Collecting and Using Midterm Student Feedback

In any endeavour, feedback provides direction for improvement. In universities, feedback on an instructor’s teaching is formally acquired at the end of the term via course evaluations. However, it’s a best practice to also seek informal, formative feedback from students at other points in the term. Whether your course is brand new or you have been teaching it for many years, collecting student feedback is a useful practice to uncover the student experience and assist with building a constructive relationship with your class.

General strategies

  • Decide what you want to assess. For example, do you want to find out about what parts of the course content students are struggling with? Whether they are finding the learning activities helpful? Whether there are issues making small group work less effective? If they want more time for class discussion? What is really helping them to learn? Your area(s) of interest will determine the questions you ask.
  • Schedule feedback for times appropriate to the course. If you’ve begun teaching a new course, or have significantly revised a course, or have observed that students are having difficulties, you might want to hold a feedback session as early as the third week of classes. Otherwise, you might want to wait until midterm. Just make sure to ask in enough time to be able to respond and make meaningful changes if needed.
  • Choose a means of feedback that works best for your students.
    • If your course is blended or fully online, you can use LEARN to set up an informal questionnaire or an anonymous suggestion box.
    • Alternatively, you can use Google Forms or Qualtrics to create a feedback questionnaire. Waterloo has also developed Evalulite, which is specifically designed for midterm feedback (you can easily add class lists to it).
    • If your course has a face-to-face component, you have the option of setting aside five or ten minutes during class to invite individual written feedback. If you think it will make the students more comfortable, tell them you’ll leave the classroom while they jot down their feedback and that they can place it in a “feedback box” before you return. You can also use a more collective approach, and circulate a document with a question prompt or two that students can respond to during class by indicating agreement with comments from others or adding new ideas. Large classes may need multiple copies of this document. Online classes can do this same activity via a shared online document in OneDrive or Google.
  • Encourage students to be specific.Make it clear to students that you’re looking for specific feedback and concrete examples rather than vague statements. Explain that the more specific their feedback is, the more likely you’ll interpret it as intended and be able to act on it. If possible, provide them with examples of feedback you received in the past that led you to identify particularly helpful elements to retain or make changes so they can see the tangible impact of student feedback.
  • Manage expectations in advance.Setexpectations on what kinds of changes would be reasonable to make this term and what changes would be difficult or impossible to implement. Assure them that even if some of their feedback can’t be acted upon in this term, you’ll take it into consideration the next time you offer the course. If students know there’s a plan to process and implement their feedback, they’ll be more likely to engage with the request and provide detailed and thoughtful responses.
  • Advertise the survey. If collecting feedback online, use the announcements feature in LEARN to broadcast a link to your survey to the entire class. You can also use LEARN’s email feature so that students receive the information directly in their inboxes. You might also draw attention to the survey in one of the course’s online discussion groups. If the responses are only trickling in, send out a reminder a few days before the survey deadline. If you are collecting the feedback in-person, let students know the survey is coming a few days in advance and share the questions so they can think about how they’d like to respond.
  • Sort the feedback into categories:
    • Things you need to retain because they are working well
    • Things you can change or implement this term (e.g., allowing more time in class for students to ask questions)
    • Things that have to wait until the next time the course is offered (e.g., changing textbooks)
    • Things that you won’t change for pedagogical reasons (e.g., not having students participate in an online discussion group) and things that you can’t change (e.g., cancelling the final exam)
  • Identify solutions. Some suggested changes are easy to implement. However, sometimes you’ll receive feedback from some students that contradicts feedback from other students (e.g., “The pace of the course is too fast!” “The pace of the course is too slow!”). In such cases, you might still be able to implement a solution (for example, build in periodic breaks in your lectures to process material for the students who are finding the pace too fast; provide more challenging questions for the students who are finding the pace too slow). Check, too, that your learning outcomes, learning activities, and assessments are aligned – misalignment can result in students experiencing various kinds of difficulties, confusion, and dissatisfaction.
  • Respond to feedback as soon as possible. Collect feedback at a point in the term when you have the capacity to immediately review and analyze the comments. Thematic coding and frequency counts for open-ended responses can help to process these results; simple percentage frequency distributions can work for scaled questions. Consider spending 15 to 20 minutes during a class to share your analysis and respond to the feedback received. Tell the students what suggestions you’ll act on this term, those that must wait until next term, and those that you won’t or can’t act on and why. And be sure to share conflicting feedback so they can see that others are experiencing the course differently than they are (which might be a reason you don’t make a requested change). Overall, use this time to clarify any misunderstandings about your goals and their expectations. The key thing is to make sure that students feel that their comments have been heard and understood. If you show you are responsive and can act on even a few of their ideas, that will strengthen your relationship with them and encourage them to continue to provide feedback.

