FAQ about UAlbany's online Student Instructional Rating Form (SIRF) system

The UAlbany SIRF course evaluation system is hosted by the DigitalMeasures Corporation, and continues to be administered by UAlbany's Office of Institutional Research, Planning, and Effectiveness. The SIRF system utilizes UAlbany's secure, password-protected MyUAlbany portal.

Why should I complete an online (SIRF) course evaluation? By when do I need to fill out the evaluations for my courses?
How does SIRF benefit me?
Are the questions the same as the paper SIRFs I filled out last year?

How will I complete an online course evaluation?

 

Can you tell me more about the advisory committee?
If the survey is anonymous, why did the e-mail have my name and why do I need to log in to MyUAlbany?

What if I have further questions about SIRF?
Are there any dangers of identity theft or that kind of thing if I participate? Who exactly is this company UAlbany is using to carry out SIRF online?
 

“Why should I complete an online course evaluation?” For two basic reasons:

• Student feedback is used to assess and improve instruction.
• Student feedback is considered in making promotion, tenure, and other merit decisions concerning instructors.

“How does SIRF benefit me? I won’t have to repeat the courses I’m taking now.” Basically, the more completely every student participates, the more all students will see the benefits across the curricula. This semester there are students who are completing evaluations in courses that you will be taking sometime in the future. Their feedback will help influence the courses you take in the future.

“How will I complete an online course evaluation?” Most courses at UAlbany use the Student Instructional Rating Form (SIRF) course evaluation. Students registered for courses using SIRF will be sent survey invitations to their UAlbany e-mail accounts with a link to MyUAlbany, or after the evaluation period begins you can simply log into MyUAlbany and click on the Evaluate link near your course(s) with SIRF on Academics page. The MyUAlbany Academics panel contains a Academic Summary listing your courses and an Evaluate link will appear when the survey is open. If you are having trouble finding the "Evaluate" link, another option is to scroll to the bottom of the Academics page and press the link under "Online Course Evaluations". You will receive reminder e-mails every three days until you respond to the survey. If these e-mails are not in your inbox, you might be able to find them in your junk mail or spam folders. If you can't find the e-mails, or you do not have an active UAlbany e-mail account, and still would like to take the survey, log on to MyUAlbany go to the Academics page and click Evaluate next to your course. If you have any difficulty getting to an online SIRF evaluation and need assistance please contact: Laura Benson Marotta, of the Office of Institutional Research, Planning & Effectiveness.

"If the survey is anonymous, why did the e-mail have my name and why do I need to log in to MyUAlbany?" Log-in is required to ensure the validity of the survey data. In other words, we need to make sure that only students registered for that specific course submit an evaluation for that course—and that they only do so once per course. The online system we use to host the surveys keeps log-in information in an entirely separate data set from the survey response data. It is impossible to match the two data sets. Neither your ID number nor any other identifying information will be included in the response data set. In this way, we ensure that your survey responses are both valid and completely anonymous.

There is no risk in participating in this course/instructor evaluation, and the information you provide will benefit future students by helping the University to better monitor how students view courses and instructors. Your participation is completely voluntary and there is no penalty if you choose not to participate. You may skip any questions you do not feel comfortable answering. The survey is completely anonymous. Neither your instructors nor anybody else will be able to link your individual responses to you, as your responses will be separated from any identifying information about you when they are saved.

Furthermore, your responses will be part of a pooled data set given to your instructors and their department chairperson, but only after grades are posted. General or aggregated results of the pooled data may be disseminated or made publicly available for research purposes, but will only be presented in aggregate form in ways that ensure that no individual students can be identified.

“Are there any dangers of identity theft or that kind of thing if I participate?” No. Students already safely and regularly use the secure MyUAlbany portal for all kinds of information and transactions. Again, there are two entirely separate databases: the first does have names, IDs and e-mail addresses and is used exclusively for delivering the invitation and reminder e-mails and tracking responses (so that we only send reminders to people who haven't finished yet). This first database does not have any survey responses on it. This is done so that only UAlbany students can take the survey, and so that no student can complete the evaluation more than once for each class. When you take the survey, your responses are stored on an entirely separate database. No identifying information at all is stored on the database that contains the survey responses -- no name, no ID, no e-mail address. There is no other possible way of linking the two databases.

