Getting Student Feedback Online
How to do it and why it matters
Written by Erin Thomas, Communications Coordinator for the Manitoba Flexible Learning HUB
Edited by Iwona Gniadek, Instructional Designer for the Manitoba Flexible Learning HUB
Were your students’ midterm grades not as high as you were expecting? Are you having trouble gauging student comprehension without seeing faces and reading body language? It might be time to get some feedback from your remote or online class.
In this new online modality, student feedback is harder than ever to get. This article will cover some methods and formats to use to get meaningful feedback from your students.
Why It Matters
Getting and implementing student feedback is central to the evolution of a course. If implemented properly, quality student feedback can improve both current and future student outcomes. It can be used to gauge comprehension, adjust your teaching style, or change the course content itself. Implementing feedback from your students helps you meet their needs and improve the quality of your teaching.
Since student feedback is so useful, why do we always wait until the end of the term to get it? Here’s a tip: We shouldn’t! Ideally, feedback should be frequent and continuous, letting you make changes that can benefit the students you’re currently teaching. At the very least, you should be getting feedback from your students before the end-of-term course evaluations; preferably around the halfway point.
Types of Feedback
Student Comprehension feedback is a student’s reflection on their personal comprehension of the topic. This is the easiest type of feedback to get from students. You’ll find them offering it willingly every time they speak up to ask a question during a lecture.
This type of feedback won’t directly affect the evolution of the course or your teaching style, but it can impact your decisions, nonetheless. If students frequently have trouble understanding a certain unit, you may decide to allot more time to covering it or suggest extra readings or practice problems to ensure comprehension.
Course Content feedback is most commonly found in end-of term course reviews. Student feedback might include which sections of the course they found the most interesting, or whether they thought that the assignments accurately reflected lecture content. Note: if your end-of-term reviews occur after exams, feedback might focus on what students did or didn’t like about the final exam.
Depending on the course and program, you may or may not be able to implement this type of feedback. If you find yourself with a limited ability to make changes to course content, consider how you could implement feedback by adjusting assignment format or test content. If such changes aren’t possible, consider noting the feedback that you receive and sending it to the course coordinator or department for consideration.
Teaching Style feedback is just as important as the other two, but it is the one most likely to slip through the cracks. You won’t see it reflected in assignments and tests like Student Comprehension does, and you’re less likely to find it on end-of-term course evaluations with feedback about course content.
How can we get this kind of feedback? Ask for it! For best results, ask early and ask often.
Elements of Useful Feedback
Level of Response
Tell the students why you are asking for their feedback and explain what you plan to use it for. Students will be more likely to give feedback if they feel that their suggestions might be implemented right away rather than the next time you teach the course. If you’re implementing suggestions, let your students know that you’re making a change that they’ve asked for! Students will appreciate that you’ve listened to them and will be more willing to give feedback the next time you ask.
Level of Anonymity
Anonymity isn’t always necessary for quality feedback, but it will make students more likely to give critical feedback about improvements that could be made. Non-anonymous feedback can be worthwhile to see how your students are feeling and to gauge comprehension, but students may worry that giving negative feedback on teaching style will adversely impact their grade.
Level of Detail
A simple “yes” or “no” question can be useful to gauge student comprehension, but detailed feedback is the way to go if you’re looking for concrete ways to improve your teaching.
Here are a few different tools that you can use to get feedback from your students:
Learning Management System Tools
This can be a convenient way to poll students for answers. Using your Learning Management System (LMS), you can easily poll your students on a platform that they already use and are familiar with. Depending on which LMS you use, you may be able to ask students for feedback using a Quiz, Survey, or Questionnaire tool.
- Benefits: This method gives you the ability to use a variety of question formats (written answer, multiple choice, scale of 1-10) and the option to make answers anonymous when using a Survey or Questionnaire. If you’re looking for detailed feedback, this is likely the best tool to use.
- Challenges: A potential setback to this method can be limited student engagement. If you haven’t told your students why this activity is useful to them, you may find yourself with a low number of responses.
In-Class Response – Detailed
If you teach synchronous online lessons, you can use this time to seek feedback from your students. Consider asking students to type feedback and questions in the Chat box or to speak up via microphone. Depending on what platform you use, you may also be able to implement anonymous in-class surveys or other tools.
