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Frequently Asked Questions about Course Evaluations

Please note that there are two new documents to help students complete course evaluations and help faculty interpret results.

General FAQs

Why did McGill move to an online course evaluation system?

The online system was implemented in order to: allow all students in a course to respond; facilitate data collection & reporting; decrease turnaround time for results; improve dissemination of results to instructors, students and administrators; provide possibilities for further analysis of data (e.g. for teaching portfolio, teaching awards); and reduce costs.

What is Mercury?

Mercury is McGill’s online course evaluation system.  It is built within Banner, our Student Information System, to facilitate the administration of the system while ensuring anonymity of responses.

Are all courses evaluated?

University policy requires that all undergraduate and graduate courses with five (5) or more students be evaluated by students taking the courses.

When are the online course evaluations available to students for completion?

For regularly scheduled courses (non-intensive), course evaluations are normally available to students during the last 6 weeks of term, with evaluations closing two days before the end of final exam period (default evaluation period). The evaluation period is determined at the beginning of each term. Academic units, with prior approval of the Dean, may change th closing date of the evaluation period to the day before the start of the examination period (condensed evaluation period). Please consult your Mercury Departmental Liaison for the dates. Start and end dates can be customized by the Mercury Departmental Liaison for courses in special cases such as block, intensive and summer courses.

Where and when will the numeric results of course evaluations be made available?

Course evaluation results can be viewed in Minerva under Student/Faculty/SR Admin Menu > Mercury Online Course Evaluation Menu. Instructors, Department Chairs and Authorized Staff have access to the course evaluations results (numerical and comments) as soon as the final grades for each course have been submitted and approved. Course evaluation results (numerical only) are available to the McGill community after final grades are submitted and approved, if the response threshold has been met and the instructor has not objected to access.

Why don't I see the comments when I look at course evaluation results disseminated to the McGill community?

Written comments are treated as confidential, and are not made available to the McGill community. Written comments are only available to instructors and their academic unit head.

Can a student complete a course evaluation more than once?

No, once a student submits his or her responses for a course evaluation, it is no longer available for completion.

How are course evaluation questions chosen for Mercury?

The University has mandated 4 core questions that must be included on every questionnaire. The only other requirement is that the questionnaires do not exceed 25 questions. Faculties can decide to either have a Faculty-wide questionnaire or have each department create its own. Instructors may also add up to three questions.  There can be different questionnaires for different types of courses; for example, lectures, labs, and seminars.  There is a pool of recommended questions, but other questions may be used.

Can students include comments when completing their Mercury course evaluations?

Yes, the online form can include comment boxes if they are specified when the questionnaire is created. The comments may be attached to specific questions, or be in the form of general comments at the end.

How are multi-instructor and cross-listed courses evaluated in Mercury?

For multi-instructor courses, all instructor-related questions are automatically duplicated for each instructor assigned to the course in Banner; the general course questions only appear once. This means that students need to complete just one evaluation. Each instructor has access to the results of his/her own instructor-related results as well as to the results of the general course questions. Cross-listed courses are two or more courses that have different course numbers (CRNs) but are taught as one course. A separate course evaluation is created for each course number (CRN) but the results are combined and communicated as one course to ensure confidentiality.

What can instructors do to increase response rates?

  • Communicate the value of course evaluations: Students often don't know the purpose or value of course evaluations. If instructors refer to changes they have made following previous evaluations, this shows students that their voice can make a difference. This information can be communicated in class and on course outlines.  
  • Give permission to disseminate results: Students are more apt to complete evaluations if they know that the results will be available to fellow students. If instructors allow access to their results and communicate this to students, this normally increases the response rates.
  • Facilitate completion of evaluations: Let students out of class early to do their evaluations. If you have access to computer labs, reserve a time during the evaluation period for students go to the lab and fill them out.
  • Encouragement: Clearly indicate evaluation periods in the course calendar. Make in-class announcements, send email reminders, post a reminder in myCourses and encourage the department to communicate to students the importance of course evaluations.

What does the University do to increase response rates?

Email reminders are automatically sent to students with a link to course evaluations at their @mail.mcgill.ca accounts. Pop-up windows appear when logging into MINERVA and myCourses. There are also reminders and announcements on the McGill and TLS homepages, as well as the myMcGill portal.

Students FAQs

Why should I complete the course evaluation?

