Goodbye end-of-term scantron papers and hello online survey: Western's student course evaluations are going digital. 

Besides being eco-friendly, the new student questionnaires on courses and teachers can offer customizable questions, course-long feedback and give students "the opportunity to provide feedback when they want, where they want," announced John Doerksen, Western's vice-provost academic programs, earlier this week. The online questionnaires will use an assessment software called eXplorance and will be piloted at Western during the summer academic term to be launched in time for the 2016–17 school year.

The change comes after a joint working group was established last year to review the recommendations of the 2008 joint subcommittee on student evaluations of teaching. The working group consisted of four voting and three non-voting members, including Doerksen as a chair, two members from the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association, a graduate and an undergraduate student representative. 

“We initially had conversations about this in a working group that included members of UWOFA and [the] administration exploring various aspects of our course evaluation process,” Doerksen said. “One of the recommendations of that group was to explore the possibility of moving the course evaluations online and that report initially came out in June 2015.”

Doerksen said students will be provided with a link to access and complete the questionnaires within an allotted time slot during class; however, the online survey will then remain available for about two weeks in an effort to encourage student participation and to give them the chance to go back and make changes or provide further feedback in their own time.

The eXplorance software is currently used by other Canadian universities. In the past five years, schools like the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser, University of Ottawa and Dalhousie University have made the move to online questionnaires.

“This online evaluation tool is very well adapted to mobile devices as well as regular web delivery,” said Doerksen. “Students can start to provide feedback on the course right in class but ... a student can go back and add more comments or if they felt they weren’t able to finish during that 15-minute slot of class time.”

Students seem to believe that kind of availability would play an important role in increasing the response rate, particularly as many students may not be present in class on course evaluation day.

“I think it’s more convenient especially because not everyone always goes to class,” said Audrey Cullis, a first-year medical science student. “I know my course evaluations for psychology … were handed out on St. Patrick’s Day, so no one was in the class.”

Another aspect of the program that stood out to most students is the push towards sustainability.

“I think it’s great especially from an environmental perspective," said Valeria Tarasova, a third-year psychology student. "I think that would save a lot of paper if you think about how many questionnaires and how many students there are.”

Still, Doerksen said it’s going to take a little while to develop the online questionnaire's full functionality, especially in time for fall 2016.

“We want to work carefully with our colleagues, students and instructors to make sure that there will be lots of opportunities for conversation across campus around where the needs are," Doerksen said. “We’ll try to work on this collaboratively across campus to find the best solutions but I think if we get this right there will be some good benefits for instructors as well as for students.