Preparing students to take subject evaluations


Extract from Issue#28 of Teaching Tuesdays@CSU

All issues of Teaching Tuesdays can be accessed through the folder at this link

Preparing students to take course evaluations – tips for faculty

Source: Washington State University’s Elizabeth Carney (2015) has also prepared a useful three-page set of tips

Main points:

  • Talk to students about how subject evaluations are used and by whom
  • Reassure students that the online course evaluation system is designed to protect confidentiality.
  • Provide examples of useful, specific comments from your past evaluations
  • Offer a list of the qualities of effective feedback – includes two examples for a Constructive Feedback exercise.


More hints

  • Insert humorous slides into middle of PowerPoint presentations reminding students to complete SES
  • The original email and the reminder emails are both necessary for increasing student awareness and response
  • Students “are more likely to be honest when they believe that evaluations effectively measure the quality of the course, the results improve teaching and benefit students rather than the administration” (McClain, Gulbis & Hays, 2018).
  • For face-to-face, before the term begins, select a day when students will complete their SES in class. Note this date on the subject outline/subject site and announce it during the first class.
  • Discuss with students that not all feedback is constructive but there are times when there is something that comes out as useful. Share that experience.
  • Prime students to boost student participation—ask students if they intend to complete the SES evaluation with a show of hands or an online response. Asking individuals about their intended behaviour can boost participation.
  • Run through the SES evaluation questions with your students in class and explain how the questions relate to your class.
  • Explain how you personally use student feedback. Explain the importance of student feedback in how you approach subject design, assignments, readings, etc. Tie the SES questions directly to some specific assignments or approaches in your class on which you want feedback.
  • Get teaching staff “buy-in”.

QUOTE:One instructor who speaks to students in one class about the importance of evaluations improves the odds that those students will evaluate every course in their schedule.” (Jacek)

How to increase course evaluation response rates: 10 do’s and 3 don’ts

Another useful publication from the University of Houston Downtown includes extra information about each point on the list.

Discussions on how to improve response rates at the level of administration and policy are outside the scope of this bulletin as they usually cannot be changed at the individual teacher level. The use of incentives or imposition of penalties recommended in some studies to increase response rates are not options at CSU and so have not been included.

Other studies address the validity, reliability and usefulness of SES surveys and a high response rate can help to alleviate concerns in these areas (see Chapman & Joines, 2017 and Clayson, 2018 for an expanded discussion of these points, with the blog by Elizabeth Barre presenting alternate arguments).


Bennett, l., & Sid Nair, C. (2010). A recipe for effective participation rates for web‐based surveys, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(4): 357-365, doi: 10.1080/02602930802687752

Chapman, D., & Joines, J. A. (2017). Strategies for increasing response rates for online end-of-course evaluations. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 29(1): 47-60.

Clayson, D. E. (2018). Student evaluation of teaching and matters of reliability. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(4), 666-681, doi: 10.1080/02602938.2017.1393495

Jacek, L. (2015). Tactics to increase course evaluation response rates. College and University, 90(2): 12-19.

McClain, L., Gulbis, A., & Hays, D. (2018). Honesty on student evaluations of teaching: effectiveness, purpose, and timing matter! Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(3): 369-385, doi: 10.1080/02602938.2017.1350828

Nulty, D. D. (2008). The adequacy of response rates to online and paper surveys: what can be done? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(3): 301-314, doi: 10.1080/02602930701293231