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July 10, 2012


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Kevin Jon Heller

We recently switched at Melbourne, and the faculty isn't happy about it. Our response rate has dropped considerably and the scores have become significantly more polarized -- clearly, the fact that students now have to put effort into completing an evaluation (as opposed to simply being handed a form in class) means that, in general, only students who really liked or really disliked a course go to the trouble.

Emily Bremer

Could timing provide an explanation (or part of an explanation) for the lower number of negative responses? Paper evaluations are typically filled out on the last day of class, with the exam looming, as I recall. That may be a time when students have more complaints about the professor than at other times during the semester. If students have a few weeks to fill out an electronic evaluation, that might provide enough time for them to cool down or feel better about the professor and/or exam. Students may also leave electronic evaluations until the last minute and then rush through them. That rush might not make the evaluations more positive, but it might explain why students provide fewer written comments.

Jacqueline Lipton

Interesting that Melbourne had the opposite experience to us - although I can only speak for my own classes. I haven't done a broader survey here.
Emily makes some good points. We tried to emulate the time period as well as possible by having most students fill in the online evaluations in class on the day we would have used for the paper evaluations, but by the time I ask them to do it in class a lot have already done it online or said they planned to do it later - so that may skew the results as you suggest.

Kendall Isaac

We (Appalachian) tried the switch and found that the response rate went down substantially and students were suspicious about the anonymity of the new process. As a result, we switched backed to a paper process. I did not see a major change my overall ratings, with most students liking me but one of the students still defiant enough to say that I sucked in the online version!

Jeffrey Harrison

We recently switched here at UF. The response rate is below 50% in some cases and in virtually all instances lower than it was. A student who goes to the trouble of signing on to evaluate seems more likely to comment but if the response rate is low that may mean the total comments is also lower. In terms of the evaluations, I have not seen a bias.

Michael Duff

At Wyoming we went to online evaluations and then quickly reverted to the paper version as our default when the response rate dropped dramatically. I think we technically have some discretion to use either version but personally I saw which way the wind was blowing and returned to using paper exclusively.

Orin Kerr

At GW we use online evaluations, and I don't recall seeing any difference in evaluation quality or overall ratings after making the switch. One thing I have noticed in my own classes is that response rate varies dramatically based on how a professor times and presents the evaluations. If you present it as an afterthought, or just give students a few minutes of class time and hope they fill them out, a lot won't. But if you stress the importance of the evaluation, announce the date before hand, and ask students to bring in their laptops on that day to fill them, the response rate doesn't seem lower than it was during the paper era.

Alex Reinert

We switched from paper to online a couple of years ago. I have not noticed a drop in participation rate or in substantive comments (although my administration tells me that overall participation rates have dropped). Like Orin, I announce in advance when I intend to do the evaluations (almost everyone brings laptops to class every day anyway). I emphasize multiple times how seriously I take them. I give a little five minute lecture about cognitive biases prior to asking them to fill out the evaluations (on the theory that some of the cognitive bias literature suggests that people are better at resisting such biases when they are informed of their existence). I generally get at least 90% participation -- and I get plenty of substantive comments -- I tell the students that I value the comments much more than the numerical rating. This year I continued to remind students about my hope that they will fill out the evaluations after the date I made time in class -- they can fill them out any time up until the last day of class, and I sent reminders up until that point. In each of my classes, I think I had higher than 95% participation, which I was happy about.

Newbie prof

Alex, what sort of cognitive biases do you discuss? I think that is a great idea and was just curious about the details.

Alex Reinert

Newbie Prof: Deborah Merritt has a good article which talks about many of them. You can find it at It summarizes a lot of the literature and proposes that evaluations be conducted in a different manner entirely. I have always wanted to try to use her proposal, but I have not yet made it happen.

Newbie prof

Thank you very much!

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