Synopsis from Self-Review
It is helpful to think about collecting feedback from students as a deliberate process of gathering information to enrich your course overall, as well as being an important part of your interaction and communication with students. By asking students to evaluate their learning experience, you give them a sense of being heard, and feeling cared about.
How to Put Into Practice
In the absence of face-to-face interaction, it is critical to set up structured channels of communication around students’ learning. Using survey tools to collect and respond to student feedback about the course and about their learning is an especially powerful tool in this communication toolkit. Soliciting and engaging feedback humanizes you as the instructor, while recognizing your decision-making power and expertise. It also provides students with a valuable opportunity to pause and take stock of their learning.
Purposes and Models for Collecting Feedback
Decide what type of information you would like to collect from students and for what purposes. From there, determine what rhythm, format, and questions make sense. Here are some models and ideas to consider or adapt for your context and purposes.
Getting to know students as learners. Your purposes for collecting information about students’ learning experiences might include getting to know them as learners, each with individual goals, strengths, and needs. With this broader purpose in mind, TeachOnline@UW offers the following list of topics to consider asking about:
- Perceptions about face-to-face and online interactions
- Time management
- Learning preferences
- Self-directed learning skills
- Learning openness
- Reading strategies
- Technology access and competence
- Why the students are taking the course
- What the student’s job is/where they work
Regular check-ins. A regular written check-in—that is, a weekly or otherwise regularly recurring set of survey questions you ask students to complete—gives them space to reflect on their learning, and permits you to follow up with individuals if you notice signs that a person is struggling. In many cases, a single reflection question each week or unit is the best way to efficiently engage students in this process. More detailed approaches can also be fruitful. For instance, Wisconsin School of Business instructor Laurel Bastian asks students to complete a weekly survey in which they provide brief written responses to the following questions:
- At what point during this week’s class or during your preparation for the class did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
- At what point during this week’s class or during your preparation for the class did you feel least engaged with what was happening?
- What action (if any) did someone take that you found most affirming / helpful for your learning experience? This can be peers, instructor, or self!
- What concept or application (through assignments or in-class activities) this week confused you the most?
- If there is anything else you would like me to know about your learning experience, please write it here. As always, you can also contact me [preferred method] to discuss any challenges or successes, big or small. I welcome your feedback and questions.
A written check-in might be completed during a synchronous meeting or be embedded in a Canvas Page or Module for each week/unit/topic. Survey tools for the purposes of following up with individual students as needed could be a non-anonymous Google Form, Qualtrics form, or an ungraded survey using Canvas Quizzes.
Mid-semester student feedback. Compared to the regular check-in, the model of mid-semester feedback tends to focus less on individual learning and reflection and more on collecting a one-off batch of usable feedback to inform the design, instructional methods, or workload of the course. It helps to deploy this type of survey early enough in the semester that you can consider and enact changes (within reason, of course) and make responses anonymous so that feedback is more candid. The Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence (MTLE) program offers a guide to inviting mid-semester student feedback in ways that encourage constructive participation.
Engaging and Responding to Feedback
Whatever your purpose for collecting feedback, engaging with that feedback is a crucial next step.
- Thank students for their responses and summarize any broad themes in what you heard. This recognizes the attention they have brought to the activity and reinforces that feedback should be constructive because an actual person is reading it.
- Be transparent about your decisions around suggested changes. If you have collected feedback about instructional methods or workloads in the course, explain what you will consider changing (within reason) and what will remain the same and why. Explaining the rationale for your decisions in terms of the course learning outcomes or other big-picture context helps students receive messages about what they are meant to learn and why it matters.
- Ask students for constructive reactions if you make a change. Following up with students about changes in your teaching methods or strategies can contribute to a positive, learning-focused environment in the class. This type of conversation makes sense if you are (for example) trying a new method for structuring small group discussions, since you might trial the strategy and then ask students how their group discussions went. Also, students are often more thoughtful about their own responsibility and agency within the class environment—rather than just grumbling—if we talk to them about it.
- Strategically refer to course feedback and other student responses throughout the semester. Making reference to relevant student feedback around specific course activities reinforces what you want them to learn from these activities. If you use student responses to check-in on individual learning experiences, talking about a student’s check-in response can help you jumpstart an office hours conversation with them.
- Reference broad themes in student check-in responses (without identifying individuals). This can also help you normalize feelings of difficulty around certain skills or topics and help students persist through intellectually challenging work. You can even solicit feedback from course alumni to share with current students to contextualize common challenges and encourage successful approaches to course work.
- Share or remind students about course-specific and campus resources. This page provides an overview of campus resources at UW-Madison, from academic advising to resources for basic needs and emergency funds.
- Other tools for collecting and responding to student feedback include synchronous meetings and asynchronous forums. For example, when you meet with students in office hours, you might informally ask them about their experience in the course, or, if meeting with a group in Zoom, use the poll feature or the chat to invite responses. Using an asynchronous forum like Canvas Discussions or Piazza can help you collect questions and feedback. Canvas Discussions are not anonymous, so students may be more hesitant to provide honest feedback. Piazza provides the ability to post anonymously.
- Responding to Student Feedback offers a simple framework for grouping and responding to feedback related to instruction.