University moving student feedback online

Western is going digital with its student questionnaires on courses and teaching, with an aim to make it easier to provide instructor feedback at their own convenience. The move to using eXplorance software, piloted by instructors during the summer academic term, will be rolled out in the fall/winter academic term.

“The software offers more flexibility and functionality than the paper process does,” said John Doerksen, Vice-Provost (Academic Programs). “I’m quite excited about it. I think there is an opportunity here to use the functionality of the system to help to enhance the teaching and learning mission here at Western.”

A Joint Working Group on Student Questionnaires on Courses and Teaching was established last year to review the recommendations of the Joint Subcommittee on Student Evaluations of Teaching, set in 2008. This working group recommended exploring moving the questionnaires online.

Paper surveys only capture the opinions of those attending the class that day. The online version is expected to cast a wider net, offering students the opportunity to participate at their convenience.

“There is great ease of access for students,” Doerksen said.

Mimicking the current process, the evaluations will be activated during class time for students to access using a computer or mobile device, and the questionnaires will available on the OWL online learning management system for a couple weeks.

“Western has been a leader for years in its course-evaluation process,” Doerksen continued. “Course evaluations have been a part of our institutional culture for a long time, but I’m not sure we do a good job in helping our students understand the importance of their role in this aspect of our teaching and learning mission.”

Student feedback is used for performance evaluations, improving courses, enhancing the student-learning experience, recognizing excellence in teaching, helping students in future course selection and informing program development.

“My hope is, in the end, we will be able to engage the students to be excited about being able to participate in their own learning experience. We will work very hard to mitigate any of the challenges that arise.”

It is difficult to pinpoint the response rates for the paper survey. However, Doerksen said the university will pay close attention to the response rates for the online version to ensure they remain consistent.

The university selected software by eXplorance due to its reputation and widespread use among Canadian and U.S. institutions. The software allows Western to store the data locally on university servers and has additional functionality that can be used in the future, such as informal questionnaires and data gathering.

“We have watched with interest, over the years, the move to online course evaluations at other institutions,” Doerksen explained. “Over time, much more sophisticated software solutions have come out that actually meet the various process and policy requirements that we have, as well as meet the key substantive issues around teaching and learning.”

The questions used for the 2016-17 academic year will remain the same, however the university has established a Working Group on Course Evaluations to explore opportunities to create course-specific, formative questions using the available functionality of the software.

“There will always be some core, institutional questions that will remain the same,” Doerksen said, “but, then there will be an opportunity for instructors to choose questions that might be of special interest to them.”

The data will be presented in graphical form, which will be easier for instructors, as well as allow for comparative analysis, he added. This data can also be used to influence pedagogical programming through the Teaching Support Centre.

The software also allows for a form of ‘real-time’ feedback for instructors through informal, mid-course questionnaires.

“The way it works right now, the student may say, ‘I can offer my feedback on the survey and the course is done. Maybe my feedback will be helpful to the class that comes after, but how does it help me?’ Where faculty members choose to have feedback half-way through the course, well, that might change the experience of that course for the student.”

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The university is currently soliciting instructors teaching a summer course to volunteer to participate in the pilot. Those interested should contact Carac Allison, Associate Director, Registrarial Information Technology Solutions, at

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