay response questions immediately following one of the scale questions because right now the comments are completely separated from that,” Phillips said.

Blue’s reporting capabilities are also more advanced than those of the current system, so administrators can create personalized templates to better understand the data collected in evaluations, Bennett said.

Because it is a third-party software, Blue has the added benefit of having offsite support in addition to a more user-friendly interface, Bennett said.

Last week, the 2015 Faculty Task Force on the Undergraduate Academic Experience released a report of its findings, which included suggested changes to the current CTEC system. The task force was informed of Blue near the end of its report but did not evaluate the new software, said neurobiology Prof. Indira Raman, who chaired the task force.

In the report, the task force made recommendations aimed at increasing the number of students filling out CTEC evaluations. These suggestions included making course evaluations a requirement to view grades and limiting the window of time in which they can be filled out.

“The idea is to make a system that works as well as it can for as many people as it can,” Raman said. “That’s sort of the whole essence of the whole task force report and it pertains here as well.”

The task force’s recommendations are now with the Office of the Provost. Information will continue to be collected in order for a decision to be made about the suggestions.

Phillips said the CTEC committee has not yet reviewed the task force’s full proposal. This quarter, the group is focusing on the technical implementation of the software in preparation for a Spring Quarter launch.

“We’re at a point where we’ll be able to do things that will be beneficial to students and faculty and administrators that we hadn’t been able to do before so it’s kind of an exciting time for CTECs,” she said.

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