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How do you solicit feedback from students?

johnmartin
Explorer
2 9 1,142

The problem: a focus on faculty

I run a successful twice-weekly faculty engagement program called Active Teaching Labs that gets instructors sharing how they use (want to use, fail to use, figure out how to be successful in using, etc.) technology in their teaching. Since we're a Canvas campus, just about everything we talk about we try to tie back to its implementation in Canvas.

This is all well and good. We've developed an environment where people feel comfortable sharing successes and frustrations. Often, they ask about students — what do students think about [x,y,z]? I've been trying for years to investigate this question, but I'm in the "Faculty Engagement" service here, not in Student Engagement [sigh...].

Helping faculty understand their students

The good news is that I've successfully made the case that knowing more about students helps us help faculty, so I'm embarking this semester on a fellowship where we talk to students about their learning habits and practices. We're developing relationships that are somewhat new to our generally-faculty-facing Academic Technology department — to student-facing organizations like Residence Life, the Center for the First Year Experience, and others. Since our goals are to improve teaching and learning, they tend to align with their goals of supporting students, so they're often willing to work with us.

When we're able to identify and connect with a group of students, we survey them with questions like: 

  • What have you learned about learning?
  • How did you learn it?
  • What were your best/worst class learning activities? (and why?)
  • Advice to instructors?

After we survey the students, we meet with as many groups of them as we can schedule to unpack and clarify the results. We find that the survey primes them to think about their learning, and sharing the results back with them gets them talking back and forth. 

What students say

They hate Canvas "Discussions" btw, and mention of the Canvas "To Do" list elicited an exasperated "Murder!" from one of the students in last night's discussion. I find these things fascinating because, while I agree that Discussions is terrible (an online forum ≠ a discussion; calling it that makes people think it should work like one, but it cannot because it has a whole different set of constraints and affordances! But I digress), I would not have suspected a strong reaction against the To Do list.

This isn't a research project by any means, and we won't be publishing or sharing any meaningful results, but rather it's a means to get insight from students in order to learn from them. And yes, we realize that students are not necessarily experts on good learning practices; part of the reason we're asking them is so we can develop useful faculty-created interventions such as Week 0 Modules, and integrating Universal Design for Learning into course design and activities.

How do you get student feedback?

In our faculty development programs we encourage instructors to get formative feedback from students as often, and in as many ways as they can — from reflection elements in assignments and activities like the Muddiest Point (on post-it notes, or in Canvas's graded pseudo-anonymous surveys), to forums in Piazza, to SGIDs or class representative councils — but we know there are many other methods that we don't know about.

  • What do you use? What has worked and not worked? 
  • Have you done any large-scale surveys? (best questions?)
  • How can instructors build mechanisms for feedback into their Canvas courses?
  • Other advice?

Thanks!

9 Comments
d00386959
Community Member

We've tried embedding Google Forms with survey questions into courses.  The most success has come from placing the form inside of a quiz question as part of a graded survey reflection assignment worth minimal points.  It's not a perfect system but it's been a way for us to get large data sets on courses we are monitoring.

Quick note about discussions.  I used to believe I hated spinach because my mother had only ever prepared it creamed (yuk!)  But once I realized that spinach is actually a leafy green (who knew?), I realized it's not so bad and I actually like spinach on my salads now.  My hunch is that many students declare a hatred for discussions because they've only been served the worst, most disgusting discussions one could cook up.  I would feel the same way.  But when courses have well designed discussions, it's a different story. There is a whole buffet of ways to use the discussion tool (including as an actual "discussion") but many don't know how to use it besides "post and reply to two others by Sunday".  I would not write off the tool simply because professors using the tool have not used it effectively and then students have responded negatively.

johnmartin
Explorer

 @d00386959 ,

YES to Google Forms! At least they can be fully anonymous!

And I also agree with your point on online discussions — they *can* be good (and good for you!), but rarely are. The problem is that instructors don't know how to use them well, and don't have good examples to look to as models (I should solicit best examples for those too!). They see "discussions" and think I do this in class already! I'll just do the same thing, but ONLINE!

Failure and frustration ensue...

kona
Community Coach
Community Coach

Great topic!!

On a College-wide level, once a year (in the spring) we survey all of our students using SurveyMonkey. We ask about how things are going with Canvas, and how well they feel they are being supported (my office is in charge of Student Tech support, as well as Canvas).

As a teacher myself, the BEST thing I ever did was start asking online students for feedback at the end of every week. I use a survey in Canvas (so it's not anonymous), but I build up trust with my students so they feel comfortable even providing appreciative and constructive (aka, not always super nice) feedback. Sometimes I ask questions specific to what we've been doing in class (ex: How did Project 1 go, what did you like, what would you do different) and sometimes it's just general questions about how the class is going and if there is anything the Instructor can do to help them with the course. I then read the feedback provided by EVERY student (yes, I do this every week for 50 students) and then I reply back to every student (yes, every week). Sometimes it's a quick, "Thanks for the feedback and hope you have a great week." Sometimes, it ends up with me writing a book (or at least it feels like it) on study skills. And a few times, it has actually changed the structure of my course and the format of online homework. As an Instructor, this feedback is crucial to me for keeping in contact with my online students and for them to feel like I am really there for them and listening to them. I always get great end of the semester feedback from students about how much they appreciate the "Feedback Exchanges" (this is what I call the weekly feedback survey's) and that they feel more connected to me and our course than most of their F2F courses! 

