Online Evaluations Show Same Results, Lower Response Rate

Students give the same responses on paper as on online course evaluations but are less likely to respond to online surveys, according to a recent study.

The study was conducted at Kansas State University’s IDEA Center, a  nonprofit group that tries to improve how colleges use course evaluations. It examined data that the center collected from classes at nearly 300 institutions between 2002 and 2008, of which 89.9 percent used paper surveys and 10.1 percent posted surveys online. The study analyzed student ratings data from 271,727 classes that used paper surveys and 13,101 classes that used online surveys.

The only meaningful difference between student ratings completed online and on paper was that students who took online surveys gave their professors higher ratings for using educational technology to promote learning.

Seventy-eight percent of students enrolled in classes with paper surveys responded to them, but  only 53 percent of students enrolled in classes with online surveys responded. The low response rate for online surveys could be a disadvantage, explained Steve Benton, a senior research officer at the IDEA Center and one of the paper’s authors.

“If you have lower response rates, you’re less inclined to make summative decisions about a faculty member’s performance,” Mr. Benton said.

However, Mr. Benton said, a faculty member could still use a survey with a low response rate to look for ideas for improvement.

Because online surveys offer so many advantages—-they save class time, eliminate paper use, and make data entry easier—the paper says that instructors should learn how to encourage higher student response rates, and the IDEA Center has a list of ideas for doing so on its Web site.

While the majority of instructors still administer paper surveys, the number using online surveys increased from 1.08 percent in 2002 to 23.23 percent in 2008.

“There will always be some who stay with the paper survey,” Mr. Benton said, but “it will go up, particularly as we become more environmentally conscious.”


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