For a copy of the complete submission please contact lydia.martone [at] mcgill.ca (Lydia Martone).
Efficient and effective online course evaluations
The administration of course evaluations, which have been required at McGill University since 1992, imposed a significant logistical burden on academic and central data processing units. In fall 2003, McGill launched an innovative project to transform the process to a completely online one, the first and only one in Canada. All phases of the course evaluation process are available online questionnaire preparation, administration and data collection, data analysis, and reporting to instructors, administrators and students. Mercury, the course evaluation system, was developed in-house in Banner, Mc Gill’s Student Information System. By fall 2006, Mercury became the official system for all course evaluations. In the 2009-10 academic year, more than 29,000 individual students accessed Mercury to evaluate more than 4,800 courses taught by more than 2,500 instructors.
The Mercury online system offers numerous advantages in all phases, notably:
1) Questionnaire preparation and administration:
- requires minimal recurrent work for administration
- provides easy access to multiple forms and language options for different courses
- eliminates the need for approximately 480,000 sheets of paper annually for data
- encourages administrators to keep online instructor and teaching assistant
2) Data collection and analysis:
- ensures anonymity of responses, especially comments
- ensures access to evaluations for registered students only
- provides reports with common information across courses and units as well as options for follow-up analysis.
- allows students to complete questionnaires at personally convenient times, avoiding “evaluation overload” and permitting more reflective responses
3) Reporting and access:
- makes results available to instructors online almost immediately after grades are submitted
- ensures secure access to results for faculty, academic administrators and students
- offers flexible report formats
- manages instructor permissions for student access to results.
The scope and scale of McGill’s online course evaluation system has resulted in a transformation of the course evaluation process. The administrative process has been re-engineered and streamlined to increase flexibility and efficiency while improving the quality of the data. This is an economically and environmentally sustainable innovation.
The number of student refunds has been increasing in recent years. This is partially due to new systems enhancements that disburse student aid directly to a student’s account, as well as a change in the frequency of disbursements of US government aid over the year. One clerk was responsible for the task of managing over 6,500 refunds per year. Formerly, students completed a paper request for the refund, and a separate direct deposit request, which was submitted in person, by fax, or by mail. The requests were often incomplete, necessitating time-consuming follow-up emails and/or phone inquiries and over 50% resulted in paper cheques.
In October 2009, a new functionality for students to request their refunds via our web for self-service (MINERVA) was deployed. The on-line form is context-sensitive with certain elements being interactively validated as the student navigates through the form. The form displays the active mail address and provides the ability for a student to update this information. In addition, students can be redirected to the direct deposit entry form to submit bank data for more expedient refunds.
Students now provide more information regarding the reason for their refund. If the reason is due to US government loans, then the refund is tagged as a priority and is placed in a queue to be handled first. Upon deploying the form to students, a refund management page was made available to staff. This form allows staff to view hierarchal approval queues (dependent on dollar value of refund and priority), and add comments which could be tagged for staff only, or viewable by the student (delivered in phase II – April 2010).
The new on-line system has resulted in a 62% decline in paper cheques. Students receive their direct deposits within two business days of approval, and they can track the progress of their refund on-line, resulting in fewer inquiries as to its status. The paperless process has increased the timeliness and efficiency of the approval process and has auditable controls with three levels of dollar-based approvals. This is especially beneficial, as there are more refunds due to the increased number of US loan and student aid disbursements.
On-Line Instead of In-Line
August after hot August students lined up outside the Client Services offices located in the McGill Sports Complex to register for a variety of our services (buy a membership to the gym, sign up for a fitness class, register an intramural team, rent a locker). For two and a half weeks they spilled out of the office, down the hall and into our main reception area waiting to be served by one of our six customer service agents. Wait times were extensive and our aging point of sale (POS) system was slow, tenuous and outdated.
Prepared as we were for the inevitable onslaught, we were perennially faced with the same obstacles; too little space and too few workstations to process the surge of students all wanting to purchase our services within the first three weeks of school.
