Factors That Influence Student Completion of Course and Faculty Evaluations

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Student course and faculty evaluations are routinely used in academic institutions and have long been an integral part of colleges and universities in driving curricular change and faculty performance. (1,2) Colleges and schools of pharmacy also rely on student evaluations in their assessment process. In a 2009 study by Barnett and colleagues, 100% of the 89 colleges and schools of pharmacy surveyed applied student evaluations in both the classroom and practice experiences, with only 66% applying both student and peer evaluations to their assessment process. (3)

Student ratings of courses and faculty are a reliable and useful method of evaluating teaching and course effectiveness. (2,4,5) Student evaluations are as reliable as peer evaluations, provided that response rates are good. (5) Therefore, completion of student course evaluations is imperative in evaluating curricular trends and teaching effectiveness, particularly if no other assessment methods are performed.

Achieving good evaluation survey response rates may be difficult and can be driven by many influences. Numerous studies have evaluated what factors impact student response rates on course and faculty evaluations. Higher response rates and higher evaluation scores are routinely seen in courses wherein students were highly motivated and had high grade expectations. (2,6) Students were more likely to respond if they knew how their evaluations would be used and what decisions their responses would influence. (2,7,8) Compared with paper surveys, online evaluations also have been associated with increased response rates. (3,7,9) Incentive-driven or mandatory course and faculty evaluations result in the highest response rates but are not always feasible.

Completion of course and faculty evaluations at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy is voluntary; there are no penalties for students who do not respond. All course and faculty evaluations are collected with CourseEval (ConnectEDU, Boston, MA); they can be completed as early as 2 weeks prior to final examinations, with the process closing at midnight prior to the first final examination. Frequent reminders are generated and e-mailed by CourseEval to students who have not yet completed their evaluations. The number of questions for course and faculty evaluations varies from class to class.

We have previously surveyed students for their perceptions regarding what factors influence whether they complete evaluations. The largest factor for not completing evaluations was that students believed the evaluations would not result in change or would not benefit them. Major barriers for course and faculty evaluations included timing of the evaluations during the final examination week, total number of evaluations they had to complete, and how many courses they had to evaluate. (8) This previous study evaluated only the perceptions of students regarding evaluation completion and not the characteristics of the students who completed the evaluations. Students who take the time to complete these voluntary evaluations may be different from those who choose not to complete them.

There are numerous study data/reports regarding whether course grade, gender, age, or ethnicity affects how students rate courses or faculty on evaluations. (1) However, little is known regarding whether any of these variables impact a student's decision of whether to complete course and/or faculty evaluations. The University of Houston College of Pharmacy student population represents a wide variety of ages and ethnicities. Thus, we decided to examine several easily retrievable demographics to determine if course grades or other student factors affect evaluation response rates. The purpose of this study was to determine if there were differences in course grade, age, gender, or ethnicity between students who completed faculty and course evaluations and those who did not. If identified, these variables could be used to target individual groups to achieve higher participation rates in the future. …