Spotlight on SoTL – Fulsome Feedback: Strategies to increase response rates on course experience surveys
This article is based on the following research article:
Karen Young, Jeffrey Joines, Trey Standish & Victoria Gallagher (2019) Student evaluations of teaching: the impact of faculty procedures on response rates, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44:1, 37-49, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1467878
It’s that time of year again… the hustle of finishing up the semester, the anticipation of a summer break, and student course experience surveys. All too often, we hear of low response rates on these surveys, which can be disappointing for instructors who long for feedback to improve their courses and teaching strategies. The present article from North Carolina State University shares several strategies for improving response rates on course experience surveys.
What did the researchers do and find?
In days gone by, students used to complete their “course evaluations” – now known at McMaster University as Student Course Experience Surveys – during class time at the end of each semester. Response rates were generally quite high since most students attended class, and class time was provided to complete the surveys. Nowadays, surveys are often administered online and class attendance is unpredictable, especially in courses that record lectures and make them available to students. Response rates on end-of-course surveys have plummeted, leaving many instructors befuddled about their students’ learning experiences in their classes.
A group of researchers at North Carolina State University explored whether providing class time to complete the online surveys might increase response rates. Fifty-three tenured faculty members participated in the study with 73 courses involved (some participants taught more than one course). Two interventions were put in place: (i) allocate 20 minutes of class time to complete the survey, and (ii) provide students several reminders throughout the semester to inform them of the value of their feedback. The researchers found that in the year prior to implementing these interventions, the average response rate was 44.2%, and following the intervention in the next year, average response rates increased to 73.2%.
How might you use this research in your teaching?
Several suggestions can be considered to increase response rates on end-of-course surveys. In addition to the interventions suggested, including:
- encouraging instructors to provide several reminders to students about the survey, and
- providing time in class to complete the survey.
In addition, other suggestions include:
- talking to students about the value of feedback, and providing examples of how past student feedback has led to positive changes made to the course (Goodman, Anson & Belcheir, 2015);
- using the first portion of class time to complete the survey as opposed to the end of class, when students may rather opt to get up and leave rather than complete the survey;
- engaging in mid-course feedback increases the likelihood of students completing end-of-course feedback by 9-16% (Crews & Curtis, 2011);
- avoiding the use of incentives; positive incentives such as a bonus grade if a certain class response rate is achieved can lead to grade inflation and students carelessly completing the survey, while punitive incentives such as withholding grades until surveys are submitted can be viewed as unethical (Anderson, Cain & Bird, 2005); and
- encouraging students who were not present for the in-class survey to complete it on their own time.
Once you receive the survey responses, it may be clear what changes you want to make in your teaching or your course, or you may want to speak with someone about the possibilities. If the latter, please feel free to connect with your Faculty key contact to book a consultation with an educational developer.
Anderson, H. M., J. Cain, and E. Bird. 2005. “Online Student Course Evaluations: Review of Literature and a Pilot Study.” American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 69: 34–43.
Crews, T. B., and D. F. Curtis. 2011. “Online Course Evaluations: Faculty Perspective and Strategies for Improved Response Rates.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 36 (7): 865–878.
Goodman, J., R. Anson, and M. Belcheir. 2015. “The Effect of Incentives and Other Instructor-Driven Strategies to Increase Online Student Evaluation Response Rates.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 40 (7): 958–970.
Stay tuned for the next Spotlight on SoTL coming to the MacPherson Memo on May 3, 2023.Spotlight on SOTL, Updates