Gathering student feedback about teaching generally comes at the end of the course through student rating forms. But did you know there are other ways to gather feedback that may be more effective and timely?
Formative feedback on teaching (feedback that is collected solely for the purpose of continual improvement) is an important component of advancing your teaching practice. Getting feedback from your students during the term can be a good way to find out how things are going, to give a students a chance to express their feelings in a medium other than the end-of-course student evaluations, and to allow any changes in teaching to be made while students can still benefit.
Here are a few of the many ways you can collect mid-term feedback from your students. No matter what method you choose, encourage students to provide constructive feedback, to ignore aspects you cannot change (time/size of class), and let them know you will take their feedback seriously.
You can administer a survey to students either during class or online. If the survey is anonymous, students may feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and suggestions. However, be aware that especially with small classes, their responses might not be truly anonymous.
You can use just a few open-ended questions, or a mixture of open-ended and closed-ended questions so that you not only get a sense of how many students agree with certain statements, but also allow a space to collect feedback you may not be anticipating. It’s best to use just a few questions so this process is relatively quick and easy.
Examples of open-ended questions:
- What aspects of this course are helping you learn? Give two examples.
- What has been the most valuable assignment/class session/activity so far?
- What suggestions do you have to improve the instructor’s teaching?
- What could be changed to help your learning? Be specific.
A Faculty Focus article provided additional suggestions for open ended questions, such as asking students to respond to any three of these statements. In this course:
- it most helped my learning of the content when…because…
- it would have helped my learning of the content if…because…
- the assignment that contributed the most to my learning was… because…
- the reading that contributed the most to my learning was… because…
- the kinds of homework problems that contributed most to my learning were…because…
- the approach I took to my own learning that contributed the most for me was…because…
- the biggest obstacle for me in my learning the material was… because…
- a resource I know about that you might consider using is…because…
- I was most willing to take risks with learning new material when… because…
- during the first day, I remember thinking…because…
- what I think I will remember five years from now is…because…
Examples of rating scale questions (1 = Never; 5 = Always)
- I understand what is expected of me in preparation and participation.
- I feel encouraged to participate in class and respond to others.
- I get clear responses to what I say in class; I find out how to improve.
- The assignments are clear to me; I know what the task is.
- The instructor effectively directs and stimulates discussion.
- The instructor explains material clearly.
- The instructor shows genuine interest in students.
- The instructor provides helpful comments on papers/exams.
- The instructor is tolerant of different opinions expressed in class.
- The instructor adjusts the pace of class to the students’ level of understanding.
- The instructor seems well-prepared.
- The instructor stimulates my interest in the material.
- The instructor is effective, overall, in helping me learn.
Some instructors have used the Stop/Start/Change approach where students are asked to list one thing the instructor should stop doing, one thing the instructor could start doing, and one aspect to change about the course. This provides an easy format for students to share their feedback.
If good rapport with students has been established and the class is relatively small, consider holding a discussion in class about how things are going. Students may not be as comfortable sharing their true feelings in this format. However, this approach can be effective for gathering feedback about a specific assignment or aspect of the class, especially if want to dig deeper or if there are differing opinions in the class.
Following up on the feedback
No matter what method you use to gather student feedback, it’s important to follow up on their feedback. Students will likely be more constructive if they know you are actually using it to improve their learning experience.
At a minimum, take a few minutes during a class session, or send an email, to acknowledge and summarize the feedback. Share how you will act on this feedback or propose a few options for discussion. You do not have to implement their suggestions, especially if the feedback is unreasonable (less reading or just give us the answers). What you should do however is explain why things are set up the way they are. Perhaps you could provide more guidance on the readings (here’s the things you should be looking for, you don’t need to memorize every detail) or explain your teaching philosophy (I want you to struggle with these problems before you see the right answer so you can apply both the correct and incorrect paths to future problems).