Gone are the days of handing out course evaluations during the last week of class and asking students to fill them out and place them in the envelope in the front of the room. Now, students are sent an email with a link or perhaps are given directions in their learning management system on how to fill out class evaluations. With evaluations now handled remotely, it’s no surprise that the percentage of students who complete them has shrunk considerably.
Granted, student evaluations often focus more on whether students like the instructor than what they learned, but many of us still want to see what our students have to say about a course. For me, particularly if I’ve done a major re-haul on the course or am teaching a course for the first time, student feedback can be invaluable. But how can we encourage more students to participate?
The easy answer might be to give extra credit but giving points for something students should do anyway can be a mixed bag, and some institutions disallow extra credit for student evaluation completion. So, how can we encourage students to complete evaluations? Here are some strategies I’ve used in the various courses I teach:
- Make student evaluation completion a group effort. At my institution, students can click a button which sends an email to the instructor indicating they’ve filled out the evaluation. That’s fine, but it doesn’t matter to me which student completed the evaluation; it’s about the collective thoughts and opinions of all my students. Any class incentives I employ always start when more than half of the students have completed the evaluation, so I give them a group percentage to encourage students to participate. For example, if 75% fill out the evaluation, you all get X; if 100% of you do, you all get Y.
- Allow students to use note cards for the final exam. They may only get to use the front of a card if say 75% of the class fills out the evaluation, but they’ll be allowed to use the front and back if the entire class submits evaluations. Or they may be able to use a 4x6 note card instead of a 3x5 note card.
- Give extra time on online finals. For a 60-minute exam, I’ll increase it to 75 or 90 minutes if a certain percentage of the class completes the course evaluation. Admittedly, this option may only work if teaching a blended or online class.
- Open online final exams earlier and/or kept them open longer. If an exam was going to be available Monday through Wednesday, I might open it Sunday through Wednesday or Monday through Friday once a certain percentage of the class completes the course evaluation.
- Give additional time to turn in final assignments. Now that I know I offer this incentive, I always build in a couple extra days to allow for this “extension” when I create my schedule.
- Leverage study guides. In those classes where I use study guides, I often give students a list of possible essay questions. There may be 10 or so questions on the list and only three will end up on the exam. As participation on evaluations increases, I’ll limit the possible essay questions to maybe eight or six, so students can focus on fewer topics when studying for the exam.
Students have responded well to these strategies—they get something in return, but it’s not freebie points. In fact, in comparison to previous classes that didn’t receive incentives, the overall scores on the incentivized assignments and exams has not increased. What has gone up is the number of students who complete their course evaluations. For one thing, having a group performance indicator encourages students to complete evaluations so they don’t let their classmates down. Secondly, the strategies provide students with a measure of perceived control, and that may prove more valuable to students at the end of a busy term than extra credit points.
Audrey Deterding is a lecturer and the coordinator of communication studies at Northern Arizona University’s School of Communication.