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Decoding and Responding to Common Student Feedback

Decoding and Responding to Common Student Feedback

Student comments can be vague, confusing, or hard to decipher. Students may have a hard time verbalizing what they find difficult. Here are examples of common feedback from students, what it may mean, and strategies to assist you with responding and developing a course of action.

Student Comment What it May Mean Strategies
Instructor doesn’t use enough examples. If you’re using examples and receive this feedback, it could be an issue of students being unable to transfer concepts into novel contexts. Here is a list of strategies that you can use to encourage transfer.
Instructor is disorganized. If you spend time organizing your course content and class sessions and still receive this feedback, organization may not be apparent to students.
  • Explain pedagogical choices and changes (especially changes to the syllabus) to students.
  • Display agendas at the beginning of classes.
  • Utilize transparent assignment design to help students understand your expectations.
Instructor is confusing. If you have already made your assignments transparent and have offered multiple opportunities to go over material, then students may need additional scaffolding/content scaffolding and chances to learn with peers.
  • Provide a Q&A discussion on Canvas and encourage students to both post questions and answer questions.
  • Get a feel for what students already know about content you’re offering and where more review might be necessary by having students create concept maps linking ideas and relationships between them.
  • At the end of lectures, etc. try to get a feel for student understanding through a poll or peer to peer discussion. Students can also share the “muddiest point” of the lecture.
Instructor is inaccessible/ unapproachable. If you have already been clear about your office hours and different forms of communication, this might be an instance of needing to check in with students and reminding them of ways to contact you.
  • Periodically remind students of how you can be reached whether that is via email or through Canvas.
  • It’s helpful to reach out to students periodically to offer updates/reminders. You can choose to do this weekly or coincide with assignment due dates
  • Early course evaluations, mid-course or quick polls can give you a sense of what student needs may be and aids in instructor approachability.
The Canvas course shell is disorganized. Students don’t know where to find information. The Canvas course shell may be disorganized or difficult to navigate or the students may just lack familiarity with Canvas.
The syllabus is confusing. Students may be confused if the syllabus is outdated or incomplete.
  • Double-check the syllabus to ensure that content and dates are correct and up-to-date. You can use the Teaching Center’s syllabus checklist to check current guidelines and policy language.
  • If you change the syllabus during the term, communicate changes to students beforehand and explain why you’ve made them.
  • If you change the syllabus during the term, replace the old syllabus with an updated version in your Canvas course shell immediately.
The instructor talks too fast. In some cases, this may be a language difference between native and non-native English speakers, but often, this can be a sign that students cannot keep up with the pace of class sessions.
  • Create lesson plans to help you be intentional about pacing class sessions.
  • Connect new concepts to what you already covered in class.
  • Pause regularly to formatively assess student understanding.
Feedback isn’t helpful. This statement could refer to the content, timeliness, or location/method of delivery of feedback.
  • Feedback should identify and explain strengths and areas for improvement, and offer specific suggestions for improvement. Avoid non-specific positive or negative feedback.
  • Try using rubrics to clarify your expectations and offer efficient, detailed feedback.
  • At the beginning of the semester, tell students how long it will take you to provide feedback on assessments. Be realistic and stick to the time frame you’ve communicated.
  • Provide students with tutorials or demonstrations of how and where to access feedback. Students will often see global comments, but miss annotations or comments on rubrics in Canvas.

Requests for additions to this document? Email Lindsay Onufer at

*Examples of common comments received on teaching and course evaluations.

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