At my institution, students are encouraged to complete course evaluations online, yet typically only about one-third participate without additional prompting. Our administration strongly recommends dedicating 15 minutes of class time to these evaluations, but I'm uncertain about this approach. Given that these evaluations are not mandatory, I question the justification of allocating class time to this activity. Is it appropriate to use instructional time for students to fill out course evaluations? What approach would you recommend?

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    Given that these evaluations are not mandatory, I question the justification of allocating class time to this activity. For what it's worth, before these things went online this had been the case since at least the early 1960s, and much earlier in some places (1920s for Purdue, I think), at least in the U.S., based on about 10 colleges/universities at which I was either a student or faculty member (and much more than this from second-hand information). Commented May 2 at 11:28
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    But a better question may be "will you get a higher quality of responses if the students can decide to respond or not compared to 100% being forced" ie compulsory responses...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 2 at 12:06
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    @SolarMike "higher quality of responses" suggests that what matters is the quality of the responses considered individually; but what matters here is whether the responses as a whole are representative. The students most likely to volunteer to submit feedback, if they have to do this in their own time, are those with strong negative views who want to vent them. It may well be that compulsory responses are on average less accurate to what the student really thinks, but on average more accurate to what the class as a whole thinks.
    – kaya3
    Commented May 2 at 19:56
  • @kaya3 so you are suggesting that responses which are vindictive or BS from students often absent are more relevant than considered, relevant feedback from those students who valued the course.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 3 at 4:52
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    @SolarMike Please re-read my previous comment.
    – kaya3
    Commented May 3 at 11:58

3 Answers 3


Yes, certainly. At my institution (in the USA), our data shows that you'll get a much higher response rate if you have students fill out the evaluations during class time instead of leaving them to find separate time for it. Partially that's because at the end of the semester the students are very busy and will often put it off until it's too late (for good reasons, it is not allowed for them to fill out evaluations after the final exam).

It sounds like you're unsure if this is a worthwhile use of class time. I argue that it is, for two reasons. First, students filling out evaluations is a chance for them to reflect on the entire semester, including what they perceived to have worked well, and what they perceived to have not worked well. This will involve thinking back over the semester, and thinking of which topics were hard for them. That's an extremely valuable activity for their long term retention of course material, and also a good habit as a way of consolidating knowledge leading into final exams.

Second, having a high response rate is much better for you as the professor. With a low response rate, you don't know if the feedback you're reading is representative of the views of the group as a whole, or just a few squeaky wheels. Also, a higher response rate means more data for you, which means you can improve your teaching for the next group of students. Of course, I don't suggest to do everything that the students say they want on the evaluations, but on average more data is better.

Doing the evaluations in class, my response rate is in the 80-90% range. I use evaluation day as a chance to go over all the things we learned, to get them thinking intentionally about how they best learn (again, this is valuable as they start to think about studying for the final exam), and to refer back to the learning goals that I put on the syllabus, so they can think about how well the course achieved those goals. I think this is a good way to turn evaluations into a learning opportunity, and get students thinking metacognitively about how they learn.

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    it is not allowed for them to fill out evaluations after the final exam --- FYI, this is either a "somewhat newish" trend (since 2005, my last year of teaching) or something a bit unique to your university, because I don't think in my 25 years (student and faculty member combined) I ever had a situation where the evaluations were NOT filled out during one of the last few regular class periods (rather than at the end of the final exam, which took place during "finals week"). Commented May 2 at 11:36
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    @DaveLRenfro I'm having trouble parsing your comment. Are you saying evaluations were always done during the last weeks but before the final? Or are you saying they were always done at the end of the final exam? Personally, I much prefer to have the evaluations before the final exam, because of the unfortunate correlation between "student's perceived grade" and "scores they give prof on evaluations." If evaluations were right after the final exam, it would be a strong incentive to make an overly easy final exam. Commented May 2 at 11:50
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    I was saying the evaluations were filled out BEFORE the final exam (instead of after the final exam). And I see that I misread your comment, as what I quoted agrees with what I (tried) to say. Besides your reason for not completing the evaluations just after the final exam, students also tended to leave as soon as possible after finishing (prepare for another final, begin/continue work on an end-of-semester project or paper, get back to dorm/home to begin/continue packing, check to see if grade in another class has been posted, etc.), so you'd probably get mostly the "squeaky wheels". Commented May 2 at 12:09
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    @MikeM Can you cite any research about the leaving the room point? I used to leave the room, then sometimes students would leave right after me, preferring to simply not do the evaluations (or would leave after 1-2 minutes, doing a perfunctory job). If I stay in the room, they tend to write longer and more useful comments. I don't go near them or their computers, so anonymity is not violated. When they finish they can come up and ask me questions as they review for the final exam so it kinda doubles as office hour time. Commented May 2 at 19:07
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    As a student, I think I'd be nervous writing something unfavorable with the instructor in the room, knowing that at any moment you could walk over and look at my computer, even though you've promised not to. Commented May 3 at 1:55

