Online course evaluation: the secret to success

Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Katherine Moreau sitting at a computer in a computer lab.
“It’s important to demonstrate in a video or explain in an email how to complete the online evaluation forms,” said Katherine Moreau, assistant professor at the Faculty of Education. Photo: Marc Bélanger
By Julie Gareau

Teaching an online university course presents some special challenges, and collecting course evaluations is one of them. It’s harder to connect with students enrolled in online courses to get their feedback. Over the past two years, the average participation rate for online course evaluations has been a meagre 26%, while participation rates for in-class courses range from 50 to 65%.

This fall, Katherine Moreau, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Education, managed to boost participation in an online course evaluation to 59%, which is on par with in-class course evaluations.

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Her secret? Engagement – on both sides of the classroom or computer screen. She believes professors and students have a shared responsibility to understand the importance of evaluations, and to make the most of them.

“As a professor, you can communicate about the importance of the course evaluations and provide the students with the necessary information,” she said. “But I think it also depends on the level of engagement of the students. You need to have students who care about the idea of course evaluations.”

Moreau, who has been a faculty member since 2013, considers course evaluations to be invaluable, especially for new professors like herself. The feedback received can help improve both the structure and content of courses.

For instance, she teaches EDU 6193, a course that used to be taught in class but has now transitioned to an online format. The comments she received after the first online session of the course gave her a good idea of how her students felt about the new format.

She believes in using various engagement strategies, and her enthusiasm for them seems to have made a real difference.

“First and foremost, I think it’s important to remind students that their evaluations matter and that, if they are interested, they can review the overall results of course evaluations,” she said. “I also think it’s important to explain to students that even though they are logging onto their uoZone [accounts] to complete the evaluations, their ratings will be aggregated with others and anonymous.”

“Lastly, it’s important to demonstrate in a video or explain in an email how to complete the online evaluation forms,” says Moreau, who used all these strategies to encourage her students to complete the evaluations.

Moreau’s decision to become a teacher was fuelled by her “desire to collaborate and learn from students, who bring unique experiences, insights and ideas to both our virtual and bricks-and-mortar classrooms.” They learn from her and she, through course evaluations, learns from them.

Find out more about course evaluations.

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