Against the Anonymous End-of-Course Questionnaire

Every end-of-course questionnaire I have taken (and I have taken a lot) has been an anonymous questionnaire. Every teacher or book that has recommend creating these types of evaluations have also recommended anonymity. The literature in education research is full of references to these nameless little instruments. We seem to take it on face value that anonymous responses are better: students can honestly evaluate a course without worrying about it affecting their grades. But the irony is, in a field that highly values context in teaching, these anonymous tools are actually devoid of context and may not be giving teachers the best ideas about their classes.

Last semester, I departed from the anonymous evaluation dictum and required students to write their names. In previous questionnaires, I felt that the data collected was not enough. Who wrote that they disliked pair work activities? Was it shy students? Were they often paired with lower-level or higher-level students? Who said they thought the textbook was not interesting? Were they the students who missed many classes, or one of the more outspoken ones? Who wrote that my course truly improved their speaking skills? A student who was already confident and had already lived abroad, or a freshman who had only been studying English for a few years?

The anonymous data I had lacked context. I lacked a full understanding of who said what and why. No questionnaire can capture all this information, but being able to connect faces to responses turned out to be very beneficial. I was able to understand why a certain student made a certain response. In turn, I feel that this can more positively affect my language teaching skills.

For example, I was able to judge my composition course’s effectiveness when I read that once student felt she learned a great deal and was truly proud of her work. This response is nice on face value, but I felt it was more enlightening to connect it to an actual person, who turned out to be a student who struggled with her research paper and had to go through many drafts. I was also surprised to hear from one of my best students that my assignments were too numerous and too difficult. If they were difficult for her, they must have been even more challenging for others. In another student response, the student wrote about some confusing elements of scoring and wondered whether she could contact me for further help. I was able to respond to that student right away and answer her questions.

These are just a few examples, but they illustrate how named questionnaires can be more useful to a teacher than nameless ones. This, of course, is contingent on how large your class size is (and whether you know your students’ names), your rapport with students (Are students afraid of you? Then they probably won’t leave honest feedback), and who is creating/administering the questionnaire. Nevertheless, if you are able to, I highly recommend trying out named end-of-course questionnaire and see if it helps you reflect better on your courses, your students, and your teaching.