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April 20, 1998

New Web database promises timely 'evals'

Elaine Wedegaertner (right) and Greta Jacobson of the Office of the Registrar show off a "faculty summary screen"--part of a new narrative evaluations database.

By Francine Tyler

At the end of each quarter, UCSC faculty members must collectively write more than 30,000 course-performance or "narrative" evaluations--one for every undergraduate student earning a passing grade in every for-credit course and every graduate student in a for-credit course, regardless of the grade.

It's a veritable blizzard of information that blows from faculty desks to the Office of the Registrar, where it is sorted and entered into a database. Later, the narrative evaluations flow back out to the colleges. Eventually, they land in student mailboxes.

"We have to process more than 30,000 evaluations every quarter, and the logistics of getting that paper out of our office, to the colleges, and into the mailboxes is enormous," said Associate Registrar Nancy Pascal.

Students receive their official end-of-term grades, either pass/not pass or A through F, within three days after the end of final exams. To see their narratives, however, students wait--sometimes for months--for the papers to be delivered.

To help students and faculty get their information in a more timely manner, the Registrar's Office has designed a database for narratives on the World Wide Web, in conjunction with Communications and Technology Services (CATS) Application Development Support.

Dubbed the "Narrative Evaluation System (NES) on the Web," the database promises benefits for students, faculty, and Office of the Registrar staff, Pascal said. Using the online database, students can view their narrative evaluations in a more timely fashion and have easy access to the narratives and course information from past quarters. Faculty can enter narratives directly into the database and see much earlier if any evaluations for their own courses are missing or in error. Staff in the Office of the Registrar can save processing time by not having to retype the narratives into the system.

The NES Web isn't expected to completely replace the old, familiar processes anytime soon, Pascal said. For now, students will continue to receive narratives in paper form in their boxes. And faculty may continue to submit the narratives the old-fashioned way--on paper, on computer disk, or via e-mail--to the Office of the Registrar, where they will be added to the online database.

Starting at the end of this month, however, faculty with an Athena account (name@cats.ucsc.edu) will be able to enter narrative evaluations for their courses directly onto a special secure Web page, if they have signed up to use the system. Students, using identification numbers and passwords, may read those evaluations immediately. And both groups will have easy access to a historical record of narratives for courses they've taught or taken.

Some students and faculty members took their first look at the system last month, when it became available for "look up" functions. More than 1,700 students accessed their narrative pages during the first month of the system's operation, said Pascal.

Ernie Hudson, executive assistant to Executive Vice Chancellor R. Michael Tanner, said he believes the new system will be the "most accurate, easiest, and quickest way" the campus has devised to submit narrative evaluations.

"Faculty, sitting at home or in their office, can pull up the entry screen, input the narrative for a student, then hit the enter key and look it up in the next instant," he said. "As soon as the faculty member enters it, it is in the system."

With a touch of a button, faculty can also view a record of all the narratives they have written back to winter 1979, when the Office of the Registrar first started storing them in electronic format.

Hudson said he hopes that faculty will see the benefits of the new system and sign up to use it. "I would hope once you've seen the system and know what it can do, it will be such an improvement that everyone will do it," he said.

Mark Traugott, a professor of history and sociology who tried out the Web-based system in its pilot phase, sees another plus: the easy access to information that the system offers will allow him to clean out his office.

"I've got narrative evaluations in a filing cabinet from since I began teaching in 1974," he said. "I will still have to save some, but will be able to get rid of much of the information because it will be available online."

The benefits of the new system aren't confined to historical information, however. Faculty can also download student names, e-mail addresses, and identification numbers from the database for use in classes they are currently teaching. They can use the information to help them track exams, homework, or whatever they deem necessary. The database is updated regularly while the quarter is in session, Pascal said.

Leo Laporte, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education and Crown College provost, said he hopes the new system will encourage faculty who don't complete narratives in a timely manner to do so. "Typically, we have only about 75 percent of a given quarter's evaluations completed by the middle of the following quarter," he said.

"The NES is an important part of the educational experience at UCSC--for faculty, students, and advising," he added. "Anything that helps make NES more efficient, easy to use and to access, is a significant contribution to the system."

The Office of the Registrar is currently working with the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor to devise ways to introduce faculty to the new system, Pascal said. She estimates that introductory trainings for faculty may take approximately a half-hour each and be administered to groups of faculty in each division.

Faculty who wish to sign up for an Athena account should contact their division. Those with an existing Athena account, which must be modified to provide access to the new system, should obtain a CATS Account Modification Form from their division.

Students can access the Narrative Evaluation System Web at http://teleslug.ucsc.edu. The Web site for faculty is available only to those with an active account.

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