Gathering Midterm Student Feedback During Remote Learning
By Alicia Russell, CELT
While CELT recommends an ongoing process of formative feedback on your teaching, formally gathering feedback from students in the middle of a semester can help both faculty and students understand what’s helping or hindering student learning and allow for course correction, unlike end-of-semester feedback. This can be particularly important when making major changes to an existing course, such as moving parts of it online or delivering it to students in remote locations. The simplest form of midterm feedback can be obtained by asking students a few basic questions, such as (1) What has been most helpful for your learning in this class so far? (2) In terms of learning, what has caused you the most difficulty in this class so far? (3) What changes could the instructor make to improve your learning? (4) What can you, as a student, do to improve your learning in this course?
Below we offer some suggestions to use this technique
One: Design Your Survey
- Select questions that will provide you with information that you can use to improve the current course and organize questions into meaningful groups. These survey questions can serve as a starting point to adapt as needed. (example questions adapted from UT Austin, Sample mid-term assessments collected by Bates, examples from different courses Brown University)
- Schedule mid-term feedback early enough in a semester for you to analyze the results and make changes, but after students have experienced a major assessment, such as a mid-term exam.
Two: Select your Survey Tool
- Using an online tool allows you to deliver a survey to students in remote locations. We recommend using Qualtrics to set up a mid-term feedback survey. Qualtrics is a fully anonymous and easy-to-use tool for creating and delivering a survey.
- Anonymous surveys, where student names are not associated with their responses can help motivate authentic feedback.[NOTE: we currently do not recommend using a Canvas “anonymous” quiz for this type of survey, because the selection that makes it anonymous can easily be reversed after the quiz has been given. This allows for student names to be identified and matched with their answers.]
Three: Invite students to take the survey
- Alert students to the kinds of feedback that will be most productive before students start the survey. For example, show them one of the videos on this page (from UC Merced), in which students help their peers provide actionable feedback on course evaluations or include a link to the video when you send out an announcement about the survey.
- Explain your thinking behind the survey, including your own motivation for offering it, and that you value their perspectives on how the course is going. See Talking to Students about Evaluations (Vanderbilt)
- Motivate them to complete the survey by letting students know that participating will directly benefit their own learning by helping you adapt your teaching strategies and approaches to their needs, offering students an incentive such as making the survey an assignment (even an ungraded, one) and setting up automated reminders—Canvas announcements, emails, or others—to prompt students to take the survey.
Four: Read and analyze students’ responses
- Give yourself plenty of time to read through survey results. Begin by reviewing responses to questions, if any, based on a numerical scale. Questions with answers like “strongly agree”, “agree”, etc., can give you a broad sense of where students are, and help you understand the distribution of student perspectives.
- For questions with written responses, review all the answers for each question looking for themes. One strategy is to put answers in a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet and then search for particular words or phrases. You can note how many times certain phrases come up, and which appear most frequently. Here are typical questions, and themes to look for in responses:
- What has been most helpful for your learning in this class so far? Look for examples things that are going well. Do students appreciate the organization of the class? The assignments? Your interaction with them? The readings? The problem sets?
- In terms of learning, what has caused you the most difficulty in this class so far? Depending on the class, students may comment on lectures, pacing of the class, homework, readings, problem sets, etc. Often students just need clarification. Especially in a class that has been moved online, it is harder to be clear about your expectations, your reasons for giving certain assignments, how assignments are assessed, etc.
- What changes could the instructor make to improve your learning? Try to identify a few things that students say are not going well, and think about what you can do to address them. Don’t try to do too much. Ask for clarification if you need more information.
- What can you, as a student, do to improve your learning in this course? For many students, this may be the first time they have had to take a class remotely, and they may be struggling with how to use the technology, how to study, connect with classmates, deal with personal issues related to COVID-19, etc. Try to identify a few things you will focus on when you respond to them. Perhaps they will note that they should do the assigned reading, be on time to Zoom sessions, or let you know when they are confused about an assignment.
- Remember to consider the feedback as a whole—don’t get upset by critical outliers. Even the very best teachers sometimes get unduly critical (and occasionally hurtful) feedback from a few students. See this Scholarly Teacher article on Analyzing Students End of Course Comments for ideas on how to think about student feedback. If you receive vexing feedback, consider discussing it with a colleague, a CELT Staff member email@example.com, or, for more serious grievances, with the appropriate Tufts department officials.
Five: Talk to your students about their feedback
- Instead of raw survey results or data, even in aggregate, share HOW you will respond to what you learned from the data. For example, rather than sharing a data point which indicates that only 60% of students agreed that the instructions for completing assignments are clear, share a plan for how you will clarify assignments and expectations.
- Regardless of how you decide to respond to your students, begin by thanking them for their feedback and for taking the time to submit it. Let them know that while you read all of their comments, you will not be able to respond to each one. Remind them that the feedback was anonymous so you will not identify who submitted the feedback when you respond to it. Then, depending on your comfort level and readiness, you can share your response at varying levels of specificity. Finally, remind them that you continue to welcome feedback at any time during the semester. Below are some examples of language you can use:
- If you plan to make a change right away: “I heard from a majority of you that the instructions for the week three lab were not clear, so I will add some more detail to the lab assignments that are upcoming.”
- If you plan to make a change but aren’t yet sure how: “I’m still thinking about X and will follow up soon.”
- If you received feedback about something that can’t be changed: “It sounds like many of you want X, and unfortunately that’s not possible. Here’s why.”
- Here are some example formats you can use to talk to your students about their feedback remotely.
- During a Zoom class: If you are holding face-to-face class meetings via Zoom, you can take a few minutes to tell students what you plan to do in response to their feedback, perhaps by writing survey questions on the shared whiteboard, then adding some general themes and your responses.
- Use a Powerpoint to organize your responses: Some instructors find it helpful to make a brief presentation with a slide for each survey question, a slide for the themes they found in the student responses, and a slide listing what they will do to address the students’ comments.
- Asynchronously you may decide to send students your responses via email. Again, be sure to thank the students for their feedback. List what you identified as themes, and explain how you will address their concerns.
While receiving feedback can be difficult, many instructors discover that making simple changes early on can help motivate students and enhance their learning. After you’ve gathered feedback, let students know that you continue have an open door/open ear policy, and that you welcome feedback from them at any time during the semester.
- Example Feedback Questions (Bates College)
- Teaching Resources: Sample Midterm Evaluations (UC Berkeley)
- Mid-Course Evaluations (University of Colorado Colorado Springs)
- Mid-Term Course Evaluations (University of Ottawa)
- Mid-Semester Feedback (University of Texas at Austin)