There are many advantages associated with the use ofinformation technology to supportapproaches to evaluation (Dommeyer et al.
, 2004; Salmon etal. 2004; Watt et al. 2002). Asexamples, Watt et al. (2002) note that ‘using web-basedevaluation questionnaires can bypassmany of the bottlenecks in the evaluation system (e.g.
dataentry and administration) andmove to a more “just in time” evaluation model’ (327).Another advantage is avoiding theneed to administer surveys in class (Dommeyer et al. 2004).Unsurprisingly, there is increasinggrowth in the use of web-based surveying for course andteaching evaluation (Hastie &Palmer 1997; Seal & Przasnyski 2001). This growth ishappening despite concerns fromstudents (e.g.
regarding confidentiality and ease of use)(Dommeyer, Baum & Hanna 2002),and concerns from staff (e.g. about the adequacy of responserates) (Dommeyer, Baumet al. 2002)The web-based approach offers a distinct advantage when theinstitution wants theflexibility of using different survey questions fordifferent courses. The online survey instrumentscan be revised and modified with relative ease.
Researchershave documented the advantagesof this method where course-specific survey instruments areneeded to determine the achievement of learning goals(McGourty ,Scales & Thorpe,2002). These researchers report that Columbia Universitymakes survey results available tostudents to help them select the faculty whose teachingmethods best matchstudents’ learning styles.Because the web-based method requires a very small number ofsteps that need significanthuman intervention, the results become available faster,providing the opportunity to administersurveys more frequently during the term. The great advantageis thatthe results from interim surveys can be used to modify thecourse materials and teachingmethods while the course is in progress.A major concern with the web-based approach is thepossibility of low response ratesand unmeasurable nonresponse bias. Cummings and Ballantyne(1999) and Hmieleski(2000) indicate lower response rates for the web-basedapproach compared with thepaper-based approach.
Hmieleski and Champagne (2000)reported on an Interactiveand Distance Education Assessment Laboratory survey of theUnited States’ 200 mostwired campuses. They state that out of the 105 respondinginstitutions, 67%indicated a return rate of 70% or more for paper-basedsurveys and the remaininginstitutions indicated return rates of 20 to over 90% forweb-based surveys. McGourtyet al (2002) and Thorpe (2002) report that student sex,class standing and cumulative GPA are good predictors of student participationin the course survey process. Theystate that female students completed a higher percentage of the surveys thanmalestudents.Under the web-based method, the system authenticates the students using thesameauthentication mechanisms as those used for university emails or onlineregistrations.
The authentication is necessary to ensure that each student provides feedbackonlyonce, and those students who are properly registered in that particular sectioncanprovide feedback for each course section. The web-based approach guaranteesfeedbackintegrity at the same level as the authentication and authorisation mechanismsof theinstitution’s registration system.Unfortunately, the web-based authentication process for survey accessinevitablyenables the system to trace students to their feedback and report oninformation eachstudent has provided, raising student concerns about the lack of anonymity.Resultsof a study conducted by Recker and Greenwood (1995) state that many studentsfelt that the web-based method was not completely able to preserve theiranonymity.A perceived lack of anonymity in the use of some email surveys has also beensuggested as areason for low response rates (Kittleson, 1995; Moss & Hendry, 2002Ranchhod & Zhou, 2001).Paper-based surveys require formal authentication.
Authentication is inherentinpaper-based methods because they are administered in classrooms and underfacultysupervision. However, one response per student cannot be guaranteed, especiallyinlarger classes, and confidentiality depends on the honesty of the classmatessitting closeby (Recker and Greenwood, 1995).Most often, instructors administer paper-based surveys at the end of the classtime. Insome cases, the time allowed to complete the surveys is short, and in someother casesstudents may be in a hurry to leave the class. Several authors believe thatthis approachdoes not allow students to provide thoughtful feedback (Handwerk et al, 2000;Hmieleski & Champagne, 2000).
Also, most students are now accustomed towritingusing computers. Completing the surveys on computers provides a medium forwritingthat students are more accustomed to. McGourty et al (2002) state that therewas anincrease in the number of comments at Colombia University as a result of thechange toa web-based approachThe literature contains both positive and negative statements about the effectof conductingteaching evaluations online on the length and quality of feedback.
Hmieleskiand Champagne (2000) report that students who used a web-based survey toevaluatea management course wrote four times as many comments as students who used apaper-based survey. Also, Handwerk et al (2000) note that the web-basedapproachresults in a more detailed and more thoughtful feedback by students. HmieleskiandChampagne (2000) agree with this statement, especially when the web-basedapproach is used during the course for feedback and refinement. However, theystate that someauthors believe that students may make insincerely negativeor reckless remarksbecause of environmental distractions present while studentsprovide feedback.