Understanding Student Response Rates

Audience: Faculty and Staff

This KB Article References: Course Evaluations (Faculty & Administrators)
This Information is Intended for: Faculty, Staff
Last Updated: March 22, 2017

The online course evaluation system eliminates a lot of survey loss due to incorrect student and course IDs entered on the paper based forms and from lost forms. Although nationally the response rate is lower for an online system when compared with paper, during the pilot study and first semester in use at Stony Brook the number of returned valid forms was the same for the two systems. 

Faculty reminders to students during class meetings are critical to keeping response rates high. For additional tips on how to improve course evaluation results using feedback from your students and to increase response rates, please visit our site or contact the Faculty Center for individual assistance.

What will happen to response rates if the evaluation is online?

With the paper instrument the campus response rate (of useable response forms) was effectively 70% and we are working toward meeting and exceeding that response rate for the online system. In a pilot conducted in Fall 2010 with 250 course sections, the response rate was 53%; however that has dropped to 43% in Spring 2011 and 36% in Fall 2011 as the system was implemented on the West, Southampton and Manhattan campuses (the Health Sciences on East campus were not included in the initial implementation). Data from other universities suggest that when moving to an online system the response rates do initially drop, however an increase is seen as students use the system from freshman through senior years and online course evaluations become a cultural norm. Several studies have also shown that the best way to encourage your students to respond is to share with them why their feedback is important to you and what you do with the information. Most students don't believe faculty even read the evaluations and report that they would be more likely to complete the online course evaluations if they believed they were read and used for improving teaching and education on campus.

What is Stony Brook doing to improve response rates?

The University is exploring several options to encourage students to complete their course evaluations, including offering random prize drawings and making the evaluation responses available for students who complete all of their evaluations. While the idea of requiring students to complete the evaluations has been considered, research suggests that while response rates may increase, the quality of the data declines. Since implementing the online system, faculty have reported that the quality of the feedback they receive in the written comments has improved.

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