Surveying and Adapting Courses

Speak From Your Own Experience

A common pitfall in the classroom that leaves many marginalized and historically excluded students feeling unwelcome is when their identity or experience is being discussed, subject to debate, or theorized by people who do not have a shared experience. A helpful guideline for discussion is asking students to focus their classroom contributions by sharing their own experiences on a topic and focusing their discussion on others’ experiences by talking through the language used and experiences shared by the authors of a text examined in class. This approach allows students to discuss the experiences of others without speaking on behalf of, or by appropriating, the experiences of those who have been marginalized and excluded.


Surveying and Adapting Courses to Feedback

When we rely on spontaneous student feedback, we tend to only learn about what really is or isn’t working and not the in-between. Using surveys and other feedback formats can help students share their classroom experiences, needs, and priorities in confidential or anonymous ways. Surveying can also centre on feedback that is driven by self-reflection, in addition to feedback on the course itself, as well as peer interactions. Further, students who face barriers, challenges, or harmful encounters in a classroom context will not always express these experiences with a teacher or even their peers. Students who stop showing up or stop participating are often invisible to faculty members. Anonymous surveys can open a door for students to provide feedback and share their experiences while reducing the potential for fear of retribution.

When surveying students, invite them to self-reflect (e.g. what am I struggling with in this class? I could use more support and help on…) and reflect on their peers (e.g. communication, what is working, what isn’t working, what could help) to help identify possible areas where more support, resources, and attention could be helpful. This approach has the added benefit of providing opportunities for students to evaluate their own participation, progress, and role in the course, making feedback not simply uni-directional.

Course Surveys

Pre-Course Survey
Mid-term Survey and Feedback
Closing Survey and Feedback

Pre-Course Survey

Pre-course surveys can help you prepare for the semester and plan around the needs and priorities of your students. Below are some suggested questions that you can include in your pre-course survey:

  1. The name you’ll use in this class and whether this name can be used outside of this class as well?
  2. The pronouns you’ll use in this class, and whether these pronouns can be used outside of this class as well?
  3. Is there anything else you’d like me to know about your name and/or pronouns before the start of class (e.g. you’re waiting for the university to process your name change request; you would prefer not to have your current pronouns shared with the class; etc.)?
  4. Do you have any access or accommodation needs that are not already provided by accessibility services that you’d like me to consider when designing this course? (This will help me prioritize as I work to develop more universal design principles in the course.)
  5. Are you facing barriers that you anticipate could impact your participation in this class? (You are not required to answer this or provide me with details, but if you’d like to discuss possible ways to support your participation in this course, you’re welcome to provide more information or schedule a meeting with me.)
  6. Are you comfortable with group work? If not, are there considerations or support that you think would help you feel more comfortable with working in groups?
  7. Is there something that can help make this class a better experience for you this semester? (e.g. specific activities, an approach or dynamic, the chance to make social connections, building a sense of community, etc.)
  8. Is there anything you’ve been struggling with in terms of your academic/school work?
  9. Is there an area you feel confident in with your academic/school work?
  10. Is there a topic that you would really like to examine or discuss in this course?
  11. Is there a topic that you would really like to avoid in this course?

Mid-term Survey and Feedback

Using mid-term surveys can help you gauge student progress through the course, identify specific challenges students may be facing or grappling with, and give you an opportunity to adjust your course based on student feedback. This can help model accountability in the classroom by illustrating the use of feedback to effect changes by valuing the concerns of students who prefer not to speak publicly. It can be helpful to make the mid-term survey or feedback anonymous to encourage honest answers from students, especially when assessing whether students are keeping up with reading, managing group work, and communicating with peers. Anonymous feedback also increases the likelihood of students sharing information that may be difficult to communicate.

An important step in mid-term feedback is to share the outcomes with students (e.g. a summary highlighting main points) and adjust the course accordingly. These adjustments could include shifting course readings (e.g. adding readings to help supplement background learning or reducing the number of pages to help students stay on track), changing the structure of upcoming assignments (e.g. introducing more options for upcoming assignments), introducing more support into the course (e.g. hosting in class or extracurricular workshops to help students develop critical reading skills, inviting someone from the writing centre to help students struggling with their writing).

Closing Survey and Feedback

Final evaluations run by our institutions prioritize student-satisfaction-focused feedback. It can be difficult to draw insights from these valuations to help adjust course design, teaching approaches, and curriculum for the future. Closing surveys generate specific feedback on course learning and allow you to assess benchmark learning objectives by asking students to share reflections on what they took away from the course and what they think is missing. This final form of feedback does not have to be anonymous (especially if you’re not trying to solicit difficult feedback), so you may wish to incorporate final feedback into a final assessment in the course or for bonus marks.

License

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Better Practices in the Classroom by Natalie Kouri-Towe and Myloe Martel-Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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