- Benefits: This format can be a convenient way to get real-time feedback about comprehension or teaching style. Students can ask specific questions about content or request changes to teaching style by saying “Can you go over that again?” or “Could you record this lecture?”, for example.
- Challenges: If you are asking your students to turn their microphone or video on to give feedback, you’ll likely only get responses from the students that are already most confident and engaged in your course. This means that you may miss feedback from the students who are having trouble and could benefit the most from the changes that you might make as a result of their feedback. Additionally, students will hesitate to give negative feedback in this non-anonymous method.
In-Class Response – Brief
If you are using a web conferencing platform that allows students to display a raised hand or an emoji next to their name during the lecture, a fun way to engage students during your lectures could be asking them to ‘raise their hand’ if they understand a concept or to select an emoji that represents how they feel about their understanding of the content. For example, if half of your students feel “🙁” about their understanding of Unit 2, you may want to spend extra time to review it before the midterm. If most of your students feel “🙂” about moving on to the next topic, you can confidently move forward without worrying about whether or not they understood the last lesson.
- Benefits: This method can be a great way of getting quick and informal feedback from your students, especially when students don’t have their cameras on during the lecture. It can be hard to gauge understanding when you can’t see your students’ faces or read their body language! This method allows you to get a little of that in-class response back. It doesn’t take much class time, and it is a convenient way to get feedback that you can use instantly.
- Challenges: This method can be useful for getting a general idea of how your students are doing, but isn’t the best method for getting detailed responses.
Assignment or Test Add-On
Another way to ask for feedback is to attach your request to an existing assignment or test. If students are already composing written responses, it is easy for them to answer an additional question at the end of an assignment or test. Consider using questions such as, “What have you found most interesting to learn about in this course so far?” or “What has been the most challenging concept to learn so far?”. This method isn’t anonymous, so students may feel more comfortable sharing the concepts they have found challenging rather than saying what you, as an instructor, could do better.
- Benefits: Adding a feedback question to an assignment or test is a way to get almost all of your students to give feedback, even if they would be hesitant to speak up in class.
- Challenges: This method should never be used on timed tests! A student facing a time limit won’t be able to give thoughtful feedback. This method also doesn’t provide the opportunity for students to answer anonymously, so they may be hesitant to give negative feedback.
Consider the following formats for your questions.
This format asks students what they would like you to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. This is best used when students have time to type or write out a detailed response. If you feel that your students might want some direction with this activity, consider providing examples of possible responses such as:
- Start reviewing assignments in class,
- Stop skipping example problems, and
- Continue reviewing learning objectives at the start of each class.
Ready or Not
Best for gauging comprehension, this format simply asks students if they are ready to move on to the next topic. This format is best used during a synchronous online lecture, when students can type “Ready” (or not) into the chat box or display a positive or negative status (check/ex, or smiley/frowny face), if your platform supports it.
This open-ended format can be as easy to implement as asking “Any questions?” at the end of a topic or problem to gauge student comprehension. It can also take the form of asking your students if there’s anything you can do to help them learn better or to accommodate their needs.
This longer format takes a bit of reflection beforehand, but it can be very rewarding. Think of specific questions to ask your students, starting with general opinions and moving to detailed responses from there.
Let’s be real – not every suggestion is one that you’ll be able to (or even want to) implement. That being said, it’s good practice to implement, or at least acknowledge, the feedback you receive from students. While receiving a critique from a single student may indicate an outlier, receiving the same critique from several students indicates that the suggestion is probably worthwhile.
Try not to get discouraged when you receive negative feedback from your students. Negative feedback does indicate that you’re doing something that students don’t like (or not doing something they would like), but it also means that your students care enough to tell you about it. Remember, getting a few negative reviews doesn’t mean that you’re not a good educator. If students thought you were beyond help, they wouldn’t be giving you any suggestions.
When responding to your students, make sure to tell them what areas you can change and what you are unable to change. Students might feel frustrated when you tell them that a certain change won’t be made, but they will be understanding if you communicate when elements are outside of your control.
Getting meaningful student feedback during your online or remote course is so important! This article outlined the reasons why and gave you some ideas and tools to structure and position questions for your students to help keep them at ease and provide valuable feedback that will continually improve your course.
Let’s learn from our students!