Online Student Ratings of Instruction

By D. Lynn Sorenson; Trav D. Johnson | Go to book overview

3
Online Ratings: Fact and Fiction

Northwestern University's experience sheds light on some
of the common (mis)perceptions about online student
evaluations.

Nedra Hardy

When Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) put forth the idea of using the Web to collect student ratings of instruction, the proposal was met with fear and skepticism by most segments of the university community. Some felt that the time-honored course evaluations would be desecrated by using the Web. Students seemed certain they would lose the anonymity they had always presumed when completing their evaluations on paper. Instructors and administrators worried that students would not complete their evaluations unless they were held captive in class to do so. Across campus, there was a generalized faculty fear that the only students who would respond online were those with strong negative opinions of a class or instructor.


Background

At Northwestern University, evaluations have been collected by the Course and Teacher Evaluation Council (CTEC) for more than twenty years. Although these evaluations can be customized (for example, by instructor, department, or college), the following items are common to all questionnaires: five core (general) questions, four open-ended questions (for example, strengths, weaknesses, or suggestions), and the “summary comments” in which students summarize their responses to the four open-ended questions. These paper rating forms were used by Northwestern University before 1999, when experimentation with online collection began. By that time, data entry had progressed from manual entry to the use of scan forms. Processing the paper evaluations—including scanning numerical responses, typing the summary comments, and reporting results—was a cumbersome process that took from ten to twelve weeks. The new online system has

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