Course evaluations provide valuable feedback that can help instructors improve future course offerings. They are also an important part of tenure and promotion decisions. The more students who participate, the more useful the results. This is an opportunity to have your voice be heard!

Why should I fill out the evaluation forms even if I have nothing to complain about?

It is important to let instructors know that everything is going well in the course. This is one of the main ways for them to know that the course provides students with a positive learning experience. It also helps future students who can view previous course evaluation results online.

How do course evaluations change professors’ teaching, course content, etc.?

Course evaluations are the only way professors can receive feedback from all their students on their teaching. This allows students to have direct input on various aspects of a course (content, evaluations, classroom environment, etc.). This can help instructors improve their teaching over time.

What happens when a professor gets a bad evaluation?

Academic unit heads (Deans, Chairs and Directors) review course evaluations for all instructors in their units at the end of the term. If an instructor receives a poor evaluation, this will signal the academic unit head that follow up action is required. Bad evaluations can negatively impact decisions about offering professors tenure and decisions about merit pay increases.

Can I be sure that my responses are anonymous when using the online system, Mercury?

Your responses are completely anonymous and confidential. Your ID number is NOT linked to your responses. ID numbers are stored in a separate database only to record completion and are not accessible by the instructor or department in any way whatsoever. The instructor and department do not have access to this or any other information that would allow responses to be traced to a specific individual.

Why aren’t all course evaluations results available?

According to the McGill policy on end-of-course evaluations, the numerical results of course evaluations for the previous five academic years shall be made available to the McGill community provided two conditions are met: an instructor has not objected to access, and an adequate response rate has been received as follows:

Class size Response rate (%)
5-11 min 5 responses
12-30 at least 40 %
31-100 at least 35%
101-200 at least 30%
201 or more at least 25%

In all cases, written evaluations in the form of comments remain confidential to the Instructor and the Academic Unit Head (or delegates).

How do students access course evaluation results?

You can access available past course evaluation results here (Minerva login required). You can also view our How-To Manuals to learn how to access past course evaution results.

I don’t have any time near the end of classes, what can I do?

Course evaluations are available online, 24/7, during the course evaluation period. The default course evaluation period continues until two days after the end of final examination period, although certain academic units may opt for a condensed evaluation period, ending the day before final exams begin. You don’t have to complete all your course evaluations at the same time. Check to see which evaluation period your academic unit is following, so that you can plan time to complete your evaluations.

Do I have to complete the course evaluations?

Completing course evaluations is voluntary, but your feedback is important, so we encourage you to go to Mercury in Minerva and complete them; it usually doesn't make more than five or ten minutes for each course . You can complete one course at a time or do them all in one sitting, but make sure to complete them all during the evaluation period.

Can I opt-out of an evaluation?

You may opt-out of completing an evaluation for a given course by clicking “Decline course evaluation” after selecting the course from the list. This will mark the evaluation as complete, meaning that you will not be able to submit an evaluation at a later date. You will also no longer receive reminders for that course. If you do opt-out, you are encouraged to provide your reason(s) for doing so.

Why can't I see a course in the Mercury course evaluation list?

You must be an active registered student to evaluate the course online. The questionnaire must be filled in during the course evaluation period. If you think there is an error, please consult your instructor or your department/school/faculty to find out why the evaluation is not available.

What if I do not get the Mercury pop-up reminder once I have logged into Minerva?

Course evaluations can also be accessed by selecting the Student Menu, then clicking on "Mercury Online Course Evaluation Menu" and then "Submit your course evaluations".

Can I change my responses once I submit my Mercury course evaluation?

No. We disconnect your ID number from your responses to ensure your anonymity. Therefore, it isn’t possible to retrieve your responses for editing.

Why can't I see the "Submit" button to submit my Mercury course evaluation?

The first thing to check is that JavaScript is enabled on your computer. If that doesn’t solve the problem, or for any other technical problems, contact the ICS Service desk by phone 514-398-3398 or email support [dot] ist [at] mcgill [dot] ca.

Are my responses saved if my computer crashes before I submit my Mercury course evaluation?

Any information that you entered into the course evaluation form will be lost. You will need to restart your computer and log into Mercury in Minerva and redo the evaluation. But the evaluations don’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes, so you won’t lose more than that amount of time.

How long do I have to complete an evaluation before the system times out?

You have 30 minutes per questionnaire page before the system times out.

