Gaining insights from student feedback

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s working in your online class and what barriers students are quietly navigating without feedback. A common practice in post secondary institutions is to collect student evaluations at the end of the term to better understand what students thought of the course design and your teaching strategies. At the Distance Education Unit (DEU) we encourage instructors to create spaces for students to provide feedback throughout the term allowing you to make small changes on the fly and enhancing the student learning experience while it still counts.

In this blog post we’ll provide you with a number of ways you might encourage student feedback and what to do with the suggestions once you have them.

Ongoing Opportunities

Feedback should be something that is encouraged throughout the term,  but without building the spaces for students to provide it, you may find yourself in a cone of silence. So where should you be building spaces for students to speak their minds?

Student Questions Lounge

Providing a Student Questions Lounge within the Discussion Forums of your online course can often provide students with relief from their frustrations and feedback for improvements. Simply build a forum where students can post their questions or confusions and allow their peers to provide the answers. You too can jump in with responses and replies, but you’ll often find that the eager beavers in your class are more than happy to be sharing their understanding regularly. Be sure to check in on the lounge regularly to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Muddiest Point

Another great way to use the Discussion Forums is to create a Muddiest Point post for each week. Here, students are welcome to post what they felt was the muddiest or least clear point of the weekly module. In Canvas, other students are able to “like” muddy points that they agree with which allows you to see those points that most students had trouble with.

How do I allow students to like replies in a discussion? (Canvas)

Survey’s and Polls

Although the SLEQ can provide you with feedback about the Student Learning Experience both at mid-term and at the end of the semester, it’s tends to not provide a lot of feedback for specific online course design elements or strategies. Therefore, we at DEU have employed a variety of other tools to get some insight about the instructional design of online courses.

Start-Stop-Continue Poll.

An idea that came from Ryan Banow at GMCTL in a blog post he wrote in 2014 suggested collecting anonymous feedback on what things he should start doing, what he should stop doing, and what he should continue doing in his teaching. This survey was sent out in the first three weeks of the term and allowed him to, at the very least, know he was on track. There are a number of tools you could use to complete this with including the USask Survey Monkey account by sending a link via Announcements in Canvas, creating a Survey in Canvas and set the option to collect replies anonymously, or you could use the mobile Canvas Polls App.

Mid-Term Survey or Poll

Mid-term is a great time to put out the feelers with a quick, but slightly more in depth survey to check-in and see what students are enjoying about the class and where they are frustrated. This way, you can make improvements that will impact your students learning for the remainder of the semester.

Using feedback to improve the learning experience

Once your feedback is in you can begin to unpack it. Remember, all feedback is good feedback, but it’s not always presented with the appropriate level of tact so develop a thick skin and look for the relevant concerns within the less than flattering comments.

Try and put the feedback into some sort of categories. Look for common themes. Specific topics that were especially confusing, gaps that need to be filled, technical writing that needs to be more clear, instructions that might not line up with expectations. If you’re struggling to address some of the feedback sometimes it helps to get another set of eyes on it. Have a colleague take a look and see if they can spot the issue or you can always shoot us an email at for a friendly review and chat.

Feature Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay CC0