Motivating students to fill out course evaluations is not the primary concern at some universities — it’s actually students’ dishonest comments about their professors.
A recent student survey conducted at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the University of Northern Iowa revealed that students don’t always tell the truth when filling out course evaluations, a Dec. 13 article in The Des Moines Register reported. According to the article, one-third of students surveyed at both universities admitted to lying on anonymous course evaluations.
However, several University of Michigan students interviewed by The Michigan Daily said they are usually honest when filling out course evaluations at the end of each semester.
Gretchen Weir, assistant vice provost for academic affairs at the University, said she believes there is no evidence that suggests University students have any reason to lie on course evaluations.
“I don’t think that our students feel like they need to lie about them because they aren’t worried about professors finding out who they are,” Weir said.
The University has always kept evaluations anonymous, even before the Internet made it easy to do so, Weir said.
“Back then when it was paper, even though the faculty members saw the results, there were often steps taken so they wouldn’t actually see the handwriting, so that was a confidentiality technique back in the old days,” Weir said.
But students worrying about anonymity was not the main reason they were lying at SOSU and UNI. The study, which will be published this year in “Marketing Education Review,” found that students tended to fib in order to make instructors they like look good and ones they don’t like look less favorable to administrators who read the evaluation, according to the The Des Moines Register article.
LSA senior Quincy Westhuis said she could understand why students would lie if they wanted to portray a professor in a better light.
“I think sometimes people probably exaggerate if they don’t like the class, but they like the professor,” Westhuis said.
LSA sophomore Hannah Fielstra said she thinks lying on course evaluations is pointless because it’s the only chance students have to voice their opinions about professors and classes.
“If you lie on a course evaluation, it’s not really going to help anyone,” Fielstra said.
LSA sophomore Alicia Biggs said she tends to make her answers more moderate when filling out course evaluations, mostly because of the University’s available responses to questions.
“I tend to play them down because only the comments section is open, everything else is always agree or disagree, and I never choose the extreme,” Biggs said.
According to Weir, however, lying on University course evaluations is not one of the main concerns or faculty members. Weir said since the switch from paper to electronic submissions in December 2008, there has been a significant drop in the number of students who fill out evaluations.
“We’ve done a lot of research about what happened in other schools and colleges, and in fact, it was a pretty well documented thing that when you go to electronic evaluation, the participation rate drops,” Weir said. “We’ve been trying to look at a number of different ways to encourage response rate.”