Classes vary from semester to semester, whether in an online, in-person, or hybrid learning environment. Each new group of students brings a different mix of prior knowledge, skills, and attitudes that affect the class climate and experience.
Gathering students’ feedback by the middle of the term can be a valuable tool that will enable you to:
- Manage a dynamic classroom environment.
- Recognize when there is a mismatch between students’ perceptions of course components (e.g., activities, assessments) and your perspective or intentions.
- Make instructional adjustments mid-course, or for future iterations of your class.
- Show students that you value their input, which can motivate them to engage more deeply in your course.
There are a variety of different approaches you might consider for soliciting student feedback, such as surveys and questionnaires for students to fill out on their own; quick response items to get immediate feedback during class; and small-group discussion activities that yield collective feedback.
This table provides an overview of three different approaches to gathering student feedback. By understanding the pros and cons of each method, you can select the best options for your class context. We then provide more details about how to implement each method in a subsequent section, as well as information about how to frame your feedback activity.
|Survey or Questionnaire|
Early Course Feedback Survey or Questionnaire
Online surveys or questionnaires ask students questions about their experiences in the course. Software tools can be used to collect students’ responses digitally. The questions on a survey can be designed to target specific aspects of the course or the questions can be designed as open-ended prompts in order to let students share new ideas with you.
Surveys are often administered confidentially, where only instructors can see students’ responses, so that students can share without worrying about their classmates’ opinions.
Consider what you would like to know about your students’ experiences. For example, you might ask students about challenges they may be facing in the course and outside of the course, or you might seek feedback on a specific assignment. A sample survey is available in Canvas Commons which asks questions about different learning activities, opportunities for growth, and potential challenges. Additionally, this survey contains open-response questions for students to provide general feedback on the course.
You can follow these instructions to import the survey into your Canvas course. We encourage you to add other questions to this survey, for example, by asking students to share their opinions about a specific assignment or activity. You can also delete any questions that do not feel relevant to you.
- A 7-item survey and longer 35-item survey asking students about key aspects of effective instruction, based on the seven principles described in How Learning Works (Ambrose et al., 2010).
- Five examples of open-ended questions to help students provide constructive feedback about the course.
Prompts for Immediate Feedback
You do not need to administer a full-length survey to obtain course feedback. You can also solicit quick responses from students during the first or last five minutes of class. This is easy to implement and provides formative feedback that can help you make changes to your course within the semester. All of these activities can be administered anonymously via a polling/survey platform such as Google Forms, Poll Everywhere, or a poll in Zoom. Some examples of quick prompts:
Muddiest Point – Students are asked to write a quick response to: What was the muddiest point in ___? (e.g., a lecture, a unit). This allows the instructor to learn about what topics were unclear to students and allows students to self-assess whether they have questions.
Keep, Stop, Start – At the end of a single class session or a specific learning activity, students are asked to list one thing they like (Keep), one thing they dislike (Stop), and one suggestion for an improvement (Start). This can also be modified with other quick questions to suit the instructor’s needs (e.g., adding a prompt for students to ask a question about the material discussed).
One-Question Polls – Administer a poll with a single question that students can respond to as they wait for class to start. For instance, students can vote on the most important topic to discuss during a review session.
Gathering Collective Feedback
Another way to obtain feedback is to break students into small groups to conduct a real-time conversation about the course (approximately ~15-20 minutes) and generate feedback to share with you. This method provides a space for students to discuss their thoughts about the course with their peers.
The steps in this process are:
- The instructor develops 2-3 questions to ask students during the session. Some questions an instructor may choose to ask:
- What aspects of this course/instruction enhance your learning?
- How could this course be improved to enhance your learning?
- What could you — as a student — do or continue to do to enhance your learning in this course?
- Students are divided into small groups (2-4 students) and are asked to compile responses to each question (~8 minutes for groups to answer all the questions). In remote/online learning settings, students can be placed in Zoom breakout rooms and record their responses in a shared document (such as Google Docs or a document in SharePoint).
- The instructor then asks the groups to share their responses to the whole class while the instructor takes notes. Instructors should go through each question individually. Alternatively, to preserve class time, documents with notes can be shared directly with the instructor.
By having students formulate responses in groups, students are able to exchange perspectives and share their experiences, building community with one another. Additionally, students will be able to report consensus responses by determining the most common responses to questions among their peers. This can supplement feedback generated individually (from surveys, TRACE, etc.), where individual responses may provide conflicting recommendations.
Some tips for implementation:
- Limit the questionnaire to no more than 3 questions in order to provide enough time for discussion.
- Sometimes, students may feel uncomfortable discussing feedback with the primary instructor. Consider having your teaching assistant or colleague facilitate this activity and discussion in order to increase student comfort.
Framing the Feedback Activity
Regardless of which format you choose for your early/mid-course feedback activity, being intentional about how you present the feedback activity to students will help create an open, productive environment. Being clear with students about what you’d like them to do and being transparent with students about why you are doing it will help them provide constructive feedback. Here are some suggestions for framing your feedback activity:
- Explain your motivation for this activity
- Will you be able to adapt your current instructional practices or is this for future iterations of the course?
- Show humility and express your desire grow as an educator
- Acknowledge that you are asking them to put thought and effort into an “extra” task
- For example, will they get any “points” for sharing feedback with you?
- Explain your expectations
- Is it optional or mandatory?
- When do you expect it to be completed?
- Explain what will happen with their responses
- With whom will you share the data?
For other ways to get feedback on your course, see these CATLR tips on conducting peer course reviews with other educators:
Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Suskie, L. (2018). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. John Wiley & Sons.