Although SRTE response rates have gone down for many faculty members since the shift to online ratings, some faculty are still able to achieve impressive response rates. To get at some of their secrets, we asked faculty with a 70% or greater response rate and at least 30 students in their classes to share advice on getting students to fill out the SRTEs. Below are some of the suggestions that emerged. We'll be adding more tips in the coming months, so check back often.
“I teach a first-year seminar. Beginning with the freshmen, we work hard to help the students see the importance and their responsibility in being proactive in their education by providing constructive feedback. I have argued with the freshmen that they have an ethical responsibility to provide feedback and impress upon them the importance of the constructive feedback to the instructor going forward with future offerings of the course. With all my students, I reiterate the arguments above and also provide examples of how my courses (or other courses) have changed due in part to the constructive feedback given by students. I personally have changed how information is delivered and how assignments are structured in several of my courses based in part on student feedback.”
—R. Allen Kimel, Materials Science and Engineering“I remind students that most of the good ideas for course improvements have come from those in the past who took the time to pass along their constructive feedback. I also describe one or two examples to students of how feedback from past semesters helped to improve the current course, showing how they can have a positive impact.”
—Instructor, Information Sciences and Technology“I talk about teaching methodologies that I have incorporated based on previous feedback (obtained from SRTEs) from prior classes, such as exam reviews both pre- and post-, as an example. I then on the first day of class begin to mention SRTEs and how I value that process and how feedback from students has impacted the course in helping the students achieve the objectives of the course.”
—Lisa Kitko, Nursing
“I try to let my students know that I want their feedback very badly with respect to how I can improve my course. I tell them that though I love to hear that they like things in my course, I am equally interested (if not more so) in what they’d like to see me change. I tell them that writing things like ‘Dr. Bernstein sucks,’ doesn’t help me as much as ‘Dr. Bernstein sucks because he talks too fast and his slides are not easy to follow.’”
—Michael Bernstein, Psychology
Professor Karen Barr values students’ input on the subject matter of the course. At SRTE time, she reminds students that she’s been willing to help in many ways and that it would now be helpful if they could reciprocate by filling out the SRTEs. “SRTEs are important—that’s how I change my class,” she says, noting that even though she has been teaching for many years, there are always ways to improve.
—Karen Barr, Business Administration (from interview)
“Throughout the semester I try to create a very collaborative learning environment in class. We engage in a lot of experiential learning in which I get to know the students in ways that traditional lecturing does not allow. I see them—and they see me—engaging in role plays, organizational simulations, etc. I think this develops a climate of trust which they appreciate and likely feel more compelled to share their views on at the end of the semester.”
—Glen Kreiner, Management and Organization
- “I average over 80 percent daily attendance in my classes, and Penn State Beaver is basically a commuter school. Attendance is 10 percent of their grade and students sign in every day.
- Students do not use e-mail that often. They would rather communicate with me via text message. Maybe some type of blanket text message could be sent to students.
- I start reminding students the day I receive the e-mail concerning SRTEs and mention it at every class session after. Students are busy and need constant reminders.
- I tell students that I do accept constructive criticism and have made adjustments to the syllabus. Not all suggestions are incorporated.
- I speak their language sometimes and talk about life and how important it is to be able to accept criticism or praise, whatever it may be. We are criticizing or praising them all semester and they only get one SRTE per semester.”—Thomas Zumpella, Integrative Arts
“Rapport built with students makes them want to give feedback. Students enjoying the course makes them want to give feedback.”
—Dave Brown, Economics“So how do I build rapport with my students? I tell them lots of stories (only true ones) from my own life or from clients/family that have been part of my life. These stories help to create a connection, so that they see that I am human as well. They also get to see how the concept fits a real-life situation and they tend to remember it better. I also get to class early so I can just talk with them informally and get to know them as a person. I have a reputation for ‘being tough’ because I do have high expectations for class … attendance, participation, critical thinking, and great writing skills. I am fair…. I am strict about classroom behavior and correct inappropriate behavior when it happens. Sometimes I have to apologize when the message comes across too strongly or sharply. This also builds rapport.”
—Anne Hester, Psychology“I try to build a relationship with my students from Day 1 centered on communication (I am here for you!), work-ethic (all of us will work hard, and that includes me), and respect (everyone is equal and we’ll continuously strive to work together). Indeed, I keep telling my students how much I am here to nurture their success as ‘budding biologists.’ … Please know that I constantly challenge my students throughout the semester, and I work to celebrate their success (not failures). When it comes time for SRTEs, it’s a natural process. It’s simply part of the course. They basically see it as an assessment requirement (which I explain SRTEs as ‘assessment tools’ for me and Penn State). They are scholars (another thing I tell them constantly) and understand the need for SRTEs.”
—Jacqueline McLaughlin, Biology
Professor Patrick O’Neill attributes his high response rates to his honesty with students and his use of reminders. He lets students know that he has very high expectations of them—and that he knows they are capable of meeting those expectations. On the first day of class, he goes over his syllabus with students and tells them: “You are adults, and I will not treat you like children.” He also communicates with his students that he’s grateful that he loves what he does.
