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Professors: Expect Your Student Evaluations to Drop

The online experiment likely means lower numbers at the end of the semester.
Mar | 13 | 2020

Mar | 13 | 2020


In the wake of many schools’ decisions to move all classes online, odds are that you’re scrambling.

All of this change has made you uncomfortable. Perhaps you’re frantically recording lectures or learning Slack. Maybe you’re in the process of creating formerly in-person quizzes and exams in Canvas, Blackboard, or another learning management system. I’ll also bet that your instructional designers are working overtime. You don’t want your course to be a poor substitute for the original, but you’re trying to build the plane while it’s in the air.

With online courses, the fleas come with the dog.

I wish you all of the luck in the world, but let me tell you how this probably ends: Regardless of all of your hard work, your student evaluations are going to suffer. But don’t take my word for it just yet.

In a 2014 study, Suzanne Young and Heather E. Duncan demonstrated  that students routinely grade professors lower in online courses compared to their in-person equivalents. I suspect that this is just a limitation of online courses—even those that professors meticulously plan out.

That’s fine in theory, but what do student evaluations look like in practice under normal conditions?

I have seen this phenomenon play out first hand. From my interactive Tableau dataviz of student evaluations, consider the following:

Click here to see the whole thing on Tableau Public.

Is this dip fair?

Probably not, under any circumstances—much less exigent ones.

Simon Says: Prepare yourself.

Don’t be surprised when you observe lower numbers in a few months.


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