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6 Disadvantages of Traditional Paper-based Course Evaluations

The value of paper-based course evaluations versus online assessments has often been debated. Many studies have been conducted on both methods with the pros and cons of each explored.* What is the overwhelming conclusion you ask? Simply put, the benefits of using online course evaluations far outweigh the benefits of using traditional paper evaluations. In prior posts we directly address the multitude of benefits that online assessments afford, so be sure to check those out. This post looks closely at paper-based evaluations and outlines six main disadvantages of utilizing them in your institution.

1)    Inaccessibility: Administering paper-based evaluations in-class may exclude certain students from participating. Students who are absent from class, or who have impairments, may not be able to access or complete the evaluation. The inability to accommodate all students in the process can lead to incomplete, skewed feedback with a very narrow view-point.

2)    Lower Quality Data: Many factors can affect the quality of data retrieved through in-class paper evaluations. Students may feel that their responses are not anonymous and worry that instructors can trace the feedback to them. They may feel their anonymity is compromised due to their writing or by the comments they divulge. This causes students to be less open and honest on their assessments. Other issues such as peer pressure and in-class evaluation time limits can also negatively affect the quality of the data collected.

3)    Limited Flexibility: Using traditional paper-based assessments often does not allow for the customization of questions. The questions used may be standard, university set queries without instructors being able to add tailored course-specific questions. Using a paper-based process also doesn’t afford much flexibility in terms of the reports that can be generated for instructors and faculty. Standard reports are often used without the ability to present results differently, whether showing results over time or across multiple courses.

4)    Lengthy Process: The process of administering paper-based assessments is a lengthy one. It can take several months to complete the cycle from administering the forms to collecting and analyzing the results, to sharing reports and acting on the feedback obtained. As instructors do not receive results quickly, valuable time is lost in responding to student concerns and implementing possible course changes.

5)    High Cost: A major disadvantage of using paper assessments is the high cost associated with the process. The number of personnel involved as well as the printing, distributing, scanning, rekeying, filing and archiving is very costly. When institutions move to an online system these significant costs can often be reduced by at least 50 percent.

6)    Non Eco-Friendly: A lot of paper is needlessly wasted in the traditional evaluation process. Wasting such a valuable environmental resource often goes against the institution’s ‘green’ initiatives and university-wide goals.

What disadvantages have you experienced when using paper evaluations? Have you ever tried an online system? What did you think? Let us know your thoughts.

*Some Studies on Paper-based Versus Online Course Evaluations

Heath, Lawyer & Rasmussen (2007). 'Web-Based Versus Paper-and-Pencil Course Evaluations.' http://www.isu.edu/psych/Articles/Rasmussen/Web%20vs%20Paper%20Course%20Evals%202007.pdf

Donovan, Mader & Shinsky (2006). ‘Constructive Student Feedback: Online Vs. Traditional Course Evaluations.’  http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/issues/pdf/5.3.5.pdf

Donovan, Mader & Shinsky (2006). ‘Online vs. Traditional Course Evaluation Formats: Student Perceptions.’  http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/issues/pdf/6.3.2.pdf

Anderson, Bird & Cain (2005). ‘Online Student Course Evaluations: Review of Literature and a Pilot Study.’ http://archive.ajpe.org/aj6901/aj690105/aj690105.pdf

DeCristoforo, Layne, & McGinty (1999). ‘Electronic Versus Traditional Student Ratings of Instruction.’ http://www.celt.iastate.edu/pdfs-docs/classclimate/research/1999_decristoforo_electronic_vs_paper_publication.pdf

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