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Course evaluations, professors offer incentives for student feedback

By Mary Schrott, News Editor

In the 2015 fall semester, the response rate for course evaluations hit just over 55 percent for the 4,792 courses taught and 1,940 instructors evaluated on Oxford's campus. Course evaluations are online and offered to students in the final days of the semester.

To counter the low response rate, many instructors offer incentives, like extra credit, for filling out the evaluations. Though some students like this approach, many still find course evaluations troubling because of their format and the time they take to complete.

Sacha DeVroomen Bellman, a journalism instructor who has been at Miami for 12 years, said making students fill out course evaluations during the last week of classes increases stress levels.

"This is just something they don't want added to the list of things to do on the final week of classes when they are very busy," Bellman said.

Junior Taylor Fortner said she makes the effort to complete evaluations if extra credit is offered, but filling them out at the end of the year can be problematic.

"I think more negatively about classes during finals than any other time," Fortner said.

Junior Alyza Madson agrees that the end of the year is a stressful time and evaluations can get lost in the shuffle. However, she said extra credit incentives are appropriate.

"Extra credit seems fair because you're helping out the teacher," Madson said. "We're taking time out of [our] schedules."

Madson thinks that providing students with class time to fill out the evaluations is the most effective method.

Before class evaluations went online in 2011, instructors used paper evaluations and gave students time in class to complete them.

"We used to do it on the final day of class," said Bellman. "We'd leave class when [the students] [filled out the evaluations] and it was almost like something you did."

Now that evaluations are electronic, Bellman said fewer people are taking them, which is why instructors have to offer incentives to complete them.

Bellman began offering extra credit for evaluations last fall and has seen completion rates go up. She tells students that if 90 percent of the class fills out the evaluation, then she will add three extra credit points to the one assignment the class collectively did the worst on that semester.

Before she offered extra credit, Bellman said only 25 to 40 percent of the class filled out the evaluation, and those who filled them out had extreme views on the course.

"The people who fill out the evaluations are people who either really like you or didn't like you," Bellman said. "It would be really skewed results, which is why we are trying to get more people to fill it out who are saying, 'Oh, this class was okay.'"

Madson agrees that incentives help, but will fill out evaluations for teachers she felt strongly about regardless of the rewards.

"If a teacher puts in a good effort, then I'll give her a good evaluation," Madson said, "but in classes that I really don't like I put a lot of effort into them."

Senior Courtney Katzmeyer said she tries to fill out her evaluations each semester in the interest of fairness.

"I try to do it every semester, but it's really hard because it's always the same questions," said Katzmeyer, who is in ten classes this semester and has 11 evaluations to fill out because one class has two instructors.

"I also don't put any thought into doing them, you know? I know I don't have to [fill them out] but I feel bad when I don't," Katzmeyer said.

Katzmeyer and Madson agree that evaluations don't differ much from course to course in the questions they ask, which makes completing them monotonous.

"I wish [the questions were] catered more to the course," Katzmeyer said.

Though a large percent of students don't fill out course evaluations, Madson said they can be constructive in the classroom.

"I had a teacher last semester and he had us fill out three different evaluations throughout the semester because he wanted to know how he was doing," Madson said. "I thought that was a good idea and as the year went on he actually improved."