Provide more details about CIS results

Megan Tran, Associate Editor

At the end of each semester, students are given the chance to fill out Course Instructor Surveys that allow them to provide anonymous feedback about their classes, professors and teaching assistants. The forms can be completed on paper or electronically, which is referred to as an eCIS. 

According to the Testing and Evaluation Services website, CIS feedback is used to “help with teaching effectiveness, help make faculty promotion and salary decisions (and) help other students make informed decisions in course selection.”

Some professors, however, receive the same negative critiques from students year after year and have even become infamous for their teaching styles. Unfortunately, these patterns as well as vague descriptions of how CIS is used can lead students to question whether their responses have any genuine impact on faculty and administration.

 To help increase engagement with CIS and show students how important their feedback is, UT should provide more details on the main CIS webpage about how the survey’s results are used.

Brent Iverson, senior vice provost for undergraduate education, explained that CIS results undergo multiple rounds of evaluation. While professors read through feedback every semester, individual departments have control over how results are used as well as how often they review them. UT administration reviews CIS results when faculty members are being considered for promotion. At this level, student feedback is vital.

“The student voice at UT-Austin plays a much larger role than at many universities I’m aware of, and I really appreciate the time and effort students take to write really important comments,” Iverson said. “I see every promotion file on campus, along with other members of the president’s committee, and I read every single student comment — not just a couple … and it takes a great deal of time.”

In addition, when he was a department chair, Iverson reviewed CIS results every semester and promptly addressed issues with faculty. Student feedback is significant to faculty and administration, but without a proper understanding of the CIS review process, students may not realize this.  

Vedin Barve, a biology sophomore, explained that he fills out eCIS forms every semester for his professors but expressed his frustration with not knowing whether anyone takes student feedback seriously.

“I (and many of my peers) don’t personally feel like these eCIS forms are really used to the best of their ability, and I (wonder) what the point is of me taking the time to fill these out. They’re not necessarily the shortest forms,” Barve said.

 While it’s understandable that Barve feels this way, it’s unfortunate because administration does value CIS results. Students just may not realize it, and how could they? Details about how CIS results are used to determine faculty promotion are displayed on the 17th page of a PDF on the provost’s office’s website, but it isn’t easy to find. The information isn’t as accessible on the website as it should be.

Iverson stated that CIS response rates vary, but they’re usually in the 50-75% range. This can be improved by being more transparent about result usage.

“Being more open about the process provides an incentive for students to fill out the eCIS forms,” Barve said. “If (students) feel particularly positive about a professor and understand how eCIS can be used to help them in the future, they’re going to be more likely to fill it out. On the other hand, if a student has bad experiences with a professor, they can … let administration know.”

Student feedback matters, and UT administration knows this, so it’s time to let students know just how much weight their voices carry.

Tran is a Plan II and English sophomore from Houston, Texas.