Low response rate for online course evaluations

April West

This past winter term, the Lawrence campus experienced a switch from in-class written course evaluations to online course evaluations completed outside of class.
According to Provost and Dean of the Faculty David Burrows, the major reason for the switch was that it produced a quicker and better way to handle the evaluations.
“The written evaluations took an enormous amount of time to code and get back to the teachers. We wanted to get back to them quicker so that they could make adjustments to their classes,” Burrows explained.
The other reason for the switch, said Burrows, was the concern teachers had about taking up class time to fill out the written evaluations. The online course evaluations eliminate this problem by being available outside of class time.
The response rate for the winter term evaluations was 55 percent, “much lower than we would have liked,” Burrows stated. The response rate for the written evaluations fall term was 85 percent.
This term, the Curriculum Committee will attempt to come up with new ideas and incentives for students to fill out the online evaluations. One such idea is to spread the word that evaluations are in fact considered and very appreciated by the faculty.
“I think that faculty encouragement is an important factor in getting students to fill them out,” stated Burrows. Other ideas include having students that fill out the evaluations included in a drawing for certain prizes.
Elizabeth Carlson, Assistant Professor of Art History, feels that in theory the new online course evaluations are fantastic.
“Previously we would not get results back from the written evaluations until eighth week, when it was too late to make changes to classes,” said Carlson. “They are better in every way, except for the response rate. Twenty-seven out of 47 students completed online course evaluations [for my class], and I know of some teachers that got only one evaluation back.”
When asked about the concern that some students may have about their anonymity now that the evaluations were done on student Voyager accounts, Carlson said she had no idea who had filled out which evaluation when she was reading them.
Peter Glick, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Fellows Program, said, “The idea of the online course evaluations is on the right track. We were previously pushing a lot of paper and it was going through a lot of hands, which was creating a lot of excess work. The written evaluations took a long time and weren’t very efficient.”
As the director of the fellows program, Glick believes that untenured teachers and fellows need feedback because this is the only way that teaching is assessed at Lawrence.
“Fellows need to be able to get jobs, and to get jobs they need to be able to show how they were evaluated, and a 50 percent turnout rate won’t show much,” Glick stated.
“This is taken very seriously by the administration and the faculty, and I hope it is taken seriously by the students.”
Sophomore Katie Loppnow stated, “In theory the online evaluations are convenient, but students in general are too lazy to take the time to fill them out unless they really love or hate their professors.”
Emily May added, “I like the new course evaluations because sitting and filling out evaluations was an awkward parting for the end of class. No one wanted to be doing them,” said the sophomore. “It’s a better idea overall because it takes less time, is easily accessible, and I would rather do them outside of class.”
Burrows concluded, “The university is based on student-teacher interaction, and student feedback on courses is a very useful aspect of this dialogue. We hope to find a way to make the spring term evaluations more efficient and useful.

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