complete online evaluations in the classroom,
just as they did with paper forms, but using their
mobile devices. Another option used effectively
by some U.S. schools, he added, is to give students
an incentive to complete the forms, such as early
access to their final grades.
Mr. Saab advises universities to implement
strategies that will lead to a sustained increase
in response rates, rather than a one-time spike.
These include giving students access to the survey results and, perhaps more importantly, acting
on the feedback. “Then students will be very
motivated to be a part of it,” he said.
When Dalhousie University moved to an
online system in 2012, the average response rate
fell to 48 percent in the winter term, down from
60 percent the previous year; the rate fell again
to 41. 7 percent in the fall of 2013. Dalhousie has
launched a marketing campaign to educate students about the importance of evaluations for
assessing faculty and informing future course
design, said Brad Wuetherick, executive director
of the school’s Centre for Learning and Teaching. Dalhousie also integrated course evaluations
with its learning management system so that
when students log on to the LMS they get a
reminder to complete the forms. It plans to create a mobile app so that students can complete
evaluations on their smartphones and tablets.
Dalhousie administrators hope some of these
changes will improve response rates, but even
with the lower rates, the university is confident
the data is “robust, valid and reliable,” said Mr.
University of Toronto started online evaluations in 2011 and has been gradually phasing in
the process across faculties and departments. Its
online evaluation form includes 20 questions,
eight of them selected at the institutional level
for all divisions. The remainder are chosen by
faculties, departments and instructors to reflect
their particular priorities. Instructors can select
questions from a question bank maintained by
the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation
or formulate their own in conjunction with the
centre’s staff. Students can access all the data
derived from the institution-wide questions and
in most cases to the data derived from questions
selected by divisions. Responses to the instruc-tor-chosen questions are not available unless the
professor chooses to make them so.
“One really important thing we’ve learned
about response rates is that you don’t just go
online and deal with course evaluations the same
way as when they were on paper,” said Carol
Rolheiser, director of the teaching support cen-
tre and a professor in the department of cur-
riculum, teaching and learning. “There needs to
be investment across the entire institution
around response rates.”
U of T’s mean response rates for online sur-
veys range from 40 percent in some faculties
and departments to about 75 percent. While the
mean response rates are lower with the online
system, the quality of the data is vastly improved,
said Cherie Werhun, course evaluation support
officer. Because students have two weeks to com-
plete the evaluations, they tend to provide longer
and more thoughtful responses to open-ended
questions. She said instructors are pleased with
the reports they receive because they are of a
higher quality and about 14 pages long, rather
than the single page they might have received
The U of T centre for teaching support has
looked at departments with high response rates
to identify factors that can improve participation.
One of the most important is instructor support
for the process and the extent to which they use
the feedback to improve course development.
At Wilfrid Laurier University, the plan to go
online in 2015 was prompted by a move to a new
course evaluation form that was longer and more
complicated than previously, said Pat Rogers,
associate vice-president, teaching and learning.
Laurier plans to mount a marketing campaign
to educate students about the importance of evaluations and how they are used by the university.
“Teaching is very important at Laurier,”
Dr. Rogers said. Course evaluations are just one
way of measuring a faculty member’s effectiveness but “it’s an important one because it gives
students a voice.” Laurier wants to avoid punitive
measures, she said, such as blocking access to
final grades to induce students to participate.
Faculty members at some universities have
questioned the validity of the data from online
evaluations due to low response rates. At least
one institution, University of Calgary, reverted
to paper surveys in 2008, three years after adopting online forms; participation rates fell to as
low as 31 percent in one year.
“We felt we couldn’t live with that,” said Don
Best, director of the Office of Institutional Analysis. The figure has rebounded, ranging from 64
to 68 percent, since moving back to paper.
– rosanna tamburri
Teaching at the
edge of research
Immersed in emerging ideas, Mount
Allison professors are pursuing research
endeavours that have real world
applications in destinations around the
globe. These passionate interests find their
way into classrooms, relating subjects to
students in tangible ways, and reflecting
what is happening in our world today.
Dr. David Hornidge
2013 PAUL PARÉ MEDAL RECIPIENT