My school has gradually moved from paper-based course evaluations to online evaluations over the last couple of years. I have now had about three or four of my courses evaluated electronically. The first go around, I had a rather small class but was pleased to see a good response rate ie higher percentage of students filling in the online evaluation than had filled in the paper evaluations probably because the online evaluations are available outside of class time for a window of several weeks for students to fill in. I was also pleased and surprised to see no negative comments at all. I noticed the same pattern the following year ie a high response rate and a dearth of negative comments.
I also noticed that there were fewer substantive/qualitative comments overall in the online evaluations than there had been in their paper-based counterparts. In the paper-based evaluations, most of my students had written something in the 'comments' sections even if it was only a word or two. In the online evaluations a much smaller number of students wrote anything at all under 'comments'.
This got me to wondering whether the move to online evaluations skews the results in unfortunate ways. For example, although I'd love to think I've become such a magnificent teacher that no one can think of anything negative to say about me, I suspect this is not the case. I wonder if the lack of negative evaluations might be explained by students' suspicions that anonymous online surveys are not really anonymous at all and can be traced to them in a way that paper-based evaluations cannot.
The lack of negative evaluations might also be a function of the smaller number of qualitative/substantive comments overall. However, I can't see why a move to an online format would skew evaluations in favor of positive feedback unless students were concerned that they would be tracked and somehow punished for negative evaluations.
It's also interesting that students have written less comments in the online format when one would assume it's easier and quicker to type comments into a computer screen than to handwrite them on a paper form.
Has anyone else had the experience of a switch from paper to digital evaluations and, if so, what have your experiences been? Clearly online evaluations are convenient for students as well as being easier to collate and access remotely. But are there downsides we might have been missing?