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Online Evaluations Essay

3644 words - 15 pages

Online Evaluations: The Risks, Benefits, and FSU

Traditionally, universities have taken stock of their faculty and class offerings by means of paper evaluations, typically administered during class towards the end of the term. This practice began in the 1920s and has been the standard since (Mau & Opengart 2012). However, during the last fifteen years universities have increasingly abandoned paper forms in favor of an online system, in which students complete course and faculty evaluations through a website, out of class and usually on their own time. The adoption rate among schools rose from 2% in 2000 to 33% in 2005, with the most common reasons cited being the cost and time ...view middle of the document...

For a larger school the cost savings (potentially hundreds of thousands of sheets and tens of thousands in dollars) are reason enough to make the switch; for a smaller school like FSU, the savings are certainly there, but they have not been enough to alleviate faculty concerns regarding online evaluations’ well-documented weaknesses.
Foremost among faculty concerns has been the lowered response rates for evaluations conducted online versus their traditional in-class, paper-based counterparts. When evaluations are performed during class, the participation rate is generally 100% for all students present; rarely will a student be so obstinate as to refuse to spend class time critiquing their instructor. Factoring in for absent students, then, the overall response rate is usually high, enough to safely say an accurate representation of the class has been captured. With online evaluations, however, the “social pressure” of in-class evaluations is gone and students must have the self-discipline to, on their own time, go online and complete the survey(s). Consequently, most schools experience a drastic drop in their response rate when transitioning to online evaluations. For example, when Temple University switched to online evaluations in 2012, they noted the participation rate had dropped to 50%, compared to 70% for paper evaluations the year prior (Snyder 2013). While the administration and faculty at Temple University felt confident the information from a 50% response rate was still reliable, other schools aren’t so comfortable with that. How, then, could a school see to it that response rates are kept high?
One study at California State University sought to compare response rates for online evaluations when different incentives were used (Dommeyer, Baum, Hanna & Chapman 2004). 16 instructors were selected for the study; each instructor taught two sections of the same course – one section utilized an in-class evaluation, and the other section used an online evaluation. Eight instructors were assigned a “treatment” for their online sections – four instructors were to offer a small grade incentive (quarter of a percentage point); two instructors were to perform a live, in-class demonstration of how to complete the online evaluation; and two instructors were to tell their students they would receive early grade feedback if the class achieved two-thirds participation rate. The remaining eight instructors were not assigned any “treatment” for their online section (all online sections received written instructions, however). Dommeyer et al. (2004) compiled the following results:

Overall, the in-class survey response rate was 75%, compared to a paltry 43.4% for online surveys. Worse still is that of the eight instructors who didn’t offer any “treatment” for their online sections (instructors I-P), the overall response rate was 29% for the online surveys, compared to 70% for their offline counterparts. Plainly, not placing an emphasis on...

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