Early Feedback

Asking students for feedback early in the term enables you to adjust your teaching in time to make a difference. While student feedback is only one way to determine how well your students are learning from your class –and an indirect one at that– it is useful to ask them.

The Bok Center encourages all teachers to ask students for feedback in the third or fourth week of class.

Designing the Feedback Form

Student feedback is especially effective when it addresses specifics of a given course. A sample form, such as Form 1 below, typically provides enough information. The Bok Center can help you design a survey to address the varied aspects to inform you about the students' experience in your class, including:

  • course organization
  • effectiveness of teaching
  • readings and assignments
  • student learning
  • student workload and effort.

Please email bokcenter@fas.harvard.edu to set up an appointment. Peruse the sample forms in the menu at left as well as our Gallery of Feedback Questions as a starting point for developing your own form.

Telling Your Students about Early Feedback – Before and After

Explain that the comments are for you, that you take them seriously, and that you will try to make changes based on their suggestions and your goals for the course.

Talk to the students after reviewing their comments. Let them know the range of responses– students may be surprised that there are students on both sides of most issues, which can help them appreciate your need to teach to all students. Mention positive comments as well as problems that you cannot do anything about (and why), and discuss in class or over email any changes that you will try to make.

Reviewing the Responses

Research shows that student feedback is most effective when accompanied with a conversation with a "disinterested party" to help the teacher interpret students' comments. Such a discussion can help for various reasons:

  • students' comments usually require some interpretation
  • teachers often focus on the outliers–the single best or worst individual responses–to the exclusion of the majority
  • students' responses frequently do not follow a normal distribution; bimodality and other irregularities may in fact be the most relevant result, more readily spotted by a trained eye
  • generating strategies to respond to the students' comments and to improve the class

We invite you to review the feedback with a Bok Center staff person or Department TF. To arrange a meeting, please email bokcenter@fas.harvard.edu.