One of the greatest challenges our Member Campuses face is attaining and maintaining strong response rates during the course evaluation process. Given the weight these rates often carry in promotion, tenure and hiring processes, and assessment and curriculum development, securing high rates is critical. We acknowledge that there are many moving parts involved in improving response rates, making it a difficult undertaking. Through research, experience and the shared expertise of our Course Evaluations and IDEA team members, we have compiled this comprehensive guide on how to improve response rates and ultimately, strengthen your institution’s teaching and learning environment.
Existing research on course evaluations runs the gamut of topics from using student feedback in tenure and promotion, to how to measure the validity of instruments, and everything in between. While studies on how to improve response rates most certainly exist, they appear to be more of a side component rather than the crux. This could be for several reasons, but it is important to consider the tenuous atmosphere that surrounds course evaluations as a process and practice as a significant contributing factor. High response rates do not automatically equate with strong feedback or even a strong culture of assessment - something that is frequently muddled. Rather, high response rates are indicators of feedback that, if used constructively, can improve teaching and learning on campus. The data collected through course evaluations should be seen as but one way to measure student perception of the efficiency of the instructor and course.
A note on statistically significant response rates:
We do not officially recommend any specific response rate because feedback from even low-response courses can be meaningful so that samples with low response rate can yield helpful information for formative purposes, but not necessarily for summative purposes. Of course, the higher the response rate, the greater the validity of feedback. So, instructors and institutions should work to get the highest response rates they can, but again, any feedback can be useful.
For decisions about the effectiveness of instruction, we generally consider at least 10 student responses to be necessary for acceptable reliability. The standard error gets beyond + .3 on the 5-point scale if the number dips below that. Whereas we would typically recommend ratings from at least 6-8 classes before making summative decisions, when the numbers are lower--say less than 10--we recommend 10-12 classes.
However, for formative decisions, even a smaller number of student respondents can provide meaningful feedback. Our research shows that class size is only negligibly related to ratings, so the information could still be helpful for decisions about how to modify the course.
To help you identify which particular area or strategy you are looking to adopt on campus, this guide is organized by campus role. Following a description of each strategy will be a collection of resources/action items to help you reach your goal response rate.
|IT Team||Senior Sponsor (Provosts, Deans, etc.)|
Strategies for Site Administrator:
As Site Administrator, you will have complete access to the tool. The Site Administrator is responsible for the maintenance and direction of Course Evaluations, including contributing to the initial site construction, controlling settings, determining users and permissions, and understanding the detailed functionality of the tool. With this level of access, here are some suggested actions:
- Setting up Mailings: Mailing templates allow institutions to create the language to be used in the mailings that are sent to students or instructors on a recurring basis. Mailings can be used to inform faculty that administrations are open, to set their learning objectives (if an IDEA school), to encourage students to complete them, and/or to let faculty know that their reports are available. For student-facing communication, mailings can be used to inform students that an administration is open and remind them to complete open evaluations. Reminder emails for students will only be sent to those that have not completed their evaluations. A template for a mailing can be created once and then can either be used as is or updated as new mailings are sent. This will avoid the need to create a new template each time you set up a mailing. Please reference the following support articles for more information on mailings: How to Schedule Mailings and Creating a Mailing Template.
- Viewing Student Completion: Campus administrators may export a list of students who have/have not completed their assigned evaluations for a particular term. This information can be used to schedule more mailing reminders to students if the number of students yet to complete their evaluations is high. Please see the following support article for instructions: Viewing Student Completion.
- Extending an Administration: If needed, administration end dates can be extended as long as the administration has not closed. To do this, select which administration you would like to edit under the "Administrations" page. Once you have selected the administration, click on the Edit Details button to adjust the dates.
Strategies for Marketing:
Getting the word out about course evaluations is an effective way to increase student engagement and potentially boost response rates. Depending on campus resources, we have several examples of marketing that can be utilized across campus. If available, task student employees or graduate assistants with creating and distributing any marketing materials.
- Marketing Plan: Develop a strategic marketing plan in conjunction with your marketing department or independently. For larger institutions, having a carefully orchestrated method on how course evaluations information is disseminated will help keep track of the how and where it is being shared.
- Flyers: Utilize your campus' bulletin boards to maximize their potential with flyers about course evaluations. The content of flyers can be adjusted depending on the audience. Please see specific examples from current member campuses at the end of this guide.
