Use Formative Course Feedback From Students

Use Formative Course Feedback From Students

Table of Contents

You can learn a great deal about how your students are learning in a course and what adjustments both you and your students might make by asking your students to give your course a mid-term evaluation or periodic feedback.

Using a formative course feedback tool creates an excellent opportunity to discuss the shared responsibility for teaching and learning in a course. You can describe what changes you will (or will not) implement due to their feedback and why.

Below we share the Plus/Delta feedback tool, the Critical Incident Questionnaire (Brookfield, 2017), and a few other examples. You will also see how to deliver, collect the typically anonymous responses, review, and summarize the main findings.

Select a feedback tool

Plus/Delta Assessment

The Plus/Delta feedback tool (sometimes called Plus/Change) identifies what is going well and what needs to be changed. This tool asks students to reflect on their continuous improvement and inform the changes needed to achieve higher performance levels for both the instructor and students. It helps students to think about their responsibility to the course and what they should continue doing to learn (PLUS), and what they need to change for the course to improve for them (DELTA) (Helminski & Koberna, 1995).

Timing: Distributed once around midterm.

Delivery: CELT created the Plus/Delta tool as an online survey import from Canvas Commons because many instructors and departments use it at Iowa State University. If you prefer it on paper, download the Plus/Delta on a full sheet (PDF) or half-sheet (PDF), or students can divide a sheet of paper into quadrants (table below).

How it works on paper

  • On the upper-left quadrant, the student identifies what is working to enhance learning in the course.
  • In the lower-left quadrant, the student writes what the student is doing to improve their learning in the course.
  • The student identifies what needs to change or improve in the course or teaching approach to enhance learning in the upper right quadrant.
  • The student identifies what they need to change or improve to their learning in the lower-right quadrant.
Plus Delta
What is helping me to learn in this class? What changes are needed in this course to improve learning?
What am I doing to improve my learning in the course? What do I need to do to improve my learning in this course?

Brookfield Critical Incidence Questionnaire (CIQ)

The Critical Incident Questionnaire (Brookfield, 2017) is done periodically and has five questions:

  • At what moment in class did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  • At what moment in the class were you most distanced from what was happening?
  • What action that anyone (teacher or student) took this week did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action that anyone took this week did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What about the class this week surprised you the most? (This could be about your reactions to what went on, something that someone did, or anything else)

Stop, start, and continue tool

  • Stop: What do you wish we would stop doing?
  • Start: What do you wish we would start doing?
  • Continue: What do you wish we would continue doing?

Midterm survey from University of Pittsburgh

“At this point in the semester, your instructor would like to know:

  • What is helping you to learn in this class?
  • What is making learning difficult?
  • What changes could be made to help you learn?
  • At this point in the semester, what do you still find confusing or unclear?
  • What steps could you take to improve your own learning in this course?”

Determine the delivery method

Typically an anonymous feedback survey will be delivered on paper, using Top Hat, a Canvas survey, or an online Qualtrics form. This method allows students a safe way to give voice to their concerns. However, anonymity is not a requirement. For example, you could draw a four-quadrant chart on a dry erase board and students can verbally offer responses or meet small groups of students online for unrecorded feedback check-ins.

Steps to import and publish the Plus/Delta or CIQ in Canvas

You can access Canvas Commons in Canvas to directly import either the Plus/Delta or the Critical Incident Questionnaire survey into your course. If you have questions, email – this goes directly to our Instructional Designers and creates a ServiceNow ticket for easy tracking.

How to import the Plus/Delta or CIQ from Canvas Commons

  1. Read the import and view a Commons resource in Canvas guide.
  2. Log into Canvas
  3. Click on Canvas Commons (far left of your screen above Help and Studio)
  4. Navigate or search for either of these tools:
    1. Plus Delta: Plus Delta Canvas Version (Import to your course) page.
    2. CIQ: Brookfield’s Critical Incident Questionnaire Canvas Version (Import to your course) page.

How to locate the imported surveys

You will find the surveys in Quizzes in your course. They are by default unpublished to make changes as needed to the surveys as needed and publish it when it is ready. For more details on how to do that, you may refer to the edit details section to create a survey in my course guide.

