Higher Education

How to Harness the Power of Student Feedback in Online Courses

How to Harness the Power of Student Feedback in Online Courses

In the past, gathering student feedback seemed simple. Universities sent out student evaluations at the end of the semester, you skimmed through the responses and made changes for the next semester. 

But with the switch to online learning, feedback is more vital than ever—and the ways in which your program has gathered student feedback in the past may not be enough. Below are some tips and tools to help you gather student feedback for your online courses.

Download our free guide: 5 Strategies for Interactive Learning in Hybrid and Online Courses 

Use Online Resources

If you’re teaching remotely, you no longer have the convenience of passing out slips of paper in the middle of the semester to gather feedback. Now you need to use online resources to gather the same results. Surveys, polls, and focus groups are a great way to collect student feedback and find out how your students are doing.


Surveys gather data and give students a way to voice their opinions. And creating a free survey is easy if you use tools like Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or TypeForm. As you use one of these new tools, explain the survey process to your students—how it will be administered, how many questions will be included, how much time it will take to complete, etc. And consider making your surveys anonymous—research shows that students give better feedback when it’s anonymous. 


Because you’re not seeing students face-to-face, you can use polls to frequently assess how your students are doing. Polls are essentially a one-question survey, so they’re a great option if you want student feedback on a specific assignment, activity, or lecture. Try Poll Maker or StrawPoll to create a free poll for your students and gather feedback quickly. 

Focus Groups

Politicians and marketing teams aren’t the only professionals that can benefit from focus groups. Focus groups will help you gather candid, in-depth student feedback. Set aside a time during a synchronous lecture to group your students into virtual breakout rooms. Have them share their course experiences. You may ask them to discuss what they think is going well, what could be improved, and what they’re doing to succeed.

Ask Open-Ended Questions 

No matter what resources you use to gather feedback online, make sure to include open-ended questions that ask about students’ experiences in your online course. Open-ended questions lead to more insightful feedback and give students a chance to fully express their thoughts, which is invaluable for newly online instructors. Here are a few examples of good questions to ask your students about their online/hybrid experience:

  • What do you think about the structure of this course?
  • How do you like the tools we’re using for this course?
  • Do you feel like you get enough one-on-one instruction?
  • What do you expect of me as a remote instructor?
  • What do you think is expected of you as a remote student?
  • Have you encountered any barriers to equity and accessibility during this course?
  • What do you like most about this course?
  • How do you think this course could be improved?

Gather Feedback Early and Take Action

Because teaching online is different than teaching face-to-face, feedback is critical to creating an engaging online experience. Rather than waiting until the end of the semester, collect student feedback early in order to refine your course. Give your students a few minutes during class to take a survey, answer a poll, or participate in a focus group discussion. You’ll be able to gather feedback easier if you set up a time during class for students to give feedback. 

Once the results are in, consider using some online platforms that allow you to summarize survey results in data tables and charts. This may help you to digest student feedback easier. Full-time teacher Vicki Davis explained how she uses the feedback she receives: “Instead of getting bogged down in the details, I’ll take the answers and paste each one into a text file. Then, I’ll paste them in Word Clouds to see trends.”

Once you’ve gathered your feedback, it’s time to take action. Use student feedback and insights to improve your online course throughout the semester. Ask yourself, “What else can I do to facilitate a positive online learning environment?”   

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, student feedback is more important than ever. By using online resources, asking open-ended questions, and gathering feedback early in the semester, student feedback can help make your online courses a success. You may need to make changes to how you gather feedback, but it’ll be well worth your time.