Asking for Feedback from Students

There are two types of feedback you can receive from students: formative and summative feedback. We will first address gathering formative feedback and then discuss summative course evaluations at the University of Toronto.

Gathering Formative Feedback: Formative feedback is collected during the course and summative feedback is collected at the end. In-the-moment feedback, solicited periodically over the course of the term, can be used to effect change right away. When collecting feedback, be sure to tell your students that you are gathering this data for your own pedagogical development. If you can create buy-in with your students about giving feedback, you can create a class community in which they feel comfortable to share with you and also feel like there is worth in hearing their thoughts. It is equally critical that the feedback be optional, anonymous, and not linked to marks (not even participation!). The TATP have a template Feedback on the Fly: Drafting Your Feedback Questions to help you consider a specific teaching context and the best questions to ask for that context. Remember that how you elicit and use feedback on your teaching is in many ways a model for what you want students to do with your feedback on their work.

Early-Term Formative Feedback: One of the simplest ways to get feedback from your students is to ask them questions. A student questionnaire at the beginning of the term is quite powerful when it addresses context, expectations, aspirations, and community. Here are some examples of possible prompts:

  • Context: Ask students about their year of study, their major, and what courses they have already taken in this field.
  • Expectations: Ask questions about what students hope to learn from the class, what topic or week they are most looking forward to and why, and how they expect to perform in the class.
  • Aspirations: Ask students what they hope to gain from the class, what skills they already have, and what skills they think they will need to be successful in the class.
  • Community: Ask your students to tell you something neat about themselves to help you remember them and to give you a chance to learn something about your students.

Distributing this questionnaire in the second or third week of term, rather than the first week, will help you to catch the students that are more likely to stay in the class permanently since enrolment is usually unstable in the first few weeks. There is no need to ask questions about all four categories (context, expectations, aspirations, and community), although it is possible. This early-term feedback will help you to get to know your students while also providing an opportunity for your students to reflect on their own learning.

Mid-Term Formative Feedback: Midway through the term you can ask for feedback about how the class is working. The Stop-Start-Continue exercise is one example of mid-term formative feedback. Ask students to write one thing that they would like you to stop doing, start doing, and continue doing in the class. Once you receive the feedback:

  1. Read it over and pull out the main themes. What can you change? What can you not change?
  2. Share the feedback with your students. Start by thanking them for sharing their voice, tell them the themes you distilled from the feedback, and what changes you can and cannot make and why.
  3. Implement the feedback as much as is feasible. For example, make adjustments to your lecture planning or class structure.

There is no reason why you must change everything to suit students’ requests, but it is a kind practice to let students know why you have or have not opted to make changes based on their suggestions. Often this simple act of asking the students for feedback when it can effect change will make students feel like they are part of the community.

Summative Feedback: At the University of Toronto, there is a formal process for gathering summative, and some formative, feedback. Briefly, here is an overview of how course evaluations work at the University of Toronto. The course evaluation framework and online system is currently being used in most divisions across the institution, and the remainder are set to adopt the system framework by 2020. Eleven divisions are currently part of the new framework, which includes Arts & Science, UTM, UTSC, Nursing, Music, Information, Social Work, Engineering, OISE, Pharmacy, and Dentistry. For participating divisions, course evaluations are administered centrally by CTSI through an online system. The Course Evaluation System addresses administrative, academic, and technical aspects of teaching with questions from the institutional, divisional, and departmental levels. Course instructors also have the option of choosing additional formative questions (or items as they are referred to in the Course Evaluation System) for each course they teach. These instructor-selected formative questions are private and only viewable by the instructor.

Toward the end of the term, an email from the centralized course evaluations team is sent out to course instructors. You will be given a period of time in which to choose additional formative questions. In Quercus the Course Evals tab (on the left menu) allows you to view past course evaluations. This tells you how other departments, divisions, and University of Toronto campuses fare on their evaluations. It should be noted, however, that individual course instructors (including yourself) can opt out of releasing their evaluations in publicly available data sets.

Ultimately, by asking students for feedback to improve our teaching we are fostering a culture of feedback. Creating a strong culture of feedback requires our engagement as teachers. The article The Many Benefits of Cultures of Feedback in the Classroom outlines the benefits of nurturing this kind of classroom culture.