Lamu, Kenya: Electricity Corporation Suggestion Box by Flickr user Lindsay Bremner

Mid-Semester Surveys

One of the most frequent comments I hear about teaching online is how hard it is to know how it’s going. Without those physical cues of light-bulb smiles, slouching students or confused faces, it can feel that you’re teaching into a vacuum for 14 weeks. And whatever your opinion of online CCQs, the results arrive too late to impact the students in front of you now. If you’ve shared this frustration, consider offering your students an informal mid-semester survey.

Research has shown that requesting early feedback from students can enhance student motivation, increase learning, improve student perception of the course and instructor, and help faculty improve organization, pacing and workload (Davis, 2009). D2L offers faculty a quick and easy way to request anonymous feedback in online courses, and now is the perfect time to ask.

What do you want to know?

The main benefit of asking for feedback now rather than waiting until the end of the semester is to make small but impactful changes to improve student learning this semester. Therefore, when creating questions, focus on areas that you can change easily and in a short period of time.

Before you ask students about your course, ask yourself! Try to identify areas that you’re most concerned about. Perhaps you’ve noticed that the discussion forums are lacking depth or that more students than usual are submitting work after the deadline or that your quiz scores are lower than expected. Once you’ve identified those concerns, tailor your questions to find out more about what the students think of these issues. Questions that require specific answers may be more useful in identifying potential improvements than broader requests.

Along with questions on the level of difficulty of your course, the timing of assignments or the pacing of the course, some other interesting suggestions from Tools for Teaching (Davis, 2009) include

    • What is the one thing you want the other students to do to improve this course?
    • What do you need to do to improve your learning in this course?
    • What question should I have asked that I didn’t and what would your response have been?

Having said all of that, if you’re fairly new to online teaching, it may be a case of “You don’t know what you don’t know” so you may need to ask more general questions. A common trio of question that can return some useful feedback is

    • What should I stop doing?
    • What should I start doing?
    • What should I keep doing?

Let your students know why you’re asking for feedback

Putting the request for feedback in context may improve both your response rates and the quality of the suggestions. So tell students that you intend to use their comments to make changes to their course and so honesty, as well as specificity, will help (Svinicki, 2001). If possible include some sample comments that have the required level of specific feedback. For example, suggest that instead of commenting that “The instructor is disorganized”, students say “The instructor forgot to release modules on two different weeks and had over four dead links in the course”.

Use the feedback

Once you’ve received the feedback, read the suggestions with an open-mind and a reflective view. Categorize each suggestion into one of four types

    • Positive comments that don’t require changes
    • Suggestions that you can and are willing to implement this semester
    • Suggestions that you can and are willing to implement in a future semester
    • Suggestions that you can’t or are unwilling to implement

Once you’ve reviewed the suggestions, it’s important to let your students know how you’re going to use them. Consider summarizing the feedback for the whole class and identifing which suggestions you will be implementing this semester. Similarly discuss those suggestions that you will reserve for a future semester or won’t be implementing and the reasons for those decisions.


If we’ve convinced you on the benefits of early feedback from online students, it’s easy to include an anonymous survey in D2L (instructions here), but don’t hesitate to contact ATS at x2286/ or me at for more help.


Davis, B.G. (2009). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Svinicki, M. D. (2001). Encouraging your students to give feedback. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2001(87). 17-24. doi: 10.1002/tl.24

Joanne DolanJoanne Dolan
Instructional Design Coordinator,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>