Tun Myint wanted his course evaluations to provide a more representative picture of students' views.

A little strategy goes a long way: How one health sciences lecturer achieved an 80 percent response rate for online course evaluations

July 06, 2017
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By Mark Bachmann, Teaching and Learning Centre

The overall response rate for online course evaluations at SFU is around 50 percent. So it’s remarkable that Tun Myint’s HSCI 211 course—an undergraduate class with 219 students—achieved a level of over 80 percent this past spring.

The exceptional result was no accident. Tun Myint, a Health Sciences lecturer, employed a novel strategy to encourage his students to complete their Student Evaluation of Teaching and Courses (SETC) forms.

Although the strategy required some effort on his part, Tun Myint is convinced that the investment was worthwhile. Student evaluations, he says, tend to attract responses from those “who like you or who don’t like you—so there are two extreme groups of students. But we would like to get a more general overall picture of the course … One way to increase validity is to increase our response rate to improve representativeness.”

An incentive—but what kind?

At the heart of his approach was a particularly creative incentive.

“In my view, students are always thinking, ‘Why should I do that?’ ” he explains. “Most things they won’t do unless they get motivated. One of the motivation factors is to give an appropriate incentive.”

For Tun Myint, “appropriate” meant an incentive that would align with the course learning objectives and “at the same time [wouldn’t] penalize students who didn’t respond.” He decided to offer his students a deal: If the class achieved a collective 70 percent response rate on the SETC forms, he would add an extra question—“not a bonus question”—to the pool on the final exam; in other words, instead of facing 12 mandatory questions, they would be given 13 questions, of which they could choose 12. If they achieved an 80 percent response rate, they would get two extra questions, and if they reached 90 percent they would get three.

The students found the offer appealing—but three days before the evaluation deadline participation was still around 60 percent, well below the level he wanted. Tun Myint sent an email reminding his students of the deal. “The next day I saw the response rate jump up to 70 percent.”

As the deadline approached he sent out additional reminders, including requests for those who had already completed their forms to rally classmates who hadn’t yet done so. On the day of the deadline he posted the updated response rate several times and watched the number pass 80 percent. As a result, students were given two extra questions to choose from on the final exam.

Why it worked and why it mattered

Tun Myint attributes the success of his approach to several factors, including the perceived value of the incentive, the incremental way in which it was structured, and the collective nature of the challenge, which mobilized students to encourage one another to participate.

While he believes end-of-semester evaluations need to be supplemented by other types of formative feedback (he also uses a simple survey tool to collect weekly feedback from his students), Tun Myint is pleased with the outcome he and his students achieved.

“SETC is one of the good ways to learn from the student point of view [about] the course, what I have done in the class, and what areas can be improved. This is my incentive or my motivation to get more valid feedback from the students.”

Tun Myint received two Teaching and Learning Development Grants from SFU’s Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines (ISTLD) in 2016 and 2017 to investigate reflection and teaching inquiry tools for improving student learning and instructors’ teaching effectiveness.

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