Responding to Student Feedback

So You Collected Midsemester Feedback. Now What?

Last week, we suggested collecting midsemester feedback from students, to check in on how things are going for them so far this term. By the time we typically get their feedback, on our course evaluations, it’s too late to incorporate their suggestions or address their concerns. Surveying them informally around midterm allows us to use their feedback to make changes, which can improve our end-of-semester evaluations as well.

If you already collected students’ feedback, congratulations! It takes courage to ask them to comment on something you designed, and doing so communicates that you care about their success and value their suggestions. But now that you have the survey data and/or written responses, what do you do with it all?

First, it’s important to bear in mind that if we ask students what’s working, what’s not working, and what improvements they’d suggest, they’re going to share something in response to each prompt, so we might get some feedback that stings or that makes us question our teaching. It might be helpful to read the feedback and then give yourself some time to process it before you start interpreting and responding. Then, instead of focusing too much on the most negative comments (we all seem to do it)—or giving too much attention to outliers—the next step is to look for themes. Isis Artze-Vega suggests categorizing the comments:

Identifying themes will help you determine whether [negative comments] warrant a response. If multitudes of students note that they didn’t know what was expected of them or that you were disorganized, you’ll want to reflect on the area(s) identified. What might have given students that impression? And what steps might you take to improve or to alter their perception?

When you’ve identified all the themes, you can start to make a plan. Considering what students said was not working well for them, and their suggested improvements, which ones represent something you can change this semester; which ones would have to wait until the next time you teach the course; and which ones will actually need to stay the same for reasons you can help students to better understand? Answering these questions will also help you to respond.

If students share many good ideas for changes or additions to the course, that could also be overwhelming, so you’ll need to prioritize the changes that will have the most positive consequences for students’ learning and success this semester. For example, if students say they can’t understand the wording of the questions on the exams, that might be a more urgent issue to address than a few requests to stop having exams altogether (though that might be a change you could consider making in the future, too).

If students share concerns or suggest changes that you’re not sure how to address or incorporate, we can help! You can email us at to schedule a consultation before you respond to the class.

When you do respond to students, whether during class or in writing, it’s important to first thank them for their feedback and let them know you value it. Summarize the main themes in what you heard from them, so that they know you are listening. Next, let them know what you can change, what you can’t change right now, and why. Then, discuss the changes with them. What do they think about the adjustments you can make? You may even want to put some aspects to a vote. Some changes might also require updating Canvas, a project description, the pacing of the course, or something else. When you let students know what to expect for the rest of the semester, you can emphasize that their thoughtful feedback is now helping to shape the course.