- Campus Media: Employ your campus newspaper, radio station, and T.V. station to advertise the course evaluation period. When evaluations are live, you can also publish that course evaluations are available for students on your campus homepage. If the campus website is the hompage for computers in your computer labs, students will see this message immediately. Although our Course Evaluations system allows for mailing reminders to be sent to both faculty and students, you could also send emails within your university system throughout the semester at specific times to inform students of what the process entails, including the value of evaluations and important dates to remember.
- Social Media: Utilizing social media is effective in terms of cost and visibility. Individual departments, colleges, or even the institution can use social media accounts to spread the word about course evaluations. This could entail short announcements for upcoming evaluations, showcasing student feedback on the Course Evaluations experience, and/or sharing any pertinent memes or gifs to grab students’ attention!
Strategies utilizing the IT team:
Our Course Evaluations tool has the ability to share authentication with a Learning Management System via LTI. Working with your IT team to install an LTI within your LMS (i.e. Blackboard) is a great way to increase the visibility of the Course Evaluations platform. Since many students work in their LMS on a daily basis, this also helps reduce the chance they forget where and how to access their course evaluations. Campus Labs makes it easy to implement this! Please contact your consultant if you are interested in having an LTI installed in your LMS. To learn more about this please refer to the following support article: LMS Tools.
- API: For the technologically savvy, there is the option of utilizing an API to pull the data from your institution’s SIS into Course Evaluations. Member campuses that have done this have used it to allow students early access to their final grades as long as they have submitted their evaluations by a certain date. Setting this up would involve your institution’s IT team so please be sure to speak with your consultant for more information if you are interested. Please refer to the following support article for additional information: API Data Exchange.
Senior Sponsor Involvement (Provosts, Deans, etc.):
Ensuring that administrators and leadership are invested in the course evaluations process is a critical step in creating a strong culture of assessment. Below are some strategies to increase the involvement of senior sponsors in a meaningful way for faculty. Senior sponsors can draft an email to share with deans and faculty on the value of course evaluations for their particular institution and some words of encouragement.
- Administrator feedback literacy and awareness: Informing department chairs on how feedback is utilized at both the college and institutional level will help to create an open and transparent conversation among provosts and deans.
- Department Meeting Attendance: Deans can work with department chairs to coordinate attending department meetings to discuss the process and value of course evaluations from the administrative perspective in person.
- Monitor faculty response rates: Report administrator access allows you the ability to monitor response rates for all faculty members teaching course sections under your organizational unit level (for example, if you are the provost you should have access to all faculty members under the division of Academic Affairs). As Provost or dean, you can use the opportunity to meet with department chairs to discuss how their instructors are faring. Additionally, a dean could identify 3 instructors per department with high response rates and reach out individually to them to commend them on their response rates.
- Incentivizing Student Participation: As referenced in the 2014 article "The Effect of Incentives and other Instructor-Driven Strategies to Increase Online Evluation Response Rates," by James Goomdan, Robert Anson and Marcia Belcheir, 22% of the study's participants offered some type of incentive to their students for completing their evaluations, which resulted in a response rate of 79%. In comparison, classes that were not incentivized resulted in a 57% response rate, which is still relatively high. This particular study went on to assess individual tactics and their effectiveness, and the results of these practices all culminated in at least some increase in response rates. Depending on your institution’s preferences, using incentives to increase response rates is an effective tactic backed by research. Below are some suggestions and resources for incentivizing student participation in Course Evaluations.
- Tangible Prizes: Offering a tangible prize (i.e. bookstore gift card, free parking for a semester, iPad, t-shirt) to students for their participation is a strong way to elicit engagement. This is highly dependent on campus resources, but is a solid way to elicit higher response rates. Site administrators will need to be involved in the logistics of this, but the decision will likely need to be made at the leadership level.
- Lunch with an Administrator: Just as students would be entered into a drawing to win an iPad or bookstore voucher, they can also be entered into a drawing to win a lunch with a department chair or dean. For students looking to further their education in their given field, this could be a great opportunity to get some one-on-one time with a professional in the field.
Department Chair Involvement:
Because of their consistent level of interaction with faculty, department chairs can use this time to their advantage to demonstrate the value of course evaluations and improve faculty buy-in.
- Department meetings: Use department meetings to discuss the process and value of course evaluations with faculty.
- Faculty Feedback Literacy & Awareness: Be transparent with faculty about how course evaluations feedback is being used in the promotion, tenure, and rehiring process. This can be shared with faculty during department meetings in addition to email communication.
- Learn from your faculty: As a report administrator at the department level, you should have access to your faculty’s reports (check with your consultant if you need additional help with this). This level of access will allow you to identify individual faculty members with high response rates and meet with them to discuss their approach and any suggestions they might have to share with other faculty in the department.
