UWRF modifies course evaluation process in effort to up response rate

Posted April 26, 2017

As the spring semester beings to wrap up, officials with the UW-River Falls Survey Research Center are urging students to complete course evaluations. But in an effort to increase response rates, this semester students will notice a significant change in the process.

An end-of-semester tradition, surveys are given through emails to students to anonymously evaluate their experience with university courses and, specifically, the instructors who teach them. Hosted by the company Class Climate, the online survey asks students to evaluate their instructors through a series of questions regarding knowledge of course topics and the activities designed to measure learning.

On the final Friday of each semester, the survey closes and scores are sent for review to university administrators including the provost, college deans and department chairs. On the final day of grading, the instructors are able to see their score as well as written responses from the students. The evaluations are eventually used by administrators during instructor performance and tenure reviews.

The evaluation used to be completed on paper during one of the last class days of the semester. Because the survey was taken during class time, the university would frequently receive around 18,000 responses a semester. However, officials grew tired of the large amount of paper wasted during the process and the time it took to record the surveys.

Moving the evaluations online cut back on the waste, but caused another problem. David Trechter, director of the Survey Research Center, said the change to online has drastically reduced the amount of responses received by the university each semester.

“The first we time we used (the online survey), the response rate was about 60 percent and it’s declined, declined and declined,” Trechter said. “Some of the last several, it’s been down around 47 or 48 percent (of students responding).”

This has caused issues for university officials trying to accurately review instructors, because the low amount of student responses does not create a fair depiction of an instructor’s performance. Trechter said the student responses are essential to maintaining the quality of instruction at the university.

“Actually, decisions get made about people’s retention and so on based on the instructor evaluation score,” Trechter said.

In late March, the Faculty Senate adopted a resolution encouraging instructors to shift back to allowing 10 minutes of class time for students to take the survey electronically. The Faculty Senate also created step-by-step instructions including a reason for why students should complete survey.

“This information can be used in personnel decisions such as retention, promotion, tenure and merit pay, and to make course improvements,” the instructions read.

Trechter said he hopes students will respond to this change and start to realize the importance of the evaluations.

“If someone is doing a good job in the classroom, I would hope the students would voice that and say, ‘Yeah, this person is doing a great job,’ and that person will likely be back in subsequent years,” Trechter said.

University officials encourage instructors this semester to start allowing class time to fill out the surveys, but Trechter said more instructors will likely make the change next semester.