As a counterpoint to the accepted answer: No, possibly not. I'll assume a situation like mine and the OP's, where administration is merely suggesting use of class time for this, and not mandating it. Also, we can stipulate that at a previous time evaluations were necessarily done on paper in the classroom, but now having online evaluations give us other options.

David White makes enticing points in his accepted answer, but in my experience, none of them ring true. Having written many course evaluations myself as a student, at no point did any of them cause me to reflect on the subject matter of the course. I don't think that the questionnaire at our institution has any question likely to cause that; it's entirely about presentation style on the part of the instructor.

More generally, the best research we have is that students are, on average, really bad judges of what counts as effective instruction. Clark et. al. point out that when given a choice in classroom learning strategies, students reliably pick the one from which they learn the least (American Educator Spring 2012). Philip Stark at Berkeley points to multiple randomized studies that likewise show:

These studies confirm the common belief that good teachers can get bad evaluations: Teaching effectiveness, as measured by subsequent performance and career success, is negatively associated with student teaching evaluations...

And this is before even talking about the deep corpus of research that student evaluations of teaching exhibit bias in a number directions, including against women, minorities, harder STEM subjects, those not matching gender stereotypes, etc.

Arguably having the instructor hover over students filling out evaluations is even more likely to input garbage data -- the student may be rushed, or not really have well-thought out opinions, or feel that they can't be honest, etc. I'd actually rather have students motivated by some informed opinion, in a private and deliberate moment, filling these out.

More important than any of that, in my perspective, is that even 15 minutes of lost time for something like this is a loss of irretrievably precious time from the actual subject matter of the course. Some topic would actually have to be cut from my CS classes to make room for something like this. This is emblematic of a larger category of other time sinks also suggested by some parties at my institution -- taking daily attendance records, having certain offices introduce their services (counselors, librarians, accessibility), letting student government members speak, etc. Personally, I resist all of these.

Finally, the online system where I am has a history of failures to work, or a majority of students being unable to log in, so time allocated to the generally failed attempt to use it is an even greater and more frustrating waste.

In short, I skip this suggested use of in-class time, and I haven't had any blowback from that choice. I'm glad that evaluations are now online so we have this flexibility and capacity to focus better on the hard core subject matter in our limited class time.

  • Obviously if you don't think evaluations are important, then it's a waste to dedicate class time to them. But surely we can assume that anyone considering the original question thinks otherwise. I also can't believe that 15 minutes of instruction is "precious" in a term-long university course
    – Kopper
    Commented May 4 at 16:28

Course evaluations are a bureaucratic waste of time. The data is useless and never used for anything anyways besides getting a new job or promotion where it's asked for by bureaucrats. Students responses are more predicted by their likely grade and their attraction to their professors than how they felt about the class or what the learned. It's a waste of time online, and certainly shouldn't be done in class. Honestly it shouldn't be done at all, or if it is done it should be done in first half of the term and the scores should be linked to students grades and attendance.

  • Not saying I agree with the conclusion, but it might be nice to add a line more-or-less directly answering the question, such as "No, don't use class-time for this. The online response rate will be lower, but that doesn't matter since ... ". Commented May 2 at 21:36
  • Well the research agrees with my conclusion. They should not be done at all. Commented May 3 at 15:29
  • If you think research backs up what you're writing, it's always nice to take a few minutes finding it again, adding a link and a quick summary (a summary, since links die and many people don't like to follow them). See what other people write here, like the Daniel Collins answer (which I feel is much too long, but it shows a common quote/link style). Commented May 3 at 20:11
  • Yeah I don't get paid to teach you so not going to get that involved. Commented May 3 at 21:08

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