- Faculty incentives: Depending on department resources, you could offer an incentive to faculty members who reach a certain percentage of response rates. The incentive could be a gift certificate to Amazon or a local bookstore to use for research and professional development purposes, a gift card to coffee shop on campus, or, if possible, first choice in selecting the course of their preference for the following semester.
- Research: Share recent research on course evaluations with faculty. Dedicate a couple hours each month to conducting research on course evaluations, particularly on how to improve response rates. Our Campus Intelligence is an excellent first stop on your research journey. Dr. Tyler Rinker, a member of the Campus Labs Data Science Team, wrote a particularly poignant blog post on how using data about a student’s perception of the classroom can strengthen teaching and learning in higher education. The blog post, entitled “What Are You Learning From Your Course Evaluations?” can be accessed here. The online journal of Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education is also an excellent resource.
- Monitor faculty feedback rates: Report administrator access allows you the ability to monitor response rates during an active administration. Use the opportunity to communicate with individual faculty members ways they might be able to improve, offer support and resources, or applaud their strong feedback. Please refer to our support article Reporting Guide for Deans and Chairs for more information.
Strategies for Faculty:
Faculty members can have the greatest impact on evaluation response rates due to their frequent interactions with students. The following strategies offer ways to capitalize on this potential for impact.
- Setting Aside Class Time: Coincidentally, the most effective strategy also happens to be the easiest to implement! Just as one would when administering paper evaluations, instructors should carve out time in class at the end of the semester to have students complete their evaluations using a cell phone, tablet or laptop. Including this on the class schedule of the syllabus and announcing it to students closer to the date will ensure students that this is a strategic effort to collect their feedback. Remind students ahead of time to come prepared to class with either their cell phone, tablet, or laptop in order to complete the evaluation in class. Be sure to explain to students ahead of time/on that day that you will administer the course evaluations as you have in the past and leave the room while they complete them.
- Direct Access Link: Instructors can provide a unique evaluation link to enrolled students for direct access to a course section's evaluation. Only students enrolled in the course section will be authenticated into the evaluation, bypassing the landing page. When the evaluation is completed, the student can simply click the "return to course list button," where any other available evaluations will be listed. During class, instructors can post the "Direct Access Link" on the board/projector for students to access from their mobile device. Please refer to the support article for instructions.
- Monitor Response Rates: Our Course Evaluations tool allows faculty to monitor their response rates in an active administration. For example, if you notice that your response rates are rather low for a large class and the administration is halfway over, you can use the remainder of the time to encourage students in class to complete them and follow-up with reminder emails. Please refer to the following support article instructing faculty on how to view response rates: How to View your Response Rates.
- Feedback: Feedback is a tool that was created to allow instructors to receive formative feedback from students throughout the semester. Instructors have the ability to start a Feedback session in which their students will answer six questions related to high impact teaching practices and a single question that asks students if they understood the material that was covered. Feedback session results allow instructors to identify trends in student perceptions of their instruction and make improvements as soon as the next class. Please refer to the following support article for more information: Feedback Tool.
- Student Incentives for Participation: Instructors can also use incentives in their classes to encourage students to complete their evaluations. Below are some specific strategies.
- Extra Credit: Individual instructors can also offer extra credit if all, or even a certain percentage of students enrolled in a course section complete their evaluations. Additionally, instructors can offer students the option of submitting an extra credit assignment if all or a certain specified percentage of students complete their evaluations.
- Personalized Email: One of our member campuses, Jacksonville University, shared a particularly effective strategy an instructor implemented. The administration was set to close on a Sunday, so the Friday before, the instructor emailed the class a thoughtful and personal plea asking for their participation in end of semester evaluations. By detailing the impact of student feedback on both a personal and professional level and espousing the value of their feedback not only for their class but for the entire university, the response rate increased by 25%!
In addition to the resources and suggestions provided above, we also offer ongoing training that is available to anyone on campus. Please visit our schedule of online training here and sign up for a session today! Our support site hosts additional resources on best practices, managing your administrations, and everything else in between. Visit our Course Evaluations support page here. For any technical issues related to Course Evaluations, please submit a support ticket at the following link: support.campuslabs.com/ticket.
Here at Campus Labs, we are dedicated to supporting you along your assessment journey. It is our hope that this guide provides you with the tools needed to improve your response rates and your overall culture of assessment on campus. Please reach out to your consultant with any questions or concerns!