Course Evaluations: Are We Asking Questions about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging?

April 18, 2023 Watermark Insights

Course Evaluations: Are Questions Being Asked about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging?

Course evaluations provide administrators with essential insights into course strength and faculty performance. You can also use them to ensure your professors are upholding your institution's values and standards in the classroom with diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging experience questions. However, many schools underutilize this question type, preventing them from the rich, insightful data they can provide. 

What Are Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Questions? 

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) questions on course evaluations ask students to evaluate how their professors and courses interact with diverse topics and create a safe, comfortable, and open learning environment for all students. Students will answer them alongside other questions about academic and structural support in the classroom on their course evaluations toward the end of the semester. 

DEIB questions might prompt students to reflect and provide insight on several factors, including whether instructors: 

  • Prioritized diversity and inclusion in lectures, readings, and discussions. 
  • Respected identity, such as using the correct pronouns for students. 
  • Provided trigger warnings for sensitive topics included in lectures, readings, and discussions. 
  • Avoided reinforcing stereotypes. 
  • Improved accessibility and visibility inside and outside the classroom. 
  • Encouraged students to share their experiences. 
  • Connected students with the right resources. 
  • Recognized bias in existing resources and tools. 

On course evaluations, students might be asked to measure how well they thought their instructors met these DEIB experiences, their satisfaction with their professor's performance and efforts, or share written feedback through comments and short answer sections. 

Why Are These Questions Important? 

Your students are powerful resources when trying to improve your courses and programs at your institution. Course evaluations can give higher education institution administrators more direct access to student data and feedback about your programs and professors. 

DEIB questions are even more critical because of their sensitive nature. Your school should be a safe and welcoming environment for all students, encouraging them to thrive in their studies. Course evaluations that include DEIB questions can help you understand if your professors need more institutional support to make more inclusive and accessible classrooms and programs. 

This information can also help institutions and administrators understand student satisfaction and assess retention. Increased diversity and inclusion by professors in lectures can help students feel more seen and supported on campus, allowing them to feel like part of the community. Students who feel like they belong are more likely to stay with your institution through graduation. 

How Frequently Are DEIB Questions Asked on Course Evaluations? 

Despite their importance, DEIB questions are often rare in course evaluations. In a 2022 study that assessed over 175,800 course evaluation questions from higher education institutions nationwide, only 0.15% fell under the DEIB category. This statistic shows that schools do not prioritize this data type, instead choosing to overlook it in favor of getting other feedback about courses and faculty from students. 

While the overall priority for DEIB questions on course evaluations is low, schools are increasing the frequency with which they include this question category. In 2011, only 15 schools had DEIB questions on their course evaluation. Alternatively, this rate increased to 221 schools in 2021. Administrators are beginning to see the power behind DEIB questions on course evaluations, so this trend might continue to grow as more schools add this to their standard evaluations. 

Who Is Including DEIB Questions on Course Evaluations? 

Because of their rarity, professors are usually the ones adding DEIB questions to course evaluations. Research shows that 63.5% of DEIB questions on course evaluations were added by professors and faculty, while institutions only included 11.5% of them. Professors might want to know how they can personally make their classrooms, processes, and curricula more accessible and inclusive to their current and future students, prompting them to add these questions to standard institution evaluations. 

While individual engagement can offer professors specific feedback they can use to drive personal improvement efforts, administrators are missing out on robust data when they do not include DEIB questions on standardized course evaluations. Administrators can use DEIB feedback to measure and understand diversity, inclusion, and accessibility on a widespread institutional level as well as individualized. 

Surveys and course evaluations are full of actionable data, like student majors and colleges, allowing you to target improvement efforts to specific areas in your school. For example, if one field of study reports lower satisfaction with diversity efforts than your other colleges and majors, you can direct your inclusivity efforts toward that department for better resource efficiency and optimization. 

7 Tips for Asking About DEIB on Course Evaluations 

You need the right implementation methods when your administration wants to include more DEIB questions. Strong questions and tactics can optimize the data administration teams receive from this section of course evaluations. 

1. Define Diversity and Inclusion Terms 

Define Diversity and Inclusion Terms

Vague questions and instructions on course evaluations can lead to inadequate responses from students. Many students interpret DEIB topics differently based on their unique backgrounds and experiences, causing more variation and decreased reliability in survey responses for DEIB questions. Instead, you can better tap into your student data by defining what your school considers DEIB to look like, especially in the context of professors, instruction methods, and classrooms. 

You can organize your survey questions into categories to streamline response collection and analysis while also enabling survey creators to add more information to the instructions. At the beginning of the DEIB section, you can outline your definitions, allowing students to quickly refer back to terms and keep definitions in mind when working through that portion of the course evaluation. 

However, when providing definitions, you should still aim to keep your content vague enough to include a variety of experiences. Avoid having examples or leading questions so that you allow students to accurately and comfortably share their experiences in the classroom and with faculty members. Definitions should provide clarity rather than restrict responses. 

2. Offer a Comment Section Below Questions 

Course evaluations are essential quantitative data sources for administrators, but you can get more specific information about classrooms, lectures, and faculty with qualitative data. Quantitive data on course evaluations often looks like students ranking how well or frequently they thought their professors upheld institution and program values, from workplace preparedness to DEIB standards. However, these questions leave little room for students to expand on nuances or provide examples of what they witnessed. 

Qualitative data on course evaluations allows students to share their observations through more descriptive information. Administrators can use this data type to gain more insight into how DEIB initiatives and standards manifest across colleges, departments, and classrooms to target better improvement efforts. 

