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Best Practices for Online Response Rates

As of 2012, the IDEA Student Ratings of Instruction System has an 81% average response rate for paper delivery, and the online survey delivery has an average of 67%. A minimum response rate of 65% is desirable to have confidence that the results represent the general experience for students.

Some campuses have employed strategies that result in average online response rates of 75% or better. The following strategies can help you as you seek to improve online response rates at your institution.

Creating Value for Student Feedback
This is the single most important factor to elicit good response rates. If instructors encourage student feedback, students will be more inclined to participate. Faculty can help students learn to value the feedback process by using techniques such as the following:

  • At the beginning of the course
    • Put the IDEA Objectives that you have selected for this course in the course syllabus alongside the specific course objectives. This can demonstrate for students how the course objectives relate to the general IDEA objectives.
    • Inform students on the first day of class that based on the feedback you received during the previous semester(s), you have decided to ___________. The important thing is for students to hear that your instructional decisions are informed by student feedback.
  • At the midtern point of the course
    • Remind students what the goals of the course are. Helping students understand what their targeted learning goals are can enhance their learning experience.
  • At the end of the course
    • When the survey has been opened for students to respond, encourage them to complete the form by telling them that throughout the course you have been giving them feedback with their best interest in mind. Now is their opportunity to give you feedback and that you hope they will do so with the same thoughtfulness.
    • Pass around a copy of the sample report that can be accessed from the IDEA Center website. Explain to students that you receive a comprehensive report that can provide information to help you make improvement efforts.
    • Students need to be reassured that their responses are confidential. When their responses are downloaded for processing, no identifying information is associated with the responses. Students are more likely to complete a survey if they are assured of the confidentiality of their responses.

Social Media
Some institutions have been successful using Twitter, particularly, to remind students to complete their surveys. You may want to experiment with Facebook or other forms of social media.

Other Forms of Communication with Students
You may want to post reminders on university portals, learning management systems, or department or program websites. Ads in student publications, posters, announcements on student radio stations, flyers in mailboxes are all possible communication strategies to announce the online rating period and review the purpose and use of the results.

System Monitoring and Communication
The On-Campus Coordinator (OCC) should monitor the status of the surveys during the survey period. The status of response rates needs to be monitored and communicated to faculty, chairs, and deans. At that time, faculty can be encouraged to communicate with their students about the importance of their input.

Class Time
Emulate the “captive audience” nature of in-class paper ratings. Ask students to bring their laptops to class so that they can complete the survey in class. Students will be able to complete surveys with mobile devices by Fall 2013.

Email/Login Accuracy
Verify the accuracy of student email addresses or the student identifier/login for the URL delivery method. When using the URL method, it is critical that the student identifier is something the students know and is easy to input without making typing or logic errors (e.g., placement or use of commas, hyphens, or spaces).

Frequency of Reminders and End Dates
Typically, if surveys are available for a two-week period, reminders should be sent every 3 days. If the time period is shorter, send more frequent reminders. If response rates are not adequate as the end date approaches, sending reminders on a daily basis can help. Extend the end date if needed. 

Integrating the Process into the Campus Culture
The ultimate goal is to make ongoing assessment a part of the institutional culture. Consider introducing the online process as part of freshman learning communities or orientation courses and discuss the value of the feedback process.