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Do teaching evaluations tend to improve from high voter turn-out?

I think that teaching evaluations are naturally answered by people with strong opinions or who are invested in the class. Many students don't answer the evaluations because they don't care.

I presume that if you could force them to answer the evaluation questionnaire, then many would just be yes-men and answer favorably.

Is there reason to corroborate or invalidate that line of thought?

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  • What helps imo to get more meaningful evaluation is that something happens with them. Eg when I was a student, I had profs who said "it doesn't matter what you write, I will throw it away without looking" and others who made the Impression that they want to improve their teaching. The latter got more meaningful evaluations from us.
    – user111388
    Jun 2 '20 at 16:24
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    Define what you mean by “improve” — improve along what metric? More favorable? More useful? More representative?
    – Dawn
    Jun 2 '20 at 16:34
  • More favorable, as in percentage who answer favorably. I believe it is consensus that student evaluations of teaching are subject to too much noise, gender bias, race bias, personality bias, the list goes on.
    – Ambicion
    Jun 6 '20 at 2:42
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There are too many forces here to expect any clear trend.

It depends on who forces them, I think. You are probably correct that when they are optional, only the most invested will be likely to participate. But if the instructor forces them, then some, taking it as an extra task for which they see no personal benefit, might react badly. I'm assuming anonymous responses, of course.

If the system, somehow, forces them then those less invested might still be annoyed, but not at the instructor. Whether you get honest answers, however, or chaotic, playful, anarchistic ones or helpful ones would be worth looking in to, but there is probably no real way to do the experiment.

However, the comments are likely to align, more or less will with how pleased the students were with the course and the instructor's helpfulness than otherwise. But this might not give overall trends different from the current situation you find.

But in particular, I don't see any forces that suggest "yes-men" behavior.

But turn it around. If you do a really good job or a really bad job your participation rate will probably go up.

Humorous aside: Or, you could bribe them somehow to participate so they see a personal benefit for answering. Tricky to do a bribe that doesn't itself slant the results.

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  • At my institution, it is common to reward students with extra points if, say, 90% answer their evaluations. So it seems to be common knowledge that higher participation is beneficial for the instructor.
    – Ambicion
    Jun 6 '20 at 2:32

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