Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Changing of a Process

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The Changing of a Process

The Problem

There is an ongoing battle over how to do our Student Evaluation of Course and Instructor (SECI). On one side, we have the faculty that wants the process to stay the same, using paper forms and a scanning machine. On the other side, we have the staff that has to process all of the forms and data. They would like it to be done electronically. There are many problems associated with keeping the paper forms. First, the cost; this semester alone it cost $100.00 just to print the forms and that is just one side of them, the other side has to be printed locally. Next is the man-hours; for two weeks before they are sent out and three weeks after they come back, there are four people working full time to process them. After that consider the error factor with doing them by hand. Last but definitely not least is the storage of forms. The forms themselves have to be stored for five years.

The Faculty Side

The faculty side has a resistance to change. Some of the resistance was brought on by our recent changes in not only our mainframe operating system but also our main applications and email servers. The email server change went pretty smooth but the others did not. We went from an Open VMS VAX to a TRU64 Alpha system. This caused some problems at the time because UNIX will overwrite files where the VAX would apply a version number to them, and also things like batch job and print queues were gone. I know UNIX has the queues but they are not as easy to manipulate. Couple that with our new application that is slower and not nearly as reliable as the old one, and you can see why they might be hesitant about any more changes. They also argue that the online system would not ensure the student’s right to privacy, because the answers on the form are supposed to be confidential.

One other factor that the faculty wants everyone to consider is control. Some of the deans like to have control of their instructors. They like to say which instructors will do the forms and when they will do them. This maybe a critical point since in some of the semesters the SECI is voluntary.

The Staff Side

The staff that processes the forms argues that doing it the paper way is not only too expensive but also inaccurate. As a student here myself a few tears ago, I have seen what happens when it is time for a class to fill out the forms. The class is given fifteen minutes to fill out the forms. When they get the fifteen minutes is at the discretion of the instructor. More times than not the fifteen minutes comes at the end of class, so the students hurry through it just to leave early.

The forms often come back in an envelope from another class, so they cannot be considered valid. Sometimes the forms even come back blank, suggesting that the instructor did not pass them out to the class. Logic would tell us that if an instructor had a problem with some students he would wait until the day they did not show up for class, to pass out the forms. The scanning machine itself is not 100% accurate. If the form is not filled out with a number pencil, it may or may not get read by the machine. With thousands of these forms to process there is no way for the operator to verify each individual form and still meet the deadlines.

As far as the expense goes, there are many things to consider. First thing is the actual printing of the forms themselves. This semester alone it cost $100 dollars to have just the backsides of the forms printed. The front sides had to be printed locally. To print the front sides it took two toner cartridges, a photoconductor kit and a transfer kit at a cost of over $600 and a total of at least $1800. Now let’s figure in the labor cost. There are four staff personnel that work on these forms and reports for two weeks before and three weeks after they go out and come back respectively. Three of them are salaried and one is hourly, making $10.00 and hour. For the hourly person that would be 40 hours times $10.00 an hour equals $400.00 times five weeks. Now let’s look at the salaried employees. The highest paid one makes about $4,000 a year. If you divide that by fifty-two weeks you come up with $4.1 per week times five weeks equals $4711.55. The next highest paid makes about $4,000 a year. That would come out to $807.6 a week times five weeks makes $408.45. The last employee makes about $6,000 a year, which figures out to be $6.1 a week times five weeks makes $461.55. If you add it all up it comes to $16,011.55. That is a lot of expense for a small department and that does not include the maintenance contracts on the equipment.

Another argument for the removal of the paper forms is storage. We currently have over 1,000 students enrolled at the college and each student must have one form for each class he or she is enrolled in. While some student take only one class per semester, others take as many as six. The average is somewhere between three and four. If we take an average of three times the 1,000 students that are attending that makes 6,000 forms per semester that must be stored for five years. With space at a premium here, it has become increasingly harder to find a place to put them. We have three semesters a year so that means that we will have to store 108,000 forms every year.

The Forces of Influence

Here at the college it has always been that the faculty gets what it wants and the staff can have what ever is left over. This may just be a perception by the staff but it does have basis in facts. Take for example the procedure for getting a mini-grant. You must justify how it will benefit the students either directly or indirectly. If you have a job that does not deal directly with the students it can be hard to justify.

The president of the college worked her way up on the faculty side of the college, so most of her decisions are based on that. Other than just a few people, everyone that has been promoted to a top position does some sort of teaching here at the college. This leads the staff to believe that the only opinions that matter come from the faculty.

There are some high-ranking faculty members that are in favor of the electronic forms. One of which is the dean of Business Technology. She is in good favor with the president so she might have some influence on the decision. She is also the chairman for the Quality Counsel that in itself should provide enough weight to her opinion to effect some change. That is of course, if the college believes in its TQM program.

The forces in opposition to the electronic form are, for the most part, PhDs that happen to be female. They have been here for a long time and think that their seniority should count when it comes to making the decision. It was been discovered that most of the people in favor of keeping the old paper forms are the ones that have the most problems with their computers. They would argue that if they, the PhDs, cannot do it then the students will not be able do it. The opposition’s answer to that is; yes there will be a small percentage of the students that will not be able to figure out how to do it, but it will be much smaller than the number that currently do not fill out the forms properly.

Conclusion

While there is still some argument about using the electronic form, there is evidence that it will happen. The new form is currently being used by all of the students in Business Technology and has proven to be not only reliable but also less costly. It is saving money in both materials and labor, and will save even more when it is adopted college wide. All of the opposition’s arguments against using the electronic form are being addressed and dispelled one at a time. It is only a matter of time now before it is used campus wide.

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