I could go on and on and on about how vital this has been to my teaching and professional development as a teacher and if anyone is interested, follow me on Twitter - @KonaRJones - because I'm always posting feedback I get from my students, as well as my personal musings on teaching and learning. 🙂

Kona

tricia
Community Member

I found this blog to be interesting, I am a Product Manager for Harmonize Discussion, that integrates with Canvas and one of the features on our road map is surveys / polling and would be interested in hearing more about the types of surveys you conduct and what type of feedback your interested in.  If you're interested in helping us make this a better product / feature, shoot us an email at feedback@42lines.net.

Thank you,

Tricia Baker

johnmartin
Explorer

Thanks  @kona ! So, in addition to campus-wide/course-specific evaluations on teaching, you do a campus-wide Canvas-Student_Tech survey? Since you see the benefit of frequent formative feedback in your course, do you through your office encourage individual instructors to solicit more than once-a-semester feedback? If so, how?

Thanks again!

johnmartin
Explorer

Thanks  @tricia ! We don't use Harmonize. Given budget cuts, non-integrated tools appear to be being used less and less.

kona
Community Coach
Community Coach

 @johnmartin , greetings! Yes, we have campus wide regular course feedback done every semester, in addition to a campus-wide Tech survey done yearly. And yes, I've done workshops/presentations with my faculty on the benefits of ongoing feedback and also bring it up during all online peer reviews (this is an ongoing process where all faculty who teach online have their courses reviewed). 

Kona

nsweeten
Explorer III

I've used embedded Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, Google Forms over the years.   (Ideally, Canvas Quiz tool surveys would feed into a spreadsheet like the gradebook does, but not yet....)

Considerations

  • In my experience, well-designed interesting discussions get great responses.  This involves meaningful questions, minimal instructor intervention, and clear expectations. (Include a Discussion Instructions and Etiquette content page and refer back to it to set the tone and avoid repetitive instructions once you get going.)
  • Students have a strong aversion to busy-work so either trim any busy-work or explain "What's in it for me."  If they get a preview of how knowing something will improve their lives, income, happiness, or future assignments, they get more interested. (I like Weekly Module Overview pages with module-level objectives written in casual, student-friendly language to answer the "What's in it for me?" part.)
  • I strongly recommend Quality Matters QM rubric and thorough UX user-testing of your course navigation.  Students get lost and then get bored of being lost.  
  • Be sure your school has a course template so well-meaning instructors aren't winging it in Canvas design every time.  There is a big difference between how things work and how a new user imagines they "ought" to work.  Canvas is an awesome tool but it is not plug-n-play when you want the course to be well-received.
    • Consideration of the student experience is improved by having your instructors take a course as a student before they teach the first time in Canvas--or even when they are experienced, tenured faculty. Perhaps especially when they are experienced, tenured faculty, with respect. 
    • Remember, the course content itself should be interesting...not the navigation path through materials. 
  • The student (user) doesn't always suggest the best fix for a course but their complaints will lead you to the places where an experienced designer can make improvements. 
  • Research shows that just including an instructor's photo in the course (a Meet Your Instructor page) gives higher course feedback ratings at the end! Sad but true. (In one online student feedback meeting, I heard students express surprise that they had a teacher--they thought robots were grading them! Not good.)
  • Early course feedback after week 2 or 3 in a semester should focus only on the course itself--not the instructor!  Ask about the navigation, due dates, clarity of instructions, clarity of assignment expectations, whatever.  Ask for suggestions early.  Sometimes a little venting early leads to small, meaningful improvements or explanations--instead of students saving up for a grand, vicious complaint-fest at the end when it is too late to help. 

😀

nsweeten
Explorer III

I've used embedded Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, Google Forms over the years.   (Ideally, Canvas Quiz tool surveys would feed into a spreadsheet like the gradebook does, but not yet....)

Considerations

  • In my experience, well-designed interesting discussions get great responses.  This involves meaningful questions, minimal instructor intervention, and clear expectations. (Include a Discussion Instructions and Etiquette content page and refer back to it to set the tone and avoid repetitive instructions once you get going.)
  • Students have a strong aversion to busy-work so either trim any busy-work or explain "What's in it for me."  If they get a preview of how knowing something will improve their lives, income, happiness, or future assignments, they get more interested. (I like Weekly Module Overview pages with module-level objectives written in casual, student-friendly language to answer the "What's in it for me?" part.)
  • I strongly recommend Quality Matters QM rubric and thorough UX user-testing of your course navigation.  Students get lost and then get bored of being lost.  
  • Be sure your school has a course template so well-meaning instructors aren't winging it in Canvas design every time.  There is a big difference between how things work and how a new user imagines they "ought" to work.  Canvas is an awesome tool but it is not plug-n-play when you want the course to be well-received.
    • Consideration of the student experience is improved by having your instructors take a course as a student before they teach the first time in Canvas--or even when they are experienced, tenured faculty. Perhaps especially when they are experienced, tenured faculty, with respect. 
    • Remember, the course content itself should be interesting...not the navigation path through materials. 
  • The student (user) doesn't always suggest the best fix for a course but their complaints will lead you to the places where an experienced designer can make improvements. 
  • Research shows that just including an instructor's photo in the course (a Meet Your Instructor page) gives higher course feedback ratings at the end! Sad but true. (In one online student feedback meeting, I heard students express surprise that they had a teacher--they thought robots were grading them! Not good.)
  • Early course feedback after week 2 or 3 in a semester should focus only on the course itself--not the instructor!  Ask about the navigation, due dates, clarity of instructions, clarity of assignment expectations, whatever.  Ask for suggestions early.  Sometimes a little venting early leads to small, meaningful improvements or explanations--instead of students saving up for a grand, vicious complaint-fest at the end when it is too late to help. 

😀