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Improving participation rates in online module evaluations

Staff guidance to help improve student participation in online module evaluations.

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1 December 2020

There are a number of practical advantages to moving paper based module evaluations – usually completed in-class – to an online platform.

Online evaluations are often more convenient for students, and staff can significantly speed up real-time analysis of the results through the platform.

Switching to an online approach during remote learning, where students can complete this in their own time, can prompt concerns about ensuring sufficient participation and good response rates. This does not necessarily mean responses for online evaluations are less valuable. The sample might still be representative and students often complete richer, more detailed responses in comment boxes. 

Whilst online surveys completed outside the classroom typically have lower response rates, there are steps you can take to maximise the input from your students.

Encourage feedback from the outset

The use of module evaluation data is vital to making improvements to teaching and learning methods. It is important to communicate to students from the start of the module that they have an opportunity to contribute to its development with their feedback, via module evaluation – often known as Student Evaluation Questionnaires (SEQs) at UCL.

The induction week (as well as handbooks and other guides) can be an ideal opportunity to introduce the evaluation process, when it takes place, and to celebrate some of the positive changes brought about through student feedback.

Creating and developing a culture of responding to the student voice encourages further participation in the evaluation process. Students are far more likely to engage positively with module evaluation if staff are seen to respond to issues, and engage with their suggestions. This may already exist at Faculty, department or even programme level through “You Shaped UCL”, but it is worth highlighting the active role students have had in helping to shape teaching.

Pre-launch communications

To raise awareness and underline the importance of the end of term module evaluation, you could send a pre-launch email. We recommend that this comes from a senior member of staff, as this gives the evaluation more weight. Consider summarising how feedback from previous surveys has been taken on board and changes that students and staff have made together.

Reminders can also be delivered during teaching sessions, especially about the date the survey opens and the opportunity for students to have their say.

Student Academic representatives are another valuable resource in getting the message out and can help with sending messages via Unitu, lecture “shout outs” and social media etc.

Set aside in-class time

Traditionally, the highest participation rates are achieved when staff are able to set aside time for students to complete the module evaluation in-class. This usually takes place during the last lecture, and can make completion easier for students, as it provides a dedicated timeslot and involves less survey reminders.

During remote learning we recommend the same principle, to use the last 10-15 minutes for students to participate in the module evaluation, using the chat area of the teaching platform to drop a direct link to the module evaluation.

This should be followed up with an email shortly after the session with a link to the survey, as not all students may have been able to attend.

Monitor response rates

Check the level of participation. If you’re using survey functionality in Moodle, you can target non-participants through the reminder tool, with a brief message and a customised subject line to catch attention. On other platforms such as Opinio, you may need to send an email reminder to the whole cohort.

Following the launch and initial reminder email for a survey, there is always a spike in response rates. Whilst reminders are possibly the best single way of improving participation rates, there is a danger of irritating students by sending too many.

You may find your students respond best to informal, friendly communications, so consider varying the tone and style of your message each time. For example, instead of saying “Please help us reach X%”, consider “We need another X students to complete the survey to reach X%. Please be one of these X students".

Inevitably student response rates are lower than those completed in class, and participation around 30-40% is actually quite typical for online surveys – more than this is a great result!

Close the loop

A robust feedback process closes the loop and demonstrates how continuous quality improvement is driven by students.

After your module evaluation is completed, we recommend sending a “thank you email” and, if you have had time to review the results, it can be effective to include any headline results, an initial response and details of what will happen next.

Overall survey results and responses should never be invisible to the students – even if they can be challenging, or present difficulties. Consider posting an action plan on your Moodle page for students who have since left the module to refer back to, and report on progress – what can be changed, and more importantly what can’t be changed and why.

A “You Shaped UCL” campaign provides an excellent opportunity for a department to demonstrate to students the changes they have either initiated, or helped bring about by working with staff.

The results of student surveys also form a vital data source as part of the Annual Student Experience Review (ASER) and feed into the summary report and improvement plan for all taught programmes.

Closing the loop is vital to achieving a really great student experience and ensuring that we are working in partnership with our students.