Create and publish a survey in Canvas

If you want to use the Pittsburgh feedback tool, the Stop, start and continue tool, or one of your feedback tools, use the create a survey in Canvas guide.

How to download the survey results from Canvas

Follow the view survey results in a Canvas course guide.

Motivate students to give feedback

Let students know that participating in a purposeful assessment paired with constructive feedback can help them identify and address their achievement gaps for learning. Share that once collected; you will review and summarize themes and share it back during class.

Review the responses

For questions with written responses, review all the answers for each question looking for themes. One strategy is to put the responses in a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet and then search for particular words or phrases. Use the free Wordclouds generator to see many times specific phrases come up and which appear most frequently. 

As you review the feedback, consider: 

  • What you can’t change
  • What you can change this term
  • Which student suggestions you are willing to try out even if they require a new teaching approach
  • What you can’t change until the next time you teach the course

Here are typical questions and themes to look for in responses in a Plus/Delta:

  • What is helping me to learn in this class? Look for examples of things that are going well. Do students appreciate the organization or structure? The assignments? Your interaction with them? The readings? Or, the problem sets?
  • What changes are needed in this course to improve learning? Students may comment on lectures, the pacing or structure, homework, readings, problem sets, etc. Students often need clarification on expectations, reasons for giving specific assignments, assessing assignments, etc. Try to identify a few things that students say are not going well, and think about what you can do to address them. Don’t try to do too much. Ask for clarification if you need more information.
  • What am I doing to improve my learning in the course? Perhaps they will note that they should do the assigned reading, be on time for synchronous sessions in Webex/Zoom, or blocking times on their calendars to complete the work.
  • What do I need to do to improve my learning in this course? Identify a few things you want to share as strategies for success (e.g., let you know when they are confused about an assignment or attend your student office hours).

Summarize and share

Remember, instead of raw survey results or data, even in aggregate, share HOW you will respond to what you learned from the data. For example, rather than showing a data point that indicates that 60% of students agreed that the instructions for completing assignments are clear, communicate a plan for how you will clarify assignments and expectations. When you share what you learned with your students, thank them for their feedback and for taking the time to submit it. Let them know that while you read all of their comments, you will not be able to respond to each one. Remind them that the feedback was anonymous, so you will not identify who submitted the feedback when you reply to it. Then, depending on your comfort level and readiness, you can share your response at varying levels of specificity. Finally, remind them that you continue to welcome feedback at any time during the semester.  Below are some examples of language you can use:
  • If you plan to make a change right away: “I heard from a majority of you that the instructions for the week three lab were not clear, so I will add some more detail to the lab assignments that are upcoming.”
  • If you plan to make a change but aren’t yet sure how: “I’m still thinking about X and will follow up soon.”
  • If you received feedback about something that you can’t change: “It sounds like many of you want X, and unfortunately, that’s not possible. Here’s why.”

Sharing student strategies for success

Sharing the feedback also allows the students to see what their classmates are doing that helps them learn in the course and what they think they need to change to be more successful in the class. Often, hearing these strategies from their peers is more powerful than getting the instructor’s advice. Are you interested in seeing how it works? Read the CELT Teaching Tip Midterms: A valuable time for formative assessment web post.

Brookfield, S. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher / Stephen Brookfield. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. (2017). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (Vol. Second edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from

Helminski, L. & Koberna, S. (1995). Total quality in instruction: A systems approach. In H. V. Roberts (Ed.), Academic initiatives in total quality for higher education (pp. 309-362). Milwaukee, WI: ASQC Quality Press.

Huba, M. E., & Freed, J. E. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses: shifting the focus from teaching to learning. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Use formative course feedback from students, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University, is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Use formative course feedback from students, is a derivative of Course feedback & evaluation developed by Iowa State University’s College of Human Sciences’ Online and Distance Learning (retrieved on March 3, 2021) from, and Gathering midterm student feedback during remote learning developed by Tufts University Teaching@Tufts (retrieved on March 4, 2021) from