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Improving CIF Response Rates

In the days when teaching evaluations involved filling in bubbles with a #2 pencil on the last day of class, evaluation response rates were entirely dependent on who showed up to class on a given day. Now, Notre Dame and many other colleges and universities collect student feedback online, meaning response rates are no longer based on attendance, but on whether students are motivated to complete the online surveys. Online surveys have many benefits – a streamlined process, easier-to-interpret results, flexibility to add your own questions, and reduced paper use, to name a few – but raise concerns for some about reduced response rates. Evaluations are one of the primary means to get feedback on one’s teaching and are also valuable for career development, so generating an appropriate response rate is an important task, and one which instructors have some control over too! Administration of online Course Instructor Feedback (CIFs) at Notre Dame begins soon (April 25th – May 7th for Spring 2017), so now is a good time to consider implementing a strategy to increase CIF response rates. Whether you are teaching at Notre Dame or elsewhere, try mixing several of the following techniques to ensure an adequate response rate:

  • Demonstrate the importance of evaluations. The number one thing instructors can do to increase response rates and ensure students take evaluations seriously is to communicate (and demonstrate) to students that they personally value the feedback, intend to use it, and that it is important to their career.
    • Create a feedback-oriented environment. If you seek feedback from students throughout the semester, such as by administering an informal early-semester feedback form, it signals that you value student opinions and are willing to change elements of your course based on the feedback you receive. Building a general rapport with students also encourages them to care about you and the course.
    • Discuss previous evaluations. Mention to students something you have altered in the course based on previous semesters’ evaluations, or discuss something that previous students have commented on as being valuable (like a difficult assignment that turned out to be especially fruitful).
    • Add your own questions (and tell students you did). Encourage student participation by actively gauging opinions on something that is important to you. To reap the full benefits, be sure to tell students ahead of time that you are specifically asking for their help with these questions.
    • Tell students how evaluations are used. Academic hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions are a mysterious process even to some in the world of academia, and even more so to students. Explain to students that administrators weigh student evaluations in personnel matters and that they will be seen and taken seriously by others too – not just the instructor. Remind them too that they are completely anonymous and not tied to their grades in the course.
  • Give frequent reminders or include CIFs in your course design. Students are busy people, and even if they intend to fill out evaluations, the activities and stress of the end of the semester may move CIFs to the low end of the priority list. By personally reminding students on top of the reminders they receive from the university, it will be less likely that forgetfulness will be the cause of low response rates. Even better, consider building CIF completion into your course.
    • In-class reminders, email reminders, personal reminders… As long as done within reason, any type of personal reminder will signal to students that you take evaluations seriously. If only 1/3 of the class have completed their evaluations halfway through the CIF administration period, thank the 1/3 and kindly ask the remaining 2/3 to fill them out.
    • Note it on your syllabus. Place the dates of CIF administration on the syllabus, or even list CIF completion as an “assignment.” For example, make the last problem on the homework assignment to fill out CIFs and provide instructions on how to do so.
    • Devote class time to completing CIFs. Just like the old days of #2 pencils and paper evaluations, set aside the first 10 minutes of class to go to a computer lab and have students fill out their evaluations. (Doing so at the start of class instead of the end ensures that you have their full attention.) For privacy, be sure to step out of the room as they fill them out.
  • Explain the benefits…or provide additional ones. Evaluations can benefit a number of people: the students themselves (expressing their opinion, seeing grades earlier), future students (seeing basic info on the instructor, improving their class experience), the instructor (improving teaching, using evaluations for job advancement), and the university (ensuring instructors are doing their jobs effectively). Remind students of these benefits, and consider whether you are willing to provide additional nominal benefits for completing CIFs.
    • Offer additional benefits. The most controversial method of increasing response rates is to offer students additional incentive to fill out evaluations, either individually (by having students print confirmation of their evaluation submission) or collectively (if a certain percentage of the class completes their CIFs). These nominal benefits might include a bonus extra credit point on a homework assignment, the ability to use an index card with notes on the final exam, or doughnuts on the last day of class. If you are concerned about walking the fine line between incentive and bribery, you might also tell students they will receive a personal thank-you note if they confirm that they filled out their evaluations (as an added signal that you care about their thoughts on the class).

Students can tell throughout the whole semester whether instructors value their opinion, and one need not wait until the last minute to frantically email students encouraging them to evaluate their teaching. Look for ways to signal that you value feedback, to demystify the evaluation process, and to explain to students why evaluations are important. Once you have received the results of your CIFs, check out our resources on interpreting your scores, or make an appointment to stop by and discuss them with a Kaneb Center staff member.

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