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

October 13, 2006

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

Three or four weeks into a course — about now — you may be wondering about your students’ perceptions about how their course experience is going.  A student’s experience can usually be clumped into 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.

Use the Survey from Your Course Template

Your course template has a way to easily deploy an early feedback survey.  It is on your control panel labeled — “Surveys and TEQ.”  As an instructor you can use the default thirteen (13) item survey that asks questions such as

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.

Of course you may also want to modify the survey and make it short or longer or to focus on getting feedback on a new activity or process that you are using.   You may use the “modify” option if you choose to do this.

Use a Blackboard Forum

Another way of getting early feedback is even more informal.  You may want to create a Blackboard forum — active for only 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 them? 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 the survey are automatically aggregated and anonymous unless students make an active choice to use their name.  The Blackboard 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.  The TEQ questionnaire at the end of the course looks 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 of 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. J


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

Note: These E-coaching 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 and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by