As for the private vendor, DigitalMeasures, which manages the course evaluation system, signed confidentiality agreements with the University at Albany and has contractually agreed to abide by all terms of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This corporation has safely and securely managed data systems for hundreds of colleges and universities for several years, and is the same corporation which manages the “Faculty Activity Reports” all UAlbany teaching faculty are required to update each year. [For further details, please see the statement “DigitalMeasures Protects Your Privacy” at the end of this FAQ.]

“By when do I need to fill out the evaluations for my courses?”

The date the survey closes will be stated in your e-mail invitation to the survey.

A big advantage of online systems is that the students can fill them out anytime, anywhere, 24/7, between the starting date. Filling out paper forms took up class time, and may have limited the time you had available to answer open-ended questions. From now on, if you can log into your MyUAlbany page during the evaluation period, you can do the evaluation and, for an open-ended question, you can write as long (or as short) a response as you wish.

“Are the questions the same as the paper SIRFs I filled out in previous years?” Yes. An advisory committee includes undergraduate and graduate student representatives, to review the questions and make suggestions for changing them. The online system also allows departments and schools, and individual faculty, to add their own questions specifically addressing concerns related to the specific programs and courses. Most departments and programs have decided to take advantage of this capability, so you may see some new questions, generally open-ended ones, on some of the SIRF questionnaires.

“Can you tell me more about the advisory committee?” The committee was formed in consultation with the Governance Council of the University Senate and includes, in addition to students, the chairs of the councils concerned with assessment of courses, faculty tenure, and University policies along with representation from Institutional Research, the Institute for Teaching, Learning, and Academic Leadership (ITLAL), school and college deans, department chairs, and teaching faculty with expertise in research design. The charges to the committee include reviewing the historical use of course evalutions at UAlbany and to make recommendtions regarding SIRF going forward, and to begin a reivew of the “old” questions common to all questionnaires that were taken from the paper SIRF forms.

Given the opportunities afforded by the new system for expanded questions and the fact the instructors and department chairs will receive the aggregate results right after all grades have been turned in, not several weeks later, as in the past, the advisory committee’s over-arching charge was to consider how these advantages may best be used to enhance instruction and student satisfaction with their courses. Although, as noted above, students aren’t required to answer every question and may not be inclined to provide long answers to open-ended questions, another concern of the advisory committee was to minimize the number of questions so that students do not experience “questionnaire fatigue." For the aggregate summary data on a course to be considered credible by faculty, it is important that a significant percentage of the students who are eligible to submit an evaluation of a course do so, even if some responses are shorter than others and omit answers to some particular questions.

Finally, the advisory committee considered what information gathered from the online SIRF might appropriately be shared with students. See https://wiki.albany.edu/display/irpe/Course+Assessment+Advisory+Committee for the Advisory Committee's report and its recommendations.

“What if I have further questions about SIRF?” If you have any questions or concerns about the online SIRF program at UAlbany, please contact Dr. Laura Benson Marotta, at the Office of Institutional Research, Planning & Effectiveness.

Who exactly is this company UAlbany is using to carry out SIRF online?

Digital Measures Protects Your Privacy [the following assurances are provided by our online SIRF partner, Digital Measures, Inc.] Although moving processes in higher education to a digital format offers many advantages, it also opens the door to challenges such as privacy and security. Digital Measures completely acknowledges this and understands that these challenges must be met with no exceptions. With Digital Measures, you can be assured that the following conditions will be met:

    Information exchanged between your computer and our servers are always transferred over an encrypted connection to prevent unauthorized exposure.

    Digital Measures' servers are in a datacenter that is owned and managed by IBM that has these features:
    • Locked, caged server room protected by armed security guards who are present at all times
    • Servers are firewalled and located behind an intrusion detection system
    • Redundant fire suppression and climate control systems
    • Redundant power and Internet connections

    Secure nightly backups to five geographically-dispersed locations owned by IBM and Iron Mountain

    Digital Measures is compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

    Digital Measures is registered and has certified with the United States Department of Commerce as compliant with the Safe Harbor Principles in effect between the European Union and the US

    Your personal information will never be released, sold or shared by Digital Measures with parties other than your academic institution and parties that we use to provide the services that we do. When we must share data with parties to provide the services that we do, we establish legally-binding confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure agreements to protect the shared data.

Many steps have been taken to protect your data and personal identity in every component of our solutions. We hope you enjoy your experience with our system! -Digital Measures