There are many reasons to ask students for mid-course feedback. It’s a great way to learn about students and how they are experiencing the course so that you know what’s working well and what could be improved. It’s also an opportunity to build trust and rapport with students and to show them that you care about them and their success. And there’s some evidence that asking for mid-course feedback can improve end-of-course teaching evaluations.
However, despite these benefits, there are also valid reasons for why instructors decide not to ask students for mid-course feedback. In my conversations, I’ve noticed that there tends to be five major reasons instructors give for not doing mid-course student feedback. Below, let’s take a look at these common barriers and explore how they might be overcome.
My class is large and I don’t have the time or energy to review all the student feedback right now.
While it’s totally understandable to be overwhelmed by the thought of reviewing student feedback, especially if you have a large class size, the good news is that there are things you can do to make the review process more manageable. For example, consider using closed-ended questions, such as multiple choice or Likert scale questions, as results are easier to summarize. And if you collect the feedback in a digital format, such as through Canvas, Qualtrics, or iClicker, closed-ended results can be displayed in auto-generated graphs, allowing you to review large sets of student responses quickly. When using open-ended questions where students provide unique responses, ask someone else to review the results and provide you with a summary, such as another member of the teaching team (e.g., TA, peer tutor, co-instructor), a colleague (e.g., Science Education Specialist), a friend, or a family member.
I’ve done this before and the student feedback wasn’t useful to me.
If you find that student feedback isn’t useful to you, it may indicate that there is a problem with the questions you’re asking. Maybe they aren’t phrased in a way that prompts the types of responses you’re interested in, or maybe students aren’t understanding or interpreting the questions in the way you intended. In either case, you may want to revisit your questions to check that they are clearly understood by students and are asking for what you are interested in learning. Before distributing the mid-course feedback questions to students, consider running them by some people who can give you insight into how your students might interpret the questions, such as peer tutors or former students. You can also ask colleagues to share any mid-course feedback questions they’ve found helpful or check out some mid-course feedback templates.
I’m not able to make changes to the course based on the student feedback right now, so I shouldn’t ask for it.
In their feedback, students might ask for changes that they think would improve their experience. If it works for you to make these changes, great! But if not, it can still be beneficial for students if you take the time to explain why you cannot make the changes they request. By doing so, students will feel heard and will also better understand the reasons behind your teaching decisions. And you might be surprised—you could learn from their feedback that there is some small tweak or change that you are able to make right now. Even changing just one thing can make a difference for students and can have a big impact on how they feel about and experience the course.
I’d rather wait until the end of the course when students will have better developed feedback.
While it might seem like you’ll get better feedback at the end of the course, this is usually not the case. Response rates to end-of-term teaching evaluations are notoriously low, and the student feedback provided at this time tends to be less specific and more negative than the feedback given during the midterm period. You’re much more likely to get students to give you useful feedback if you ask for it midway through the term when students are still invested in the course, rather than at the end when they are stressed out, busy with finals, and they know that the feedback will no longer affect them (any changes made will only impact future students). Also, memories fade quickly, so asking for feedback now will allow you to learn about things that students might forget about later in the term.
I’m feeling overwhelmed and I don’t have the emotional capacity to read negative student comments about me or the course right now.
Instructors put a lot of themselves into their courses, so it is easy for any negative feedback to feel personal, especially if you’re already feeling overwhelmed or insecure about your teaching performance. One way to overcome this barrier is to mentally reframe negative feedback as constructive feedback, which can make your course and your teaching even better than it already is. But if you’re not in a mental space where you can do this, consider asking someone you trust to review the feedback for you and either filter out or soften any negative feedback so that it is easier for you to receive. You can also wait until you are in a better mental state before you review the feedback—no one says you have to look at it immediately. And you might be pleasantly surprised; oftentimes, mid-course feedback is more positive than expected and could actually make you feel better about your teaching.
If you’d like to ask students for mid-course feedback but are finding that one or more of these barriers is preventing you from doing so, I encourage you to consider the strategies listed above. You can also find more information and resources for doing mid-course student feedback here, including advice guides, templates, and experiences shared by instructors who have done mid-course feedback in their courses. And if you’d like support in doing mid-course student feedback, please reach out—I’m happy to help in any way I can!
Are there any barriers or strategies you use that I didn’t mention, or any experiences you’ve had with effectively collecting mid-course feedback that you’d like to share? Please include them in the comments below or send me an email—I’d love to hear them!