Information Technology Services at NorthWest Arkansas Community College

Apples to Apples
University Business, December 2012
NorthWest Arkansas Community College
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Few if any colleges and universities would advise students to include No. 2 pencils on their list of required supplies.

Yet when it came time for students at NorthWest Arkansas Community College to complete evaluations for their courses, among the tools used were Scantron sheets—those slips of paper covered with row upon row of ovals to be carefully filled in with pencil.

NWACC employed other evaluation tools, too: additional printed materials, online survey tools and a survey created in-house. The varied methods made consistent, usable assessment difficult to achieve. “It was all over the place,” recalls Paige Francis, associate vice president for information technology.

A faculty committee took up standardizing the evaluations; the result was a 17-question form for all students to fill out, with room for customization by individual departments. To reduce paper use and improve processing, the college purchased an online survey system from SmartEval.

Implemented institutionwide—all students, all classes—the SmartEval system integrates with NWACC’s Banner by Ellucian product, so that when students log in to their accounts, they are notified automatically that evaluations are open. Evaluations are completed online and can be filled out on or off-campus. The integration with Banner—a major factor in the decision to purchase SmartEval—allows for seamless joining of student records with course assessment.

“It’s fantastic to hear our academic side of the house really adopting integration with Banner as a key component to finding the software,” Francis says. “It just makes me glow a little bit.”

Francis estimates that the prior varied evaluation methods cost NWACC more than $28,000 a year: nearly 1,700 person-hours for preparation and processing at an average hourly salary of $14.35, plus $4,500 a year in supplies. With SmartEval coming in at $11,000 per year, the estimated annual savings is $17,000. Moreover, because the results don’t need to be tabulated and formulated by hand, instructors receive much more timely feedback.

“From the faculty perspective, that was a huge goal,” says Christina Smith, a mathematics faculty member and vice president of NWACC’s faculty senate. “We can survey every student in every class now. Before, that was just way too cumbersome for the department secretaries to manage.”

According to Kate Burkes, director of distance learning and leader of the team that implemented SmartEval, consistent assessment is an important factor in the accreditation process. “When you have a standardized question set, you are comparing apples to apples,” she says. “You get a large enough body of data to be really able to gauge what’s going on with your faculty and with your courses.”

And that, say NWACC officials, allows faculty to alter their coursework and their teaching more quickly, improving student outcomes. “This provides documentation to make sure we are continuing to serve our students how they want and how they need to be served,” Francis concludes.