Even though the first week of classes can be hectic for both teachers and students, it's worth your time and effort to set aside some time to ask your students for feedback before you even start in on course content.
Here are four key benefits to kicking off your semester with student input:
Valuable Insight. Starting the semester with a survey or questionnaire allows instructors to gain valuable insights into students' prior knowledge, goals, and challenges, enabling them to tailor their instruction to meet individual needs.
Student Engagement. Receiving input early on fosters a sense of ownership and engagement among students, empowering them to take an active role in their education.
Early Alert. Feedback during the first week can help instructors identify potential obstacles or misconceptions that students may have, enabling them to address them promptly and effectively.
Collaboration and Inclusion. Soliciting student input from day one builds a collaborative and inclusive learning environment, establishing a foundation of trust and open communication between the instructor and students.
The strategies you employ to get feedback will depend on what kinds of information you hope to get from your students and the particular questions you ask.
Below are several categories of questions you might consider:
Are there gaps in foundational knowledge that you can fill in or provide resources so students can catch up?
Assessing Prior Knowledge - Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation
Background Knowledge Probe - K. Patricia Cross Academy
How can you connect classroom learning with students’ interests and goals? What supports can you build into assignments or your course to help with learning needs?
Strengths and Needs Assessment - Bedell, Knight, Saks Pavese, & Wigglesworth, 2022
Business Technology “Sell Yourself” survey - Lake Washington Institute of Technology
Will your students have access to the things that make out-of-class learning possible? If not, what adjustments can you make?
Commitments Outside of College - According to Gallup, approximately 30% of college students, including those working towards a bachelor's degree, associate degree, certificate, or industry certification, indicate that they are either parents of minor children or caregivers for adults. Among students pursuing an associate degree program, this percentage leaps to 42%. Understanding what other responsibilities are competing for students' time can help you anticipate pinch points in the semester or alleviate the need for conversations about arriving late/leaving early or assignment extensions.
Inclusive Teaching - First-week questionnaires like the Who’s in Class? form help instructors foster an inclusive learning environment early on and throughout a course by increasing their awareness of the diverse assets that their students bring to the classroom. While some approaches use anonymous surveys and encourage instructors to look at results in aggregate, there are many advantages to providing opportunities for students to (voluntarily) identify themselves. Many instructors have adapted the Who’s in Class? form into a non-anonymous course survey to develop a better understanding of their students.
Who’s in Class? Form - Lafayette Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship
An essential piece of seeking input from students is asking questions that provide you with actionable information. In other words, don't ask a question unless you are willing or able to provide resources, support, or adjustments to your class in response to what you learn about your students.
For example, students might disclose:
I have a disability, either invisible or visible.
I am a "quiet" student, meaning that I re-energize from having time alone.
I engage in religious or spiritual practices that may impact my ability to attend or my performance in class.
I have dependents that I take care of outside of school.
My preference for class assignments is to complete them by typing rather than handwriting.
If you are unsure how to use what you learn to develop a plan of action for the semester, reach out to the Faculty Chair of Professional Development or the appropriate campus support area (e.g., Center for Access and Accommodations, Veterans Services, Learning Commons, Homeless and At-Risk Student Liaison).
First Day Questionnaire Planning Tool - COD Faculty Development
This FPD resource will help you design a survey that solicits useful information from your students.
A Tool to Advance Inclusive Teaching Efforts: The “Who’s in Class?” Form - Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education
(8 min read)
This article describes the administration of and findings from implementing the “Who’s in Class? Form” during the shift to remote teaching in Spring 2020.
How to Teach a Good First Day of Class - Chronicle of Higher Education
(23 min read)
This Chronicle Advice Guide isn’t necessarily focused on feedback but James Lang (Small Teaching) shares four principles that help set the stage for a feedback-friendly class.
Launching Your Course [requires COD login]
from Inclusive Teaching: Strategies for Promoting Equity in the College Classroom (2022) by Kelly A. Hogan and Vijy Sathy
An inclusive perspective on learning more about your students before the start of the semester and during the first week. The authors provide ample strategies as well as an instructor checklist