Course Evaluations and Student Evaluations – The Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Questions for Your Survey

Course Evaluations and Student Evaluations sometimes use ‘open questions’ (questions that provide for a unique response box) for many reasons.  Usually it is done to get qualitative information about the course or program.

The answer box is open to undefined answers and can accept different types of responses:

  • Numeric Response
Of the 16 total classes in this course, how many did you attend?
  • Date Response
What were the dates of the classes not attended?
  • Time of Day Response
What time of day did this course meet?
  • Free Text or Literal Response
Would you like to comment further on this course?

  Advantages of Open Questions in your Course Evaluation:

  • Permits an unlimited range of answers
  • Reveals how the student respondents think about the question
  • Responses can be used to expand on and clarify closed responses

Disadvantages of Open Questions in your Course Evaluation:

  • Takes more time and effort to respond to the questions
  • Literal responses can be difficult for respondents not familiar with expressing own views and opinions
  • Answers may differ in level of details or scope
  • Limited control over length of response
  • Analysis relies on coding and that may be difficult, costly and time consuming

Understanding the pros and cons to open questions in your course evaluations or student evaluations will help you to develop the right questionnaire to extract the information you need for your program or course analysis.

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