Candy, Pizza Parties, Extra Credit: Will You Complete My Evaluation, Pretty Please?

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I have never been a fan of student evaluations, even when I have received perfect scores, whatever that means, and I have never, ever, ever, given any incentives for students to complete their “student evaluations.”

No, this will not be a revelation on how I was born-again and now my teaching life focuses immaturely on student evaluations. This will also not be a long discussion on how beneficial, to whom, and for what purpose, the completion of student evaluations is.

I will say that for most of my career we have had a designated day when we brought to class a packet of student evaluation forms, along with sharpened pencils, and Scantron sheets. On those occasions I would read the instruction form, excuse myself from the room, letting the students know I did not want to be present to interfere in any way in their evaluations, and that I would wait outside and away from the classroom until one student had brought the sealed envelope with completed evaluations to the division office.

Participation in student evaluations was great when we used pencil and paper and Scantron sheets, which I have never used in my teaching, but I must now praise for utility even in an English classroom, for the purposes of filling out an evaluation form. Participation was so great that usually 100% of students completed their evaluations.

Flash forward to the wonderful, new way of having students complete their evaluations online. Participation rates down. Repeated “encouragement” by automatic email reminders, both to faculty and students that evaluations have not yet been completed. There is still time. Participation: not priceless.

Many instructors use the means mentioned in the title of my post, including giving away candy (a “positive” reinforcement strategy I know is used on young school children and of which I wholeheartedly disapprove), to entice students into completing the evaluations.

Is this ethical, moral, role-modeling behavior? I am thinking also how well it would go over if we threw pizza parties, gave away candy, and provided other incentives to increase voter participation in local, state, and national elections. How far-fetched is this comparison?

I have even heard talk of having drawings for items such as large flat-screen televisions (this when they were really expensive), a whole list of material pleasures that usually can be found at black tie optional gala events on a silent auction table. Yes, I am talking about student evaluations, not elections. To sweeten the pot for those–now that would be unethical.

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