Faculty & Staff FAQs

Can instructors monitor their response rate during the evalution period?

Yes, instructors can monitor response rates and also post a message on myCourses. See a video example of one instructor's experience.

Can instructors add comments to accompany dissemination of course evaluation results?

Yes, instructors may include comments to accompany the numerical results of course evaluations. The comments may provide contextual or other information. Click here for instructions on how to enter comments.

If a course is taught by more than one instructor (excluding guest speakers from other universities or industry), is permission to disseminate results needed from everyone or only the course coordinator?

All instructors assigned to the course must not object to access for course evaluation results to be disseminated to students.

How are course evaluations used as part of tenure and promotion? Can the students' written comments be made available to a departmental re-appointment or tenure committee?

Course evaluations are one component of the Teaching Portfolio, required for tenure and promotion (see Teaching Portfolio Guidelines for more information on the portfolio.) Committees do not have independent access to any results; they are only available if the instructor does not object to making them available. Although the Department Chair has access to the students' written comments, a re-appointment or tenure committee may see numerical data or written comments only as submitted by the candidate.

Are there standard questions? Are all questions disseminated to the McGill community?

There are four core questions common across evaluations; the remaining questions are determined by the academic unit (Faculty or department). The instructor may also add up to three questions. The total number of questions must not exceed 25. The results of all numerical questions are posted, but no written comments are included. 

What courses are evaluated on Mercury?

All courses in Banner (i.e., have a CRN) are eligible for evaluation with Mercury. The instructor(s) must be officially assigned to the course, the students must be registered to the CRN, and the course must be gradable. Courses with an enrolment of four students or fewer are not evaluated.

How can administrative staff obtain access to Mercury?

Access for Authorized Staff must be requested. Please contact the mercury [dot] info [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Mercury System Administrator).

Is access to course evaluation results secure when using the online system, Mercury?

A valid McGill ID is required to access course evaluation results. Access to course evaluation results (numerical and comments) is granted only to instructors who are assigned to the course in Banner and the Department Chair/Authorized Staff. Any other person desiring access to results requires written authorization from the Department Chair.

What about lower response rates?

Although online systems typically have lower response rates, our data indicate that the respondents are representative of the student population. As well, research shows that the quality and quantity of comments increases when students submit their responses online.

Do lower response rates bias results? In other words, are students with extreme views more likely to complete the online rating form?

Research consistently shows that responses from online systems are not systematically biased even when response rates are relatively low. For more information, please see the document:  FAQs about Response Rates and Bias in Online Course Evaluations, July 2009 [.pdf]

How do I find out when course evaluations are available to complete?

The availability dates are provided on your Mercury access page. For regularly scheduled courses (non-intensive), course evaluations are normally available to students during the last 6 weeks of the course and where the last day is two days after the end of final examination period.

Can the end date of the Mercury evaluation period be extended?

Usually no, as the last day of the evaluation period coincides with either two days after the end of examination period or the day before the examination period begins. If your course is a special case, please contact your Mercury Department Liaison to inquire about a possible extension.

My course is supposed to be evaluated in Mercury, so why can't I see it?

The course evaluation only appears once it has been created and this is usually done a few weeks before the evaluation is set to open for students to complete.  If you have any concerns, consult your Mercury Departmental Liaison.

How can I print out my course evaluation results in Mercury?

When viewing your results, the “Response data” field offers three choices that may be used for printing: graphs, student comments only, and text report. 

I am the Chair/Director of the Department, why can't I access the Departmental Mercury page?

Access to the Departmental Mercury page is automatically granted to the head of the academic unit as indicated in the Organization Table in Banner. If you do not have access, please ensure that your record in Banner has been updated as Chair/Director.

Can Mercury be used for mid-course evaluations?

Mercury can only be used for end-of-term evaluations. Other methods, such as anonymous surveys in myCourses or in-class questionnaires should be used for mid-course evaluations.  Instructors are strongly encouraged to conduct mid-course evaluations. See here for detailed information. Advising students of mid-course evaluations ahead of time will likely lead to more constructive feedback.

Why aren't the course evaluation results available for courses that span more than one term?

Final grades must be submitted and approved for course evaluation results to be available. Since final grades for span courses are not submitted until the end of the winter term, results are not available until then. Note: Access to other fall term courses for instructors and other authorized staff is not blocked.