—Patrick O’Neill, Art History (from interview)
Professor Peter Eberle works to create an atmosphere of open communication in his courses. Before the semester starts, he emails students registered for his classes and asks whether they have questions. He also posts his syllabus and course materials one month in advance. During the semester he tries to answer emails quickly and otherwise be accessible. He communicates his respect for students’ perspectives, and by collecting and responding to mid-semester feedback, he shows students that he is listening. In addition, he stresses that the SRTEs are important, telling students, “I appreciate your responses,” and providing examples of how the course has changed as a result of past students’ feedback.
—Peter Eberle, Business Administration
Professor Johanna Rossi Wagner’s lecture class of about 50 students is a collaborative effort. Throughout the semester, she asks students to talk about what is or is not working. As an example, she required blog assignments and got feedback that the students hated these, so she tweaked the assignment. She sets a tone of openness to feedback—she tries to convey that she really wants to know what is or is not working in the class.
—Johanna Rossi Wagner, Italian (from interview)
In his courses, Professor Jake Graham is always thinking about “student participation,” “student involvement,” and “student voice.” He tells his students that his is but one view, they have other views, and that he learns from hearing students’ views. But what he sees as most important is to follow up on this philosophy by giving students opportunities to provide input, and for faculty to respond to that input. How faculty respond to the input is critical. To summarize his approach, 1) he promotes open dialogue as an important part of the learning process, 2) he regularly provides opportunities for open dialogue, about the course and about the content of the course, and 3) he responds to the open dialogue. It is the response to the feedback that is, for him, the critical point. He shows that he is listening and that he respects the input by either making changes, or by explaining why he does something in a particular way.
—Jake Graham, Information Sciences and Technology (from interview)
“We have many interactive class activities and discussions, encouraging rapport. I believe these are critical in encouraging open communication with my students. Early in the semester, my students are generally asked about their opinion of the textbook. I generally take a few moments prior to the book order due dates for the upcoming semester to ask about the usage, value, price, and format. Toward the end of the semester, I usually ask about which assignments were preferred or valued and if the course plans should be adapted, in their opinion. Of course, there will always be a few students who dislike everything; however, I genuinely try to base my course-planning decisions on input provided by the majority of reliable, regularly attending students. I usually inform students at the beginning of each semester if I have recently adapted plans based on student input.”
—Instructor, Psychology“Almost all of my courses are rich in assignments, and students are getting very detailed feedback not only from me, but in some cases from their peers (all online). However, I think the integration of my research into my teaching and my emphasis on the importance of collected data throughout the semester might be the biggest help.”
—Hakan Can, Administration of Justice“I make it a point to provide my students with timely feedback, and they are usually gracious enough to do the same for me when I ask.”
—Robert Belsterling, Economics and Accounting“[The] secret to getting responsiveness at the end of the semester is to actively develop a climate of responsiveness from the very beginning of and all the way through the entire semester, so that by its end mutual evaluation is part and parcel of the process.”
—Claudia Brown, Human Development and Family Studies
Professor Pierce Salguero works to create a course that is “student-centered by design,” with collaboration and participation as an integral part of the classroom climate throughout the semester.
—Pierce Salguero, History and Religious Studies (from interview)
In his accounting classes, Professor Ed Babcock makes a point of communicating to students that they have a responsibility to make class better in the future via their student ratings. He also emphasizes that in their future careers, they will often be asked to participate by providing similar kinds of feedback. In his class, he also promotes a culture of feedback by inviting students to participate in Quality Teams that provide both formal and informal feedback about the class.
Ed also provides students an interim view of their class participation grade at intervals throughout the semester via ANGEL. He notes that this is a tangible way that students can understand where they stand in this important grading category, and it eliminates unpleasant surprises at the end of the semester in differences in viewpoint. While he does not make it a condition of doing this, he tells students that his requested and desired quid pro quo for this courtesy is that students be willing to similarly offer him feedback on his performance through the SRTE process.
—Ed Babcock, Accounting (from interview)
“I managed to give students 15 minutes in class at the beginning of the class when they had access to computers to complete their SRTEs during the period of SRTEs. After telling students that their feedback would help me improve my teaching effectiveness in the future and would positively impact my teaching skill and eventually benefit our students, I left the classroom for 15 minutes. When I returned to the class and asked how many students had completed their SRTEs, the vast majority of the students raised their hands.”
—Xinli Wu, Engineering Design
“At Penn State York, a thirty-minute block of time is allocated to filling out SRTEs. Every instructor reserves a room and a block of time. Some instructors take their students to the reserved room and stand outside where the students cannot see them. The objective is to make sure that all students are working on their SRTEs. I didn’t do that; instead I reserved rooms and time, and asked my students to do the needful.”
