Yet another semester is rapidly drawing to a close. As your students complete their final projects and study for exams, grant them an opportunity to provide feedback on your course. This information can help you determine how your efforts benefit students, but more importantly, where you can improve as an instructor.
Of course, not just any survey will do; the most effective evaluations make students feel comfortable enough to leave their honest opinion, no matter how brutal. Follow these simple tips to create a course evaluation survey that delivers the most honest answers possible.
1. Use Online and Offline Surveys
Students require guidance as they provide course feedback. Surveys help you target specific areas for reflection. If you fail to provide a framework for student responses, many will neglect to provide feedback at all — and others will provide information that’s far too general to be useful.
However, students tend to avoid online surveys even when reminded more than once. To get a higher participation rate, you can use a combination of online and offline surveys. Introduce the survey during class and pass around an iPad or two with your survey. Ask students to take the survey during the class and create an incentive by offering a shorter class if you get a certain level of participation. After class, you can resend the survey link in an email, this way the student who did not attend or did not fill the survey in class can have a second chance at providing feedback. By using a mobile questionnaire to collect feedback both online and offline you guarantee a higher participation rate and more insightful feedback.
2. Use Several Question Styles
Not all students respond well to all question formats. Some enjoy leaving extensive feedback in open-ended questions, while others prefer multiple-choice questions or 1-5 rating scales. Short answer questions benefit those with responses that don’t fit within a multiple-choice framework but are too short for an open-ended approach. Include at least two or three question styles to ensure that all students feel heard.
3. Give Specific Direction for Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions can be hit or miss, depending on who answers and what they have to say. If you suspect that some students have a lot to say — and that their feedback won’t fit within the confines of a multiple choice or short answer format — feel free to include carefully-worded open-ended questions. These should be more specific than you think and they should never be satisfactorily answered with a mere ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
4. Avoid Leading Questions
The language you use in your questions may result in untruthful answers from otherwise honest students. Questions should not presuppose an answer, as in “How much do you love this article about course evaluation surveys?” Likewise, multiple-choice questions should allow for a variety of responses covering the gamut from positive to negative.
5. Make It Anonymous
In surveys, anonymity increases the likelihood of honesty while also improving response rates. Students shouldn’t worry that they’ll be penalized for letting you know exactly what they think of your course — especially if you deliver evaluations before you grade their final exams. Provide the solace of anonymous evaluations in which students can answer as they see fit. Digital surveys can enhance this effort; whether realistic or not, students who complete written surveys may fear that you’ll recognize their handwriting.
6. Get Notified For Bad Evaluations You Receive
Negative feedback is to be expected. View bad evaluations as an opportunity; without them, you won’t know where, exactly, you can improve as an instructor. Arguably, in a sea of positive evaluations, these are the most important to analyze. For both online and offline surveys, you can arrange for an email notification to alert you when you receive an unusual evaluation, like a low rating. This can help you easily identify negative feedback and keeps you up to date with the student’s feedback.
7. Include Questions For Actions Your Students Are Willing to Take
Surveys should include questions that are essentially disguised as calls to action. These questions are best suited to a rating scale format. For example, you could ask students how likely (on a scale of 1 to 5) they are to recommend your class to their peers. Be sure to define your scale, so students don’t confuse ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ratings.
8. Choose the Right Time
With surveys, timing is everything. Too early, and students won’t rate you on the full scope of your course. Ideally, you want them to fill the survey during the last week of class, right before finals. This way they will have a fresh perspective and will be able to provide feedback for the semester.
Course evaluations can play a key role in your preparations for next semester. Format and word questions carefully, and you’re bound to receive ample feedback from your students.