Early Feedback Service

Watch this short video for an introduction to the Early Feedback Service.

What Is the Early Feedback Service?

The Early Feedback Service is a mechanism for gathering feedback from your students around midterm—before it is too late to make changes that might improve your students’ learning experience this semester. It allows VIU faculty members to conveniently capture anonymous information on how students are responding to an ongoing course. It comes in the form of a paper-based survey that you request from CIEL and administer in your class.  Results are sent to you directly via email and shared with no-one else. If you are teaching fully online, we have information on how to set up an online survey version of the Early Feedback Survey on our blog. 

We know faculty teach in many different ways. That is why we have 6 different versions of the survey that you can order, depending on your teaching style or format.  You can preview them on the CIEL website to decide which one is the most appropriate for you.

Versions included in the service:

  • General Teaching (for courses using a mix of teaching practices)
  • Seminar (for courses with small enrollment and discussion focus)
  • Active Learning (for courses with an activity-based design, often with students working collaboratively)
  • Lecture (for courses designed as primarily instructor presentation)
  • Blended (for courses in which extensive online components are integrated with face-to-face components)
  • Team-Based Learning (a custom survey for participants in CIEL’s Team-Based Learning Course (Re)Design Project)

The important thing to note is that the Early Feedback Service is not a Course Evaluation Tool and is not appropriate for that purpose. The Early Feedback Form is designed for formative feedback during an ongoing course and is available only until midterm. Requests for use after midterm will not be processed to avoid conflict or confusion with end-of-term course evaluations.  If you would like an official end-of-term VIU Evaluation of Teaching, please contact your department chair.

Why Use the Early Feedback Service?

The information collected with the survey is intended to be used to make adjustments to the course in which it is collected, while it is still being taught. Students respond very differently to a survey when they know that it will affect their own learning experience. They are much more motivated respond with constructive feedback to early feedback surveys than any end-of-term course evaluation you may use. The fact that they fill it out in person also improves the return rate for better data.  End-of-term surveys have a much lower return rate than do early feedback surveys, especially when they are administered online.

Interestingly, early feedback surveys can also improve the results of end-of-term evaluations. Just by asking for the students’ perspective on how the class is going alerts them to the fact that you care about their learning experience and are listening to them. If you report back to students on the results, the respect this shows students can improve the results of end-of-term evaluations.  Please see the section called How do I respond to the feedback I get from students? below to learn more about the kinds of discussions you can have with students about your feedback.

Finally, if you collect midterm feedback every semester for each of your courses, you have a treasure trove of information about what is working well in your teaching over time, an indicator of the kinds of things you do to engage students effectively, and a record of things you have tried or changed.  Such information can be used in a portfolio when you are up for regularization at VIU, or if you are looking for a teaching position elsewhere.  You can with confidence say things like “my students regularly say ______ about me as a teacher” because you have the data to prove it.  Such data can also help you write an effective teaching statement, which is often a requirement for regularization and for teaching positions in higher education.

How Does the Early Feedback Service Work?

Go to CIEL’s website (https://ciel.viu.ca/) and click on Early Feedback Service

  1. Browse the six versions of the Early Feedback Form and decide which of these seems to fit best with your approach to teaching. You will need to know your preferred version when you submit your request for the Early Feedback Service.
    • Note: please do NOT print your own surveys.  CIEL’s scanner requires specific parameters to be able to produce a report for you, so we need to print them at the Centre and provide them to you.
  2. Make your request using the online Early Feedback Service Request Form, which will notify CIEL that you would like to order the Early Feedback Service. CIEL staff will produce the paper forms and send them to you or make them available for pick-up.
  3. Self-administer the Early Feedback Form to your students at the beginning of class.
  4. Return the completed forms to CIEL for processing. Within a day or two you will receive via email a summary report of all feedback. (See: sample page from a report). Note that the service is confidential—initiated at the instructor’s request—and students remain anonymous throughout the process. The information gathered is sent only to the instructor who requests the service.
  5. Share key findings with your students and discuss ways that you or they could improve their learning experience. (Highly recommended!)

