eCoaching Tip 24 What Do Your Students Think About How the Course is Going?

October 13, 2006 (Checked Oct 10, 2019)

E-Coaching Tip 24:  What Do Your Students Think About How the Course is Going?

Two or three weeks into a 15- week course, you may be wondering about your students’ perceptions about how their course experience is going.  A student’s experience can usually be sorted into these three categories: (1) the content of the readings and the overall structure of the course;  (2) the course requirements and communications from the faculty member; and (3) their own participation in the discussions and assignments for the course.

Getting feedback from students can range from a formal survey to an informal discussion or chat group.  Experience suggests that getting early feedback works better with informal chats or very short surveys.

The Survey Approach

You can use one of the survey tools provided in your CMS or create your own using some of the free survey tools.   You may want to ask questions such as the following:

o   I understand what the course requirements and assignment due dates are.

o  I have a clear idea how to make a substantive contribution to the weekly discussion through my postings.

o  The instructor responds promptly to student questions and concerns.

o  The weekly discussion questions posted by the instructor make me think.

o  I feel free to voice an opinion that my instructor may not agree with.

The goal of any Early Feedback survey is to touch base with your students and to ensure that students know the processes and have access to the content resources needed for them to be successful.  You also want to check to ensure that students feel as if they have good communications with you and their fellow students.  Feeling isolated and alone is one of the greatest reason students aren’t successful.  You may also want to focus on getting feedback on a new activity or process that you are using.

Use a Discussion Forum

Another way of getting early feedback is even more informal.  You may want to create a forum — active for only a few days, such as a week — and simply ask the students to comment on what process or activity has been working really well or any recommendation for change that they might have.   Here are some sample stimulus questions for a forum.

o  How intellectually stimulating are the selected resources?

o  Does the structure of the course work for you? Do the topics and the requirements make sense?

o  Are the course expectations and assignments clear?

o  Are the directions and expectations for the discussion board clear?

o  What type of communication is working best?

o  What is going really well?

o  Is there anything you would like to see changed?

Can Students’ Responses be Anonymous?

Students may or may not want their responses to be identified with them.  The responses to most surveys can be automatically aggregated and anonymous unless students make an active choice to use their name.  The  forum option also enables anonymous posting, if you choose this option.  (Allowing anonymous posting is an option when creating a new forum.)

Obviously the purpose for asking for feedback — either early in the course or after the course — is that we want to continually solicit feedback to ensure that students are having a quality course experience.  Questionnaires  at the end of a course look to the future; this early feedback focuses on the present — making changes for the current students and faculty combination!

Of course, a key element of feedback is feeding back to the student any changes that you will be making — as a result of them taking time to respond.

Interesting Bits and Pieces on Course Evaluations

Research on course evaluations most often focuses on students evaluating instructors at the end of a course experience.  These evaluations are sometimes referred to as “post mortems.”   The faculty member doesn’t receive the feedback until it is much too late to do anything about it; the feedback is anonymous and often weeks after the class is over.   This end-of-course evaluation is really for the use of the administration, so they can focus on the “Next” class.  Early feedback is “early” in the course so that change can occur within a particular course experience, and it is informal between the faculty and the students.

One research study focused on the  “relationship between class average evaluations and characteristics of the instructor and of the class in an off-campus setting with nontraditional students.”  One of the findings was that “Evaluations were higher in classes taught with more intensive time formats, in classes taught by instructors teaching more frequently in the program, in classes where term papers were required, and in classes with fewer students. Evaluations were also higher in classes where the average class grade was higher.”

I like to think that the apparent link between the requirement for term papers and higher evaluations is that writing term papers — or producing projects of various new media types — requires students to research a topic and customize some of the content to their own interests.  So how an instructor designs and structures the course experiences to stimulate and encourage student customization may be a critical fact.  A question, perhaps, for future research.


Shapiro, E. G. (1990). Effect of instructor and class characteristics on students’ class evaluations. Research in Higher Education Volume 31, Number 2 / April 1990, pp. 135-148.

Note: These eCoaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized, expanded and updated  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips (2016) coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 2006 – 2019