Student feedback can be extremely valuable in guiding course modifications and updates, but the typical evaluation form administered by most colleges and universities is often limited in scope, and the results can take a while to reach individual instructors. The old paper and pen evaluations of the past are moving online, but often still leave room for improvement.
As I prepare my online courses for the fall semester starting this week, I am adding elements to the classes that encourage student evaluation of the content, course site, and textbooks. I also want to get a better idea of how the course is meeting their expectations as part of a larger program. What feedback would you like to have from your students? There are a few suggested techniques to get students to tell us more of what we need to know while the course is taking place, as well as at the end of the term.
Surveys, Polls, Discussions, and Sharing
When and how do you gather feedback from your online students? Consider implementing a new strategy that allows them to share their experiences with you directly.
Mid-Term and End-of-Course Surveys
Educator Debbie Morrison recommends a “mid-course tune up, which is formative in nature and allows the instructor to make adjustments to improve the remaining weeks of the course.” Tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms make it easy to send out a web-based survey to your online students via URL in an email message or announcement.
You can choose the questions you’ll ask based on the information you need to gather. Instructional designer Nicole Legault suggests a mix of items that gather opinion and perception, as well as some sense of their progress with the material. Take a look at a few examples:
- Did the modules/lessons meet your expectations?
- What resources should be added or removed?
- Do you feel like you could apply what you’ve learned?
- What is your confidence level with the concepts we’ve covered so far on a scale of 1-10?
You may also want to consider questions that address usability of the course site, instructional strategies, or other specific topics that make sense in the context of your course. Check out additional question samples from Michigan State University, the University of Hawaii, and QuestionPro.com, and create a custom survey for your students.
“Muddiest Point” Discussion
What are students confused about in your course? Are they getting stuck in the same places? By taking the time to ask the simple question “What was the muddiest point in the [lesson, chapter, module, assignment] you can gather important feedback from your students. You may find this technique helpful to determine where you need to offer more in depth explanation or concept clarification.
The Muddiest Point strategy is often used in traditional classrooms as a way to begin/end discussions or review reading assignments, but can be adapted for online classrooms. Consider posting a new discussion thread in each week of the course or send out a one-question poll with a tool like PollDaddy or TwtPoll. You could also ask students to send their muddiest points to you via email.
A creative approach to course evaluation was described by lecturer Brian Coxall in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this year. He asked his students “to compose a letter to those who would take the course the next time it was offered.” The open-ended nature of this method allowed students to focus on the issues and parts of the course they felt the most strongly about.
Coxall also reported his students were “much more candid” in their responses directed to other students instead of to the “faceless, unknowable bureaucracy” of the institution’s administration. What advice would your students have for their peers and how might their suggestions inform your work in the course?
Encourage Student Participation
One of the benefits of conducting your own course evaluation is that you don’t have to wait on anyone else to tabulate the responses. My experience has been that there is often a significant delay between the time my students complete the forms and when I receive the formal report from the department. Response rates can be an issue, too, especially when the forms are delivered online via email or learning management system. There are a few things you can do to encourage students to share their perspectives in a constructive way:
- Consider making the process anonymous. This is easier to do with a survey or email strategy than with a discussion board, but may lead to more responses. Think about whether or not a discussion of feedback would benefit the class-at-large. Muddiest points, for example, could lead to a conversation that helps multiple students in the course.
- Share your goals. A review of the research related to online course evaluations [PDF] found that “students are more likely to complete course evaluations if they see value in them.” Whether you use a survey or live discussion to gather feedback from your students, convey your goals for the process and what you plan to do with the results. I use this standard description in my mid-term evaluations: “The goals of this survey are to better understand your experience in this course and inform revisions of content and assignments in future terms.”
- Make it brief. Or at least choose an easy-to-use format. If the survey is too long, the purpose too vague, or the system too complicated, students may not be compelled to take the time required to share their feedback with you.
Put Student Feedback to Use
What will you do with student feedback once you’ve collected it? Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching provides advice and resources for interpreting student evaluations. These tips include recommendations to “look for patterns in students’ comments – identify trends, note what you have done well and what needs improvement.” It’s important to know that the feedback can be negative as well as positive. Vanderbilt suggests “taking the context and characteristics of your course into account.” Research has found, for example, that students in elective courses or classes with fewer students may report more positive feedback.
How will you use student feedback in your courses? Depending on your school’s policies, you may be able to make edits and modifications to the course site as you go, or will be required to submit recommended revisions for approval. Find out what the procedures are for your institution and plan for your next term.
Don’t forget to go back and review feedback received in previous terms. We often look at it when it arrives, then file it away, but there may be clues there about which topics students were more active in responding to and/or specific concerns you want to revisit after changes have been made to the course.
What are your favorite ways to collect student feedback in your online courses?
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog