Online SFFs just as accurate

Debating the accuracy of online feedback forms.

It was good to see The Temple News editorial (Nov. 18) discussing Student Feedback Forms (SFFs). As Oscar Wilde noted, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” It is good to raise awareness of the forms – especially at this point in the semester.

The editorial correctly notes that there has been a drop in response rates from the low 70 percent range for paper and pencil to the low 50 percent range for the early semesters of online administration.  It suggests that the change in mode of administration combined with the reduced response rate has resulted in more high-ranking scores for professors. This is partly correct. The data show that students with either strong negative or positive opinions are more likely to complete the online evaluations.

However, it is important to note that online SFFs are not creating “potentially skewed or misleading data.” National studies over the last decade show no meaningful differences in ratings of course and instructor or the proportion of positive and negative written comments. Internal analyses of Temple data confirm these conclusions. The mean score for course and instructor ratings has not significantly changed from paper to online – even when one controls for lower/upper division courses and the size of the class.

Online SFFs have certainly brought change but they have not undermined “the analytical value of the SFF process.” Students have more time to develop their response – they can begin during class and complete later on. Students who might otherwise have missed the class when paper SFFs were administered are not left out. The online process has enabled the development of a student SFF data access system by which students who complete all their SFFs can access selected results for all course/instructors during the past several years. Faculty get the results of the online SFFs earlier and can more quickly make course changes based on the feedback from the students. Faculty are also reporting that the written student comments from the online forms are more extensive.

The Temple News editorial suggested that a “reincarnation of the paper system could return the analytical value of the SFF process.” I want to stress that the analytical value of the SFF process has not been compromised in any way. The overall picture obtained from online and paper course evaluations – both nationally and here at Temple – is essentially the same.

As readers of The Temple News will know, the university, and the schools and colleges, are doing all they can to improve the SFF process and to increase the response rates. The SFFs are important to faculty but also to students – and this why I would strongly encourage all your readers to set aside some time to complete them. Students are able to see SFF feedback from their peers on courses and instructors. Students also benefit from course improvements made by instructors based on feedback from SFFs.  SFFs completed this semester may not produce immediate change, and that can be frustrating. Ultimately, however, student SFFs provide the feedback needed to initiate change.

Peter R. Jones is the Senior Vice Provost Undergraduate Studies and a professor of criminal justice. He can be reached at

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