How Do I Read My Results?

It’s easy to focus only on the one or two negative comments students make and overlook the overall picture the survey results are giving you about your teaching. When you read your results, look for the patterns you see:

  • Are most of your students in the “agree, strongly agree” category on the question? Then things are going pretty well. 
  • Are there any questions where students are split evenly, or where students are mostly in the “disagree, strongly disagree” category?  What do you suppose is happening there?  Those are areas where you may need to consider adjusting something in your course. 
  • Is there a pattern of positive or negative comments about particular topics in the open-ended statements? Try to avoid focusing only on the most negative comments: look at where several students said the same thing and start your analysis of what is going well or should be adjusted there.

Note that CIEL staff are available to help you interpret your results and help you make a plan for making changes and for discussing the data with your students. They are available for conversations with you about your results: what the data mean, how to discuss them with students, how to address any issues the students have raised. Just email learnsupport@viu.ca to make your request for a one-on-one meeting with one of our Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Specialists.

How Do I Respond to the Feedback I Get from Students?

Discussing the findings from your early feedback with your students is highly recommended—it can help you see how to adjust your course effectively and amplifies the sense of respect the students feel from you.  There are times when they may say something confusing, point out a significant failing in the course, or clearly do not see how your teaching strategies are related to your intended learning outcomes: how do you conduct this kind of conversation well?

Think of the conversation in three-four parts:

1. Things I Am Pleased to Hear Are Working in This Course

Select the kinds of things you are most pleased about (not a comprehensive list—just the most important parts) and mention them as what you are pleased is working for students.  This shows students that others think positively about certain aspects of the course. Those that feel the same way do not feel alone, and those who are, for whatever reason, unhappy with everything in the course hear that, in fact, the course is going well for their peers.

2. Things That I Can and Will Do Better

Describe any adjustments you plan to make as a result of student feedback that can be acted upon to improve the course.  Once you have described these adjustments, be sure to actually make them. Your end-of-course evaluations will turn out better because you have proven to students that you heard them and have worked to make the course better.

3. Things That I Can’t or Won’t Change

If you have chosen teaching and learning strategies designed to build a skill that is essential for reaching the learning outcomes of the course, be clear with students about why you are teaching the course in this way. This is a perfect opportunity to review the course learning outcomes and to connect what you are doing with your teaching to the skills, habits or attitudes the students will need to succeed.

4. I’m Confused about This Set of Responses

If a sizeable proportion of the students have given feedback on an important aspect of the course but the response is mystifying or confusing to you, this is an opportunity to clarify with them what they mean and what their suggestions for change are. Tell them the result, then ask students what they meant when they responded on this aspect of the course. Make sure to discuss what they suggest you should do.  You don’t have to do everything they say, but you should make note of their ideas, and then decide which of those ideas merit changing something about the course. Let them know, either during this discussion or after some thought, what adjustments you plan to make, and then make sure to make them.

Can I Ask for Different Questions Relevant to My Teaching?

If the members of your department, as a group, see a need for a version of the Early Feedback Form that reflects a set of practices specific to your discipline or program, different from any of those provided here, please contact CIEL about developing a department-specific form. We will work with you on developing good questions and we will create a template specifically for your department’s survey form.

What Questions Have We Not Addressed Yet?

This blog is only an introduction to collecting midterm feedback–there are still lots of topics we have not touched.

Just a couple of examples:

  • Midterm feedback can be collected in a variety of ways. The Early Feedback Survey is just one convenient way to ensure anonymity and a high response rate. But there are lots of other ways you can collect midterm feedback, both electronically and in person , and we’d be happy to discuss those options with you.
  • Having effective conversations with students around the actual feedback can feel a bit intimidating the first few times you do this, and your strategies may need to vary from course to course or from semester to semester depending on the specific feedback given. This is a good opportunity to take advantage of the individual consultations we offer at the Centre so we can work with you on the solutions that will work for your particular situation.

And of course, you likely have your own questions about the process, the philosophy behind doing it, or the practical usefulness of collecting feedback that we have not addressed.

Want to Learn More?

Check out these additional resources