We knew that on-line registration was the answer to the problem, but we struggled to find a solution that would incorporate our data base of McGill students and staff into a registration software package designed to service the unique day-to-day needs of a university-based recreation operation. To further complicate the problem, we needed a reasonably priced “out of the box” product that would provide the flexibility to grow as technology evolves.
The software had to be hosted on-site and be bundled with an accounting package that includes point of sale, banking, Accounts Receivable / General Ledger interface with Banner (our IT system), inventory control and a membership module capable of downloading McGill’s student and staff data base.
Athletics and Recreation engaged McGill’s Information Systems Resources team as a partner to help us outline our specific technology requirements, review existing solutions at similar institutions, research various vendors and assist in the implementation of the software. The process took 18 months to deliver and included network and server migration, electronic accounting and POS customizations, data conversion, changes to current business practices, extensive staff training and significant data entry.
The software was implemented in time for the fall 2009 registration period.
The Green McGill Project
The Green McGill Project is a multi-level initiative, undertaken by McGill in collaboration with the City of Montréal, with the intent to improve the overall quality of the McGill downtown campus. It includes:
- Creation of pedestrian dominant zones in both the lower campus and lower McTavish Street with the addition of planters, seating, bike racks, etc.
- Elimination of most surface parking and reduction of vehicular traffic in these areas by restricting service and delivery hours.
- Reconstruction of major paved terraces and creation of a new public square to improve green space and to promote social interaction and activities.
- Creation of a new bike path on University Street that diverts through bike traffic from the campus and connects the City’s existing bike path network.
This project also touches on numerous aspects of the environment including the promotion of biodiversity, reduction of the heat island effect, reduction of vehicle CO2 production and reduction of energy consumption.
As the largest green space in the downtown core, McGill’s campus benefits the McGill community in addition to the thousands of Montrealers who live and work nearby. In making the campus greener, McGill has not only made the campus more environmentally sustainable, but also promotes a more sustainable lifestyle to the thousands of daily visitors and students, who will ideally take these priorities with them when they leave.
This project imposed radical changes to the campus and its operation. It served as an experiment in change management, requiring not only tremendous courage, but a multi-pronged effort in advance consultation and planning and a huge investment in time and resources. A large multi-disciplinary workgroup continues to coordinate the numerous interests and user groups and oversee changes.
Finally, the project is more than the sum of its physical parts. It has had a transformational effect on the University, bringing together academic and administrative units, student groups, local residents and Municipal government agencies. The initiative has provided a new model for multi-stakeholder collaboration; it has improved communications and working relationships among University units and is a remarkable demonstration of the power of collaboration.
The Teaching and Learning Spaces Working Group: Improving the decision-making process for classroom renovations
Many classrooms on our 190-year-old campus do not reflect what we now know about student learning. In 2006, the Provost created the Teaching and Learning Spaces Working Group (TLSWG) to allocate funds for classroom renovations based on sound pedagogical principles. As well as improving classrooms in support of students’ active engagement in learning, this collaborative effort of those working on innovative campus-wide improvements has improved the quality of services and the management of financial and physical resources that have increased quality and effectiveness.
Shared leadership: Co-chairs represent both pedagogy (Director, Teaching and Learning Services) and campus planning (Director, Campus and Space Planning).
Transparent prioritization: The TLSWG comprises forty representatives from all faculties, student associations, and service units, including facilities project managers, architects, Enrolment Services, IT services, pedagogical consultants, and the Library. This group decides annually which classrooms will be renovated. The process has resulted in an unexpected sense of community in addressing classroom needs while stewarding University resources.
Focused, coordinated funding: A central fund was established to replace the formerly fragmented funding for renovations and IT improvements, and only centrally scheduled classrooms are eligible for the funding. This has prompted a culture shift from closely guarded "faculty-owned" funds and classrooms towards sharing resources to achieve a University-wide vision of classrooms in support of student learning.
This transformative process has been so successful that it has been expanded to address the University’s teaching laboratories and has already led to leveraging funding for several significant renovations with major pedagogical innovations. The features of this model and the decision-making process surrounding teaching and learning spaces are highly transferable to other institutions.