Interpreting Student Feedback

Created by Laura Schmidli and Molly Harris.

Once you have collected feedback from students, what do you do next? How do you know what is important? How do you decide what to change? How do you respond to students?

In the busy rush of the semester, it can be difficult to solicit feedback from students, and even more difficult to make the time to interpret and respond to that feedback. If you are reviewing end-of-semester feedback, it can also be difficult to balance this with other responsibilities and taking time off. Reviewing feedback from students can feel overwhelming, but a few strategies can make this task less stressful.

Strategies for Interpreting and Responding to Feedback

1. Reflect before you read feedback

Before reading student evaluations, take time to consider your perceptions of the course. How do you think students are performing? Which course components are going well? What might you want to change? This can help ground you and set your expectations before you consider others’ perspectives.

2. Focus on student learning

Ideally, the questions you asked students steered them toward providing feedback on how the class helps them learn. Before you review student feedback, re-read your questions or prompts. As you review student responses, look for themes in terms of what helps student learning and what hinders it. This can help you sift out personal comments or those that focus solely on students’ likes and dislikes. Remember that it is common to receive some negative feedback, and to have an emotional reaction to that. If you find it difficult to read or interpret feedback, consider asking a colleague or an IDC staff member to help you review and categorize comments.

3. Gather individual positive comments

While you are reading comments at a high level, you may want to highlight those that are particularly positive and substantive. Many instructors find saving these comments in a running document to be motivational and helpful for future promotion opportunities.

4. Don’t review all feedback in one sitting

Once you’ve completed an initial reading of student feedback, take a break. This can help you process your emotions and be more objective when you return to categorize feedback and consider what changes you might make.

5. Focus on patterns instead of individual comments

When you return to engage more deeply with the feedback, consider using a matrix like the example below to find themes. This can help you understand which strengths and weaknesses are common and which are outliers.

Key themes Positive / Strengths  Negative / Weaknesses  Notes to self
Interactions, climate, engagement What’s helping students learn? What’s hindering student learning? What might you change or keep the same?
Organization & clarity
Content
Assignments

6. Balance student perceptions with other data

As you focus on patterns in student feedback, consider what other information you have to confirm these impressions. Assignment scores over time, final grades, and instructor and TA perceptions during class are examples of other information you may rely on to evaluate the effectiveness of an activity or teaching strategy.

7. Communicate with students

If you have solicited student feedback during the semester (e.g., mid-semester survey), remember to communicate with students afterwards. This communicates to students that their input does matter, can help build trust between students and instructors, and can help students consider their own learning more deeply. You should thank students for sharing, and then let students know what you heard and what you will do (or won’t do) in response. If you received contradictory feedback from students, sharing that can help students think more critically about their learning and take others’ perspectives. Communicating about feedback can take the form of a short presentation in class, an Announcement in Canvas, or an email.

Focus on three categories:

  • What you will keep doing to help students learn
  • What you will change to help students learn (now, or in a future semester)
  • What you’ve heard but won’t change, and why

8. Make changes

Follow through on any changes you have communicated to your students or planned for future semesters as a result of feedback.

9. Reflect again

At the end of the semester consider writing a reflective memo or updating your syllabus. A memo can help you consolidate what you have learned from student feedback, provide you with goals for the next time you teach, and even provide an artifact to share with others in your department – e.g., colleagues who will teach the course in the future. Updating your syllabus will help you start your next semester with clearer communication to your students about how you teach, including how you use their feedback to improve.

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References & Further Reading

Published December 2022

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How to Cite and Re-Use this Guide

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. This means that you are welcome to adopt and adapt content, but we ask that you provide attribution to the L&S Instructional Design Collaborative and do not use the material for commercial purposes.

Example attribution: From Interpreting Student Feedback by the L&S Instructional Design Collaborative, licensed under the BY-NC 4.0 license.

Example APA citation: Schmidli, L. & Harris, M. (December 2022). Interpreting Student Feedback. L&S Instructional Design Collaborative. https://idc.ls.wisc.edu/guides/interpreting-student-feedback/