University Senate Committee on Instruction, Curriculum and Advising

Posting Student Instructional Rating Data to the Web

Report on S-0008: "Review and report on the feasibility/desirability of posting student instructional rating data (currently available on CD-ROM in University libraries) online. Investigate whether the university should provide additional methods of accessing course-evaluation information online, such as establishing a university website for anonymous posting of comments on instructors performance."

Background: Newark and Camden have a long history of compiling and making student instructional rating data available for their campuses. A 1992 university document mandated that data would be compiled on all campuses and summary reports would be produced and would be used in personnel decisions, as negotiated with the AAUP. However, it was not until 1995 that the New Brunswick Faculty Council agreed that summary data, based on the Newark model, could be released. This decision as to what data could be collected, made available, and what it should be measured against, was the result of a unit-by-unit consultation process and represents a university-wide compromise.

The New Brunswick Teaching Excellence Center (TEC) was made responsible for the compilation and distribution of the data. Data for each semester is put on CD-ROM and is made available in the University Libraries. Students are then able to use the data as an information resource when considering course registration options.

However, with the onset of online registration and the increasing expectation of electronic resources being available in a networked environment, restricting information which is to be used as part of an online process to a CD-ROM which must be used in the Library is a source of frustration to students. Consequently, the New Brunswick TEC has received requests to make the teaching evaluation data available on the Rutgers website. There have also been individual requests for the establishment of a site where students could anonymously post informal comments and evaluations.

Process: In the course of its deliberations, the Senate Committee on Instruction, Curriculum, and Advising has consulted and/or received recommendations from the University Senate Student Affairs Committee, the Rutgers College Governing Association, and the staff of the New Brunswick Teaching Excellence Center. The Committee also looked at the websites of other AAU institutions to see how they are dealing with this issue.


  1. Posting of Current Data: The data that is currently available on CD-ROM exists as a searchable database on the New Brunswick TEC server, with access currently restricted to TEC staff. The Senate Student Affairs Committee and the Rutgers College Governing Association (RCGA) both recommend allowing web access to the data as it currently exists, and most of the Committee agreed that easing student access to this information would be beneficial and that the data should be available to the University community on the web.
  2. Explanatory Materials: Some Committee members felt that the data in isolation could be misleading, and that the statistical anomalies (e.g., validity of data for very small/very large classes, validity of data with minimal returns, validity of comparative data, etc.) needed to be addressed. A preliminary statement explaining the data is available on the CD-ROM and on the TEC site; the TEC expressed a willingness to modify that statement to include more information on data limitations and the statistical anomalies that might be encountered when using the data.
  3. Expanded Questionnaires: Some departments have chosen to add their own questions to the base form in order to make them more meaningful to the teaching culture of that discipline/department. [For example, the FAS Physics Department uses five separate evaluation forms depending on whether the course is an introductory course, a lab, a recitation, a seminar, or a straight lecture course.] Where departments have added these department-specific questions to the base form, the ratings are available in the released data, however the questions themselves do not display and are known only to the department. Since this is potentially very useful data that is already being compiled and reported, the Committee felt that, where the departments agreed, these additional questions should display in the database.
  4. "Open" vs. "Closed" Data Site: While there are some institutions that have open access to course/teaching evaluations (e.g., Indiana University; University of Chicago), these are institutions which offer profiles or narrative summations rather than statistical data. Of the AAU institutions surveyed, those that post statistical data all either require a log-in, or restrict access to on-campus (IP checking) addresses. Since access to the data is essentially for internal purposes, i.e., to give students better information with which to make course-selection decisions, as well as for use in conjunction with personnel actions, the Committee agreed that there would seem to be no valid need to make the data available to the general public.
  5. Log-in vs. IP Checking: Of these two options, the Committee felt that a secure site requiring log-in would be preferable. Restrictions by IP address would require that either students would only have access to the data while physically on campus, or that a proxy server be set up for remote access.
  6. Links: The Senate Student Affairs Committee and the RCGA recommended that there be a direct link to the relevant rating data next to each specific class listing on the Rutgers University Online Schedule of Classes. However, whereas the course synopsis that is to be linked to the course listings this year represents relatively static data, the evaluation data, and subsequent links, would have to be changed every semester. In terms of the labor involved, the Committee found that this was simply not a viable option.
  7. Online Form Completion: All parties consulted agreed that the majority of students would not bother to go online to complete the evaluation forms. This conclusion is in line with the experiences of other institutions where online evaluations have been attempted. Since without participation the data would be rendered useless, the Committee agreed that this is not a viable option.
  8. Narrative Commentary: Students are asked to write additional comments on the back of the data sheets when filling out the evaluation forms. Currently, those comments are returned to the instructors for their use, and are not compiled or distributed. These comments could potentially be very useful. Indeed, there was general agreement that the University of Chicago's course-specific narrative summations might be the ideal model to follow in terms of utility. However, the amount of staff time required to do something comparable in an institution the size of Rutgers would be prohibitive. The alternatives -- either scanning and posting, or retyping, the comments portion of the completed forms, or allowing students to comment online -- did not seem to provide benefits that would outweigh the labor required or the inevitable contention that would result. The student groups did not recommend narrative options; the Committee concurred.
  1. The student instructional ratings database, access to which is currently restricted to Teaching Excellence Center staff, should be made available to the University community as a restricted database accessible only by log-in through a university account. The site should include an expanded general statement explaining the data and its limitations.
  2. There should be a link from the Rutgers Online Schedule of Classes site to the database site. On the general Rutgers site, there should be a link to the database from the "Information for Faculty and Staff" page ( and from the "Information for Current Students" page (
  3. Where departments have added questions to the base form, the Teaching Excellence Center should seek agreement from those departments to have those questions displayed.

"How to Read the Student Instructional Rating Form"
Sample Instructional Rating Forms


Whereas, the University Senate's Instruction, Curriculum and Advising Committee has examined and reported on Posting Student Instructional Rating Data to the Web; and

Whereas, the University Senate has reviewed the Committee's Report and its Recommendations,
finding those Recommendations to be sound and in the best interests of Rutgers University;

Therefore, Be It Resolved, that the Rutgers University Senate endorses the Report on Posting Student Instructional Rating Data to the Web, and urges the Administration to implement its recommendations.