Butte’s new review

Formal evaluations for Web classes will become routine

Dan Barnett is working to help create an effective way to evaluate online courses at Butte College.

Dan Barnett is working to help create an effective way to evaluate online courses at Butte College.

Butte College is adding to its method of assessing online courses this fall by implementing a formal evaluation process that will make student feedback and virtual “sit-ins” by department heads a routine process.

Last Friday (Aug. 13), deans, chairs, faculty and staff held a lengthy meeting to iron out the kinks in the process, said Dan Barnett, chair of the college’s Distance Learning Committee and Technology Mediated Instruction coordinator. Developing a system for evaluating online courses that is similar to how traditional courses are evaluated has not been easy.

“This is a difficult process because we all know what it’s like to walk into a face-to-face classroom,” Barnett said. “It’s much more challenging to go into an online classroom and say, ‘All right, what’s going on here? Is the navigation clear? Is there student-to-student interaction?’”

Barnett and his team have been piloting student and formal evaluations for the past few semesters to figure out effective ways to identify the strengths and weaknesses of an online course. The process moved forward after it was approved by the Butte College Education Association and the Part-time Faculty Association, Butte’s full- and part-time faculty unions. Faculty unions have a large say in evaluation processes because their outcomes could affect a teacher’s livelihood, Barnett said.

“The formal evaluation process for online and face-to-face courses is not a punitive kind of thing. The idea is not to catch people doing bad things,” Barnett said. “The idea is to make what’s there better. It’s really to help us all improve as instructors so the next students will get better instruction.”

The evaluation process is especially important to the community college because it’s held to strict guidelines by the state that ensure all sections of a course include the same specified content. This eases a student’s transition to a four-year college down the line, Barnett explained, but is an additional factor to consider when designing courses.

To ensure these standards are met, potential online courses are first reviewed by the college’s Curriculum Committee, a team that reviews all courses (including traditional ones) to ensure their content meets state requirements. Then, the Distance Learning Committee evaluates courses for form and structure, and looks at things such as whether the courses are accessible by disabled students, and if they promote communication between students and instructors.

The formal evaluation process will become the third step in that process.

“That’s when form and the content will come together,” Barnett explained, referring to the evaluation process. “It’s like the glue that will hold them together.”