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What's in it for me?
rewarding course evaluators

By Lisa Neal Gualtieri, Caroline Jarrett / September 2008

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Everyone likes to be rewarded for their efforts. Course evaluators are no exception.

We get asked often to look at new online courses and sometimes even get offered a login name and password to a course that other people would have to pay for. It's fun and it allows us to critique and learn from other people's courses—in particular, what to try and what to avoid. We enjoy these intrinsic rewards even when there is also financial compensation as part of a consulting engagement. However, if you are setting up a formative or summative evaluation of a course, intrinsic rewards are rarely enough.

Don Dillman, in "Mail and Internet Surveys: The Tailored Design Method," explains that incentives must be perceived as an immediate reward by the recipient:

  • Perceived: recipients must believe that they'll actually get the reward and they consider that it is of value to them.
  • Immediate: the reward must happen right now. Dillman cites research that says that $1 today has a far better effect on response rate than the promise of a guaranteed $10 in two weeks.
  • Reward: something of value, typically of monetary value or eliciting more general "good feeling" from contributing to something worthwhile.

While Dillman was writing about incentives to participate in surveys, the same advice is applicable in many situations including course evaluation.

If you are asking people to evaluate a course, especially one that is offered by a for-profit organization, then a reward with monetary value is acceptable and appropriate. This can either be cash or a close equivalent, such as an voucher, as long as the reward is guaranteed, immediate, takes minimal effort to convert into something of value (such as the voucher), and is appropriate for the organization. Occasionally, some people feel uncomfortable accepting a cash reward or are forbidden to do so by their employer; offer them the opportunity to make a donation to a charity. Less desirable or inappropriate rewards include a gift certificate to an unknown establishment or a check. The appropriateness of some rewards is culturally bound; while it's fine to give people liquor or a tin of biscuits in the UK, food or drink may be less appropriate in the US.

And don't undervalue the "good feelings" that come from being helpful. You may be asking your evaluators for a lot of time and effort, so be nice to them in addition to paying them. Show your appreciation before, during, and after each session, write immediate thank-you letters, and, if possible, mention their contribution in the course credits.

So, the next time you want to conduct an evaluation of a new course, plan appropriate incentives for your testers. You will be able to recruit evaluators more easily, they will be happy they helped, and they may be willing to help again in the future.


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