You can integrate qualitative data into your course evaluations by offering comments sections after quantitative data questions. Comments allow students to provide context to their responses while giving administrators access to more valuable information. 

If you want to forgo quantitative responses entirely and focus solely on qualitative feedback, you can instead frame DEIB questions as asking students to provide examples of how professors worked DEIB standards into the classroom and homework. You can focus on various initiatives, like more diverse materials or accessible tools, to better understand how professors apply and integrate standards into their regular curriculum. 

3. Include Contact Information For Diversity and Inclusion Offices 

Reflecting on past experiences might bring up bad memories for students, especially those in minority groups. Individuals might remember when their professors acted against school standards or treated them with disrespect because of their background and demographic. Institutions often have systems to handle discrimination and disrespect based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, or age. However, students might not know that services and teams exist to help them in the face of discrimination. 

At the end of your DEIB section, consider adding a statement encouraging students who would like to report harassment and discrimination to reach out to your available services. You can leave the contact information for the offices and teams that handle these cases, like Title IX or Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (AAEO) departments, so students can reach out to discover their next steps. You can also add their office location if students want to discuss their case with an administrator in person. 

Even a short statement can empower and inform students about what your institution can do to support them. When you highlight how your administration aims to make learning environments and education safe and comfortable for everyone, students can feel more connected to and seen by the school. 

4. Explain the Importance of Evaluations and Data 

Explain the Importance of Evaluations and Data

Many students overlook their evaluations because they think they are not necessary. They might see them as a low priority or a waste of time. If you have an ongoing evaluation period, students might forget to complete surveys. 

As your evaluation period approaches, effectively communicate the importance of evaluation data to your institution and professors. You can explain how data impacts their lives, shaping policies for the next academic session and driving improvements to deliver students the best education. You might cite specific examples of changes backed with survey data, like adding more courses to your schedule the following year or giving a professor tenure. While most faculty understand the importance of course evaluations, you should also communicate the benefits to their career. 

You might also encourage survey completion by offering incentives. Healthy competition between departments or classes can inspire students to complete surveys on time. For example, administration might host a pizza party for the class that submits all their surveys first. 

You can also urge professors to inspire students with their own incentives. Many professors offer extra credit to any student who completes the course evaluation and might provide additional benefits to their class that completes it first.

5. Avoid Including Irrelevant Questions 

When creating surveys, make sure they're brief. Individuals taking surveys can experience survey fatigue, which is when individuals become tired of answering questions and decide to quit the evaluation. Survey fatigue and incomplete evaluations can prevent faculty and administrators from receiving powerful data from your students. 

You can combat survey fatigue by offering course evaluations that only contain the most relevant questions. For example, you might decide to overlook standardized course evaluations and create custom ones each semester based on what you want to improve and target. 

Each semester, you can tailor your questions to your growth and development by asking about values you recently implemented and areas where you might need improvement. Asking about past initiatives can help you chart progress toward your goal, while asking about other standards can highlight where you should direct new changes for the upcoming semester. 

6. Ask for Student Demographics on Course Evaluations 

Ask for Student Demographics on Course Evaluations

You can add more power to your data by asking the right questions. While relevance keeps students engaged in your survey, it can also add context to your data. At the start of your course evaluations, consider asking your students for various demographic information, including: 

  • Their age and year.
  • Their race and ethnicity. 
  • Their gender. 
  • Their sexuality. 

This information can help you determine if certain student populations receive less support than others. For example, your students might report higher levels of racism in the classroom than sexism, showing that your professors might need more tools and training to provide anti-racist education. 

Further, you can see how communities feel about their treatment in the classroom. White students might report different responses than Black students on the presence of bias and racism. With comprehensive demographic information, you direct better results for your underrepresented minority groups on campus who might feel less comfortable sharing information or reporting incidents. 

Regardless of whether you include these questions, surveys should always be anonymous. When students can submit responses without fear of repercussions, they are more likely to answer honestly. 

7. Encourage Professors to Devote Time to Evaluations 

In addition to encouraging professors to offer incentives for students who complete evaluations, you can also urge them to set aside class time for students to complete evaluations. When students are responsible for submitting course evaluations on their own time, they might forget about them. Students have hectic lives, juggling their classes and homework with jobs, internships, research, clubs, and personal lives. Dedicating class time to course evaluations prevents them from accidentally overlooking surveys and allowing institutions to collect more data. 

If your professors use this method, you can prevent unintentional influence by asking them to step out of the room while students complete their surveys. When the professors stay in the classroom, students may feel like they have to say good things about their instructors, preventing schools from receiving constructive criticism about courses and professors. 

Streamline Course Evaluations With Watermark 

Streamline Course Evaluations With Watermark

When approaching course evaluations, you can streamline processes and optimize results with the right tools. Watermark Course Evaluations & Surveys is a comprehensive data collection, management, and analysis software solution designed for higher education institutions. This solution stores all your survey responses in a centralized database for increased visibility and accessibility, offering valuable insights about your student body and faculty performance. 

Watermark Course Evaluations & Surveys integrates with your institution's learning management system (LMS) for increased functionality and optimization. Students can access course evaluations and surveys from their phones, allowing them to complete them in class if professors allocate time. With increased access, students can efficiently complete their course evaluations and increase data for your institution. 

Request a demo today and discover how Watermark Course Evaluations & Surveys can foster more improvements on your campus. 

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