Student Evaluations and Course Evaluations – Choosing Between Open or Closed Questions for your Survey

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When developing your course evaluation or student evaluation, how you ask each question will determine the type of information you obtain.  Because prompted recall (Closed questions) triggers memory, they will usually produce more answers than unprompted recall (Open questions or unprompted closed questions).

However, prompted recall may also limit the responses to the set of answers provided making responses outside the provided set less likely.

Closed or pre-coded questions are popular with researchers and interviewers because they are easier to record and analyze.

A mixture of open and closed questions for your course evaluation, maintains the interest of the Respondent, and makes them feel you are interested in their individual views rather than just fitting their responses into pre-set categories. Attitudes are more likely to require open questions to accurately represent respondents’ thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

When constructing your student survey questions, consider these points:

1. Resist the impulse to write specific questions until you have thought through your research objectives

2. Write down your research objectives and have a hard copy available when you are working on the questionnaire

3. On each question ask yourself “Why do I want to know this in terms of my research objectives?”

4. Consider whether open or closed questions are more appropriate.

5. Consider what type of data the questions will provide.

6. Prepare dummy tables and charts to demonstrate how the data from the questions will fulfill the analysis and reporting requirements.

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