Student feedback may be an important tool to improve online learning (Crews & Curtis, 2011). MIT's online subject evaluation uses student feedback to assist instructors, departments, and students (MIT, 2013). Instructors can use this information to improve content and andragogy of their courses; departments to track accreditation, faculty, and curriculum; and students to select courses (MIT, 2013).
However, not all schools or courses get a high return rate of student evaluations (Guder & Mallarius, 2013). Students do not believe that their responses contribute to changes in courses or instructors (Anderson, Brown, & Spaeth, 2006). When students believe that their ratings will affect decisions about faculty and courses, there is a higher response rate (Crews & Curtis, 2011). Guder & Mallarius (2013) found that when instructors encouraged students at both the undergraduate and graduate level, they received a higher number of returned course evaluations at the end of the term. Reminders sent to students in the form of email also prompted a higher rate of returns. Students seemed to prefer a questionnaire that was not too lengthy or time-consuming (Guder & Mallarius, 2013). However, another study found that the length of the online evaluation did not matter (Johnson, 2002 in Crews & Curtis, 2011).
Faculty are often evaluated for tenure and promotion through the use of student course evaluations and therefore, they have an interest in the results (Crews & Curtis, 2011). However, some instructors feel that they may be slighted with online student evaluations that are available outside of the universities, (such as http://ratemyprofessor.com) and may even feel compelled to give higher grades for a better score (Crews & Curtis, 2011). From my perspective, I have found the outside ratings to be helpful and fair in analyzing an instructor. The one or two bad comments will greatly outweigh the good, and often there is information that determines the quality of the teaching.
It was noted by Mansfield (2003) in Crews & Curtis (2011) that course evaluations "undermine the authority of professors...[making] them accountable to student on the basis of needing to please them, like businesses pleasing customers or elected officials pleasing voters." (p. 867). This viewpoint of teachers seems to be in direct conflict with theories of learning that support constructivism and collaborativism and appear to be more in line with older, more passive learning theories. Students are consumers and universities and instructors are in a competitive market. Competition is seen as improving businesses, and can have the same effect in education. Students and instructors understand the occasional negative evaluation and both are capable of looking at the average response as an indicator of quality. Even though evaluations may be used by universities to increase pay, the better reason should be to increase learning. Instructors can provide opportunities for ongoing formative feedback from students during the course which indicates an interest by the teacher to collaborate learning (Crew & Curtis, 2011). Courses can be re-evaluated as to how they are meeting the needs of the students and learning theories can be analyzed.
It is recommended from the study of Crew & Curtis (2011) that instructors provide incentives to their students for completing online course evaluations to get a higher number of returns. This can be in the form of email reminders and stressing the importance for course improvement. While some universities withhold the final grade until the student completes an evaluation, this type of incentive needs to be further researched (Crew & Curtis, 2011).
Students perceive a higher level of teaching effectiveness when teachers stimulate learning (Jones, 2012). This would be a valuable question to ask in a course evaluation, especially if done during the course and not just at the end. Students also see the value of online instructor evaluations to help them match their learning preferences with an instructor's teaching methods (Luo, 2009). If a teacher uses powerpoint only, lecture only, or textbook formulated tests, all this can be matched to a students preference for learning.
Not all instructors utilize the information collected in evaluations to improve teaching, which supports some of the concerns from students for taking the time to fill out course evaluations (Jones, 2012). However, for the instructors who enjoy teaching and applying learning theory to achieve results and satisfaction in stimulating learning, the course evaluation can be valuable. Students' feedback in the form of evaluation has the potential to increase the collaborative influence in constructivist learning theories. The fact that it is easier to connect with students through email and other asynchronous modes should enable this outlook and improve learning.
Anderson, J., G. Brown, and S. Spaeth, (2006). Online Student Evaluations and Response Rates
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Crews, T. & Curis, D. (2011). Online course evaluations: Faculty perspective and strategies for improved response rates. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(7), 867-878.
Donovan, J., Mader, C., & Shinsky, J. (2010). Constructive student feedback: Online vs. traditional course evaluations. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 9(3), 283-296.
Guder, F., & Malliaris, M. (2013). Online course evaluations response rates. American Journal of Business Education, 6(3), 333-337. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=87531226&site=eds-live
Jones, S. J. (2012). Reading between the lines of online course evaluations: Identifiable actions that improve student perceptions of teaching effectiveness and course value. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(1), 49-58. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ971039&site=eds-live; http://sloanconsortium.org/jaln/v16n1/reading-between-lines-online-course-evaluations-identifiable-actions-improve-student-perc
Luo, V. (2009). USC needs to put course evaluations online. Daily Trojan. November 23, 2009. Retrieved from http://dailytrojan.com/2009/11/23/usc-needs-to-put-course-evaluations-online/
MIT Online Subject Evaluations. (2013). Retrieved from: http://web.mit.edu/subjectevaluation/