Falling Response Rates

Why do I continue to receive emails to encourage evaluation participation?

Response rates were a worry before we began collecting course evaluation data online more than three years ago, and they continue to be an important concern for us today.

Overall, response rates dropped when we shifted from paper to online teaching evaluations three years ago, but the decline in response rates was not as great as some teachers believe it to be. That is in part due to a common misperception that response rates were near 100% when evaluations were collected on paper. In fact, response rates with paper questionnaires were always much lower than 100%, because not all students attended class on the day when paper evaluations were distributed and not all students who attended class turned in evaluation forms. However, response rates with paper evaluations still averaged around 66%, whereas response rates average around 56% with online questionnaires. The table below presents term-by-term response rates for the past six years:

Academic Year Evaluation Type Response Rate Fall Term Response Rate Winter Term
2005-06 Paper 67% 65%
2006-07 Paper 67% 64%
2007-08 Paper 68% 64%
2008-09 Online 62% ****
2009-10 Online 60% 57%
2010-11 Online 56% 52%

The email went out to teachers from the Registrar's Office contains the best advice that we can currently provide for teachers who wish to encourage student participation in the course evaluation process. The advice is based both on the literature on course evaluations and on the reported experience of University of Michigan teachers. The recommendations in the memo will not lift response rates to high levels for all teachers, but the recommendations in the memo will help some teachers. This table does not include results from the winter term of 2009, when data collection was halted early due to a CTools shutdown. The table also leaves out results from spring and summer terms.

A steering committee made up of University faculty members and administrators has been looking at the issue of response rates with online evaluations. It is our hope that the steering committee will continue to look for ways to raise response rates above their current levels.

A few schools have instituted policies that raise online response rates significantly. Northwestern, for example, now provides access to evaluation comments for students who fill out evaluations but not for other students. Response rates rose to above 70% at Northwestern when this policy was instituted. Harvard gives students who complete evaluations early access to their final grades, whereas those who do not fill out evaluations typically wait about three weeks longer to see their grades. Harvard also gives students access to both ratings and comments on all courses at the time of registration. Response rates at Harvard average around 95%. A few schools withhold grades from students until they fill out their evaluations, and response rates at these schools, of course, are 100% or near 100%. However, it is not clear that any of these policies would be desirable or feasible to implement at Michigan.

In place of better solution to the dilemma of lowered response rates with online evaluations we can only assure you that an evaluation steering committee will continue to look into the problem and consider possible solutions. Meanwhile, please bear with us if the e-mail that you receive next term at evaluation time seems like old hat to you. There are new teachers at the University each term-the number of new graduate student instructors is especially high-and what seems like the same-old-same-old to old-timers may seem fresh to these newcomers.

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Article ID: 7416
Mon 3/14/22 4:06 PM
Tue 4/5/22 10:15 AM