There is some evidence to indicate that an early term assessment of teaching and learning, conducted between weeks 3 and 8, is an effective approach to improve the educational environment for your students. McGowan & Osguthorpe (2011) found that when faculty conducted early term assessments and made pedagogical adjustments, students perceived positive improvements in their learning as shown in teacher evaluations that were higher at the end of the semester than they were in the middle of the term.
Gather Quality Feedback
Gathering early term student feedback can be a powerful way to give students agency in their learning while enabling you to make timely course adjustments before the semester is over. We recommend that you ask for feedback between weeks 3 and 8 in the semester after the students have completed and received feedback on an assessment in the course (e.g. exam or major assignment).
When collecting student feedback, you can ask broad questions about the strengths and areas for improvement in the course or more specific questions about particular aspects of the course structure or instructional approaches.
- Student Feedback Question Prompts
- What Works? What Could Work Better? (Google Document - make a copy to edit)
If you’ve been frustrated by vague or limited feedback, use these suggestions to get better quality student comments that are more actionable.
- Frame questions about the course or your teaching around what is helping students learn rather than what they like or dislike (e.g. they may dislike frequent homework but it’s helping them learn the course content).
- When asking students to complete the survey, emphasize that you value their feedback and will use it to make changes to the course.
- Encourage students to give you specific feedback. Offer an example. (e.g. “It’s helpful if you can be specific. If you’re finding the in-class activities helpful, tell me why. Is it discussing the concepts with your peers? The difficulty of the questions? The similarity between the activities and the homework?”)
- Give students at least 10 minutes of class time to complete the survey.
- If you would like to administer a survey online, consider offering extra credit points if, for example, 80% of the class completes it.
Respond to Feedback
Allow time to review your students’ responses. As you’re interpreting their comments, consider the following steps:
- Look for common themes about what is working well for students and what changes they would like to see. Don’t dwell too much on individual divergent responses unless they indicate a serious issue between students or an issue with class climate, sense of belonging, or accessibility for one or more students. You may wish to categorize comments and separate your emotional response from the actionable information.
- Acknowledge any frustration, hurt, or defensiveness you feel when reading students’ comments about what isn’t working for them. Reflect on how these feelings might derail your intention to be responsive to students’ feedback.
- After processing your feelings, return to the most common themes and look for what you can implement or address.
- Finally, feel free to request a consultation from a CEI consultant who would be happy to confidentially help you sift through the comments.
Communicate with Students
One of the most important parts of collecting feedback is to talk with students about the feedback during the following class session. This does not need to be a comprehensive summary, but plan to take 5-10 minutes to do the following.
- Thank students for providing feedback.
- List a few of the most common strengths students listed and confirm that you’ll continue to do them.
- Tell students about changes they suggested which you are planning to undertake. Clarify with them anything that would help you implement the changes they seek.
- If the feedback contains a common suggestion that you are not going to implement, tell the students that the change will not be implemented and give rationale for your decision (e.g. “Many of you indicated that you’d like a study guide. The learning objectives for each section of the course are listed on Canvas and can be used for exam preparation. If these aren’t meeting your needs, please let me know.”)
- When students are split on their opinion about a specific practice, it can be beneficial to explain this to the students who don't favor the practice. Oftentimes finding out that one's classmates find an approach you dislike useful, can lead to greater acceptance of the practice.
Research and Resources
McGowan, W., & Osguthorpe, R. (2011). Student and faculty perceptions of effects of midcourse evaluation. In Miller, J. & Groccia, J. (Eds), To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational Development, 29:160-172.