Types of questions to ask

  • Try using “start, stop, continue” to structure feedback.Ask students what they think would be good to start doing in the course, what things should stop, and what should continue for the rest of the course. Dividing the feedback into these three categories is an effective way to gather positive and constructive feedback in the form of specific and actionable items. If you start each question with “what should we…” instead of “what should I…”, you will encourage students to consider their shared responsibility for the course learning experience.
  • Ask for both positive and constructive feedback.You may choose to ask various kinds of questions, but make sure to give space for students to provide positive comments instead of just focusing on the negative. You need to know what not to change!
  • Consider using a combination of open- and closed-ended questions. Midterm feedback usually includes short answer, open-ended questions where students have the opportunity to share detailed feedback and specific suggestions. Depending on the number of students and whether you have TAs who can help review the responses, make sure to limit the open-ended questions to a manageable number. You may also want to include a few closed, Likert-style questions that use a numerical scale rather than just “yes/no” questions to have data that is quicker to analyze or that provides important context.
  • Consider including questions that will help contextualize the data.If your course has students from diverse academic backgrounds, or from various years of study, it might be hard to tell if an issue is affecting a specific group disproportionately. Accordingly, you might include questions like “Is this your first course taken with this department?” or “What program are you from?” to get demographic data to help analyze the feedback.
  • Ask students about what they can do to maximize their learning.Use this as an opportunity to help students reflect on their own role as learners and what strategies have been working for them and what they might need to change. As such, you could ask questions like “What is helping you to learn in this course” and “What could be changed to help better support your learning”. This focus is also a helpful way to see how students are adapting to your course and gather tips that can be shared with other members of the class or during future iterations of the course.

Other ideas

  • Student questions. The questions that students ask in class, in discussion groups, and via email, are a kind of feedback: they can give you some sense of how well students are understanding the course content. Bear in mind, though, that many students who are struggling might not ask questions either because they are embarrassed to do so or because they don’t know how to frame the question.
  • Do your own reflective analysis. You can gather your own feedback by writing reflections on your lecture notes after each class, keeping a teaching journal, or completing checklists. Make sure you record concepts that caused students difficulty as well as insightful student questions that you can incorporate into your future offerings of the course.
  • Have a colleague observe one of your classes. Invite a colleague to one of your classes with a view to giving you feedback. You might also opt to have one of your in-person classes video-recorded by staff from Instructional Technologies and Media Services (ITMS) so you can observe and assess your own teaching. Or you can review a recording of a synchronous online class. Bear in mind that if students might appear in the recording (for example, one of them asking a question), you’ll need to assure them that the recording will be viewed only by you and perhaps a colleague or someone from CTE.
  • Consider making feedback an ongoing part of your course.At the end of every face-to-face class (or once a week), you might invite your students to jot down on a slip of paper one thing from today’s class that wasn’t clear and one thing they learned, then have them hand it to you on their way out. You can do the same thing online by creating an anonymous survey in LEARN. You don’t need to create a new survey for each class or each week: students can continue to use the same survey, with the most recent responses corresponding to the most recent class or week. This practice helps students to reflect regularly on their learning and gives you the current pulse of the student experience.


If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.


teaching tipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Collecting and Using Midterm Student Feedback. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.