With the transition from on paper to online course evaluations, the College of the Environment is leading the pack in terms of the number of courses that have converted to online, and trailing at the back of the pack in terms of the percent response of students within our classes. Following is a living list of approaches, brainstormed by UW Environment faculty with especially high response rates that course instructors can use to get students to take course evaluation seriously.

Timing

  • Announce to the class 2-3 weeks in advance of when the evaluation opens to get it on their radar.
  • Make evaluations visible and accessible; add the link to evaluations to your syllabus, course website, etc.
  • When announcing evaluations, ask students if they intend to complete the evaluation (by show of hands); asking for a demonstration of intention has been shown to increase participation.
  • Open the evaluation early, ideally just prior to the last two weeks of the quarter.
  • Remind students continuously about the evaluation link.
  • Give students 15-20 minutes of dedicated class time for the evaluation, put that in the syllabus, and pre-warn them to “Bring your laptops and/or mobile devices!” to that class period.
  • Intentionally insert dedicated class time for the evaluation on a day with a popular topic or subject, so that class attendance is high.

Make the results meaningful

  • Customize the evaluation – create course-specific, and even individual lecture or activity-specific questions, in addition to the standard questions.
  • Tell the students that their comments are specifically helpful in guiding future offerings, and provide specific advice on helpful versus unhelpful language: “this assignment would have been more effective if it had included an opportunity for students to do the group work in class” versus “this assignment stinks.”
  • Take time to tell the students at the beginning of the course, and/or at each relevant point in the course, how the previous year’s evaluation was specifically used to change course material, activities or other pedagogical aspects.
  • Immediately prior to opening the on-line evaluation, tell the students how you plan to use their evaluation feedback to improve the next offering of the course.
  • Connect the evaluation directly to yourself: “These evaluations are important to my career as a faculty member/as a graduate student because part of my annual evaluation depends on my success as an instructor.”
  • Tell students who will review the evaluations, not just the instructor, but also the academic unit to help continuously improve the curriculum. Ask your unit to consider sending such a message from the unit chair/director directly to all students in the unit.
  • Tell students where to find the response data.
  • Remind students that course evaluation data is anonymous; instructors will not see it until after the quarterly grade submission deadline.

Incorporate assessment directly into the course

  • Create multiple on-line evaluations for yourself, even as frequently as every lecture. These can be simple tools that you use to evaluate whether/how to incorporate material in next year’s offering (i.e., keep, change, ditch, add). This exercise familiarizes students with evaluation and its uses; and the course evaluation is simply one more exercise.
  • Provide group-level, grade-based incentives.
    • Announce that if a threshold of students (e.g., 75%) complete the evaluation, then everyone will receive additional points (this strategy requires that you not grade on a curve).
    • Announce that if a threshold of students (e.g., 75%) have completed the evaluation by the time of the final, then there will be a bonus question on the final.

Expand the context

  • Make sure your TAs are also directly involved in soliciting student evaluations, for the course as a whole as well as for themselves, and are using the same approaches.