Eliciting formative feedback from students

Have you ever felt, even after careful planning, that what you are doing in the classroom just isn’t working? We all make mistakes, we try strategies that don’t work as planned, and teaching can improve a great deal if we actively seek out student comments and make adjustments in teaching strategies, even in mid-course.  Formative feedback from students can enhance the teaching and learning experience for both instructors and students. The following suggestions will help instructors to elicit student feedback throughout their courses:

  • Preparation
    • Determine what requires feedback. For example, do you want to know how well students are learning the material, or are you interested in gauging the effectiveness of your teaching strategies?
      • When eliciting feedback be specific about what you are asking: Do you want to know students’ thoughts about the pace of delivery, the amount of material presented during each lecture, a specific exercise or project etc.
    • Determine when would be a good time to ask students for feedback. For example, it is best to seek feedback about a project or exercise as soon as it is completed. When teaching a course for the first time and seeking general information, 2-3 weeks into the course might be best. As a routine check with students in a course you have taught before, mid-way through the semester might be appropriate.
  • Soliciting Feedback
    There are several ways to solicit feedback. If you are going to seek feedback from  students more than once throughout the semester, it is best to vary the data collectionmethods. Here are some suggestions:
    • Brief open-ended questionnaire.  Students receive a sheet of paper with 2 or 3 simple questions like
      • What do you like about the course? What is working well?
      • What do you not like about the course and what changes would you suggest?
    • Brief questionnaire (up to 10 simple questions) that targets specific areas of interest (e.g., a new technique, a new textbook, lecture style etc.) using 5 point scale
      • To entire class, or to a random sample in a very large class
      • Leave the class and have students administer and collect the survey to assure anonymity
    • Third party interviews
      • Take 10-15 minutes at the end of class. Ask a colleague to conduct an oral evaluation. After the instructor leaves the room the interviewer places students in small groups. Groups select a spokesperson and note taker. The interviewer asks the groups to discuss things in the course that are helpful, worthwhile, and assist learning. He/she also asks groups to suggest ways the course could be improved. Each spokesperson reports the groups’ findings and the interviewer records them on the board. The interviewer summarizes points of consensus and seeks clarification on points of disagreement. The interviewer collects the written comments from the note takers and prepares a summary for the instructor (written or oral).
    • E-mail
      • Let students know that you are open to feedback and suggest that they send you an e-mail if they have any concerns or suggestions about the course.
  • Addressing Formative Feedback
    • Thank students for their comments & respond to them promptly
    • Be clear about what will change (if anything) as a result of student feedback and when changes will occur.



Summative feedback from students at the end of the course does not benefit the students providing the feedback, so students’ responses may be cursory.  In addition, summative surveys do not usually elicit the specific kinds of information instructors need to identify and remedy problem areas (such as those mentioned previously) in the midst of their courses.

Providing opportunities for remediation on an ongoing basis enhances the quality of the course.

Collaborating with students about changes in instructional design brings to light students’ value and responsibility in the teaching and learning process.