—Instructor, Chemistry“I reserve a computer lab at the beginning or end of a lecture/lab session during the last week or two of the semester, and ask the students to complete their SRTEs for the course during that time slot. At Beaver campus, we have computer labs near the biology lab and lecture rooms, so if I plan ahead, it’s relatively easy to reserve a computer lab nearby – the key is to make it as easy as possible for the students to get there.”
—Cassandra Miller-Butterworth, Biology
“I basically asked students to fill out the online SRTEs because they were important indicators of how the course went that semester. My gut reaction is that any sort of reminder, however simple, if it is given repeatedly, will help students remember to do the SRTEs and thus improve the overall response rate for a course.”
—Thomas McGuire, Biology
“On the last day of class I explained to my 58 theory and clinical students in Nursing 310, Nursing Care of the Older Adult, that their feedback on the SRTEs and SRCTEs (clinical evaluation) is very important to me and to the School of Nursing administrators. I sent the students seven emails containing course announcements between 11/28 and 12/8 which included reminders about completing the SRTEs and SRCTEs. In the first email I explained to the students that I had 100 percent completion in the Spring of 2011 and that my goal was 100 percent completion for the Fall of 2011. Because my students are in six clinical sections I suggested that we have a race to see which clinical section could have a 100 percent completion first. In each email I reported on what the percentages of completion were for each clinical section and thanked the students for taking the time to complete their SRTEs. On December 9th I sent an email thanking them for completing the SRTEs and reporting that the completion rate was 91 percent. The race was fun and the emails took a fraction of time to compose.”
—Mary Ellen Yonushonis, Nursing
“During the last two weeks of class, in every update email I sent to the class I urged students to complete their SRTEs. I made announcements to this effect in class, too. As time passed, I reported the statistics to the class and told them my goal was 100%.”
—Instructor, Information Sciences and Technology
Professor Ron Johnson sends reminders to students during the SRTE period, such as the following: “Hello. I wanted to send a note to everyone just on SRTE's (class feedback). They are open in ANGEL for you to complete and will stay open until Dec. 9th. Right now we have about 30% completed. I'd like to get as close to 100% if possible. That feedback is of great help to me. I will use it to make adjustments to BA 342 for the next class. I like to get comments but if you just go in and click the check boxes (takes a minute) that helps. I'll keep you updated on our completion percentage all this week.—Ron”
—Ronald Johnson, Management and Organization (from interview)
During the time when SRTEs are available to students, Professor Kitty Mussett sometimes prints out her SRTE results from the previous semester and hands these out in class. She and the students take 7-10 minutes to discuss the importance of the SRTEs and what she does with the results. She and the students look at low numbers and discuss whether they think she's improved. They also look at high numbers and discuss whether they think she has done those things well in the current semester. At the end of the discussion, she collects the forms back from the students.
—Kitty Mussett, Spanish (from interview)
“I must say I do nothing special except to inform my students that it is important they fill the SRTEs out not just for me, but for all their other instructors. I note that this is an important feedback source for faculty so that they can fine tune their teaching to maximize the imparting of knowledge. I also note that this will not only benefit them during their time at PSU but will also help future generations of students who attend PSU. I do say it with some humor.”
—Rajen Mookerjee, Economics
“When it comes to the SRTEs themselves, I try to impress upon the students that they are an extremely valuable feedback tool that helps me understand how well I am doing as an instructor. I tell the students … the most important function of the SRTEs to me is the opportunity they give current students to help future students.”
—Michael Gallis, Physics
On the first day of the SRTE period, Professor Willis tells students that the process is not RateMyProfessor.com—rather, SRTEs are looked at and paid attention to by administrators. He also lets the students know that he uses their feedback to improve the course in future semesters. In a different vein, he collects mid-semester feedback and shares the results with students in order to promote a culture in which feedback is taken seriously.
—Mike Willis, Mechanical Engineering (from interview)
“Big ‘secret,’ I believe, is that our online class really does require the students to engage, frequently, and by getting them to log in, they see the SRTEs.”
—Richard Alley, Geosciences
In the fall, when there are a lot of first-time college students, Professor Dianne Creagh explains what the SRTEs are. She also shows the students her ANGEL screen to reassure them that she can’t see who responded and that she can’t link responses to particular students. She also gives examples of how qualitative feedback comments have helped her to improve the course over time.
—Dianne Creagh, History (from interview)
On the opening day of the SRTE offering period, Professor Ron Kelly sends an email answering 4-5 questions that he thinks are in students’ heads concerning the SRTE process:
He also sends daily countdown emails every day at 9:00 p.m. He reports the current response rates of all of his courses to prompt a bit of a competition between classes to get the highest response rate.
- Why students’ views are important
- A lot of things that students like about the course are a direct result of students’ feedback
- How student feedback has improved the course and how he uses it
- He uses the results to make students’ lives easier
- Will faculty reduce students’ grades if the responses are negative? He explains that the results are 100% confidential and that he will not receive the results until after he submits final grades.
—Ron Kelly, Administration of Justice (from interview)