Online professor evaluations lead to higher student response rates

Doerpinghaus is ‘open to’ publishing responses

As students spend the last days of the semester completing final projects and papers and preparing for exams, professors are hoping they’ll put some time into another assignment, too — professor evaluations.

An increasing trend toward online forms in place of traditional paper surveys seems to have helped push evaluation completion rates up to around 70 to 80 percent, says Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies Helen Doerpinghaus.

The advantages of online evaluations include saving paper resources, allowing professors to more easily analyze students’ responses and allowing students to do the evaluations on their own time rather than in class, Doerpinghaus said. But some students say their own time is not the best time for evaluations.

Third-year exercise science student Rachel Holley said about half of her professor evaluations are emailed to her, and she has never opened any of them. For evaluations given in class, though, she said she takes the time to fill out the comment sections and offer both positive and negative feedback to her professors.

“It’s just really convenient to do it in a classroom setting. Once I get home, I don’t really feel like spending time on it, even though I know it’s important to do,” Holley said. “When I’m home, it’s allotting time out of my other things I have to do.”

Suzanne Swan, an associate professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies, estimated her students complete online evaluations about 60 percent of the time when they rely on department email reminders.

“I like to know what people think about guest speakers, general format of the class. It’s all really good information,” Swan said. “You really need that kind of information. And if the students don’t give it to you, then you’re not going to know, and you might keep repeating the same mistakes.”

Swan said one possible way to encourage more students to complete evaluations is to give them a better sense of the impact of their responses. She suggested publishing student evaluations for other students to look at when deciding which professors’ courses to register for.

“I guess if I were a student, it would be nice to have access to the official evaluations. You get much better data,” Swan said. “It would hold faculty accountable. If they know this stuff is going to be published, that would hold people accountable. Students would probably do it more if they got to benefit from the information.”

Doerpinghaus said she would be open to the possibility of publishing evaluation responses in some form.

“It would be a change of culture,” Doerpinghaus said. “I’m open to that, because I think you would get better quality information. You talk to your friends all the time (about professors), especially people in your major and people that have taken the same courses.”

She said that publishing responses to even a couple of basic questions like “Would you recommend this course?” and general questions about course organization would be more beneficial to students than using sites like Rate My Professors, where any student can post ratings and comments about professors.

Holley said that published professor evaluations would provide prospective students a better representation of attitudes about professors.

“The [surveys] that you take in class, that’s getting everyone’s opinion. But the ones like Rate My Professors, that’s people that are really adamant for the professor or strongly opposed to them,” Holley said.

Faculty members use student input on evaluation surveys at the end of semesters to assess the weak and strong points of their courses and make adjustments for future classes.

Administrators also take stock in what students have to say about professors when it comes to tenure and promotion decisions. Other professors do peer teaching evaluations, but “that isn’t enough,” Doerphinghaus said.

“We need to know how students experience the course. It’s very important to get that input,” Doerpinghaus said. “Students have good ideas. There’s nobody better than the students to say what does and doesn’t work well in teaching the material.”

“The university really wants to provide excellent teaching. That’s a promise we’ve made to you, and we want to deliver on the promise,” Doerpinghaus said.


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