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Taking a Mid-Term Pulse in Your Online Class

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When I began teaching online some years ago, I was stunned by the absence of in-the-moment feedback I was used to from my face-to-face students. A raised eyebrow letting me know there was doubt in the student’s mind. Sleepy eyes indicating I needed to pick up the pace. Forehead in hands communicating it was all just a little bit too much. And, of course, the wide-open mouth revealing an “aha!” moment.

But in my online courses, all the student nonverbals were unavailable to me. A few weeks into the semester, I wondered if my online courses could be running off the rails without my knowledge. It was at that time that I started using a mid-term survey in all my online courses.

Mid-term surveys not only let me know how my courses are doing while there is still time to make any needed fixes; they also provide students with a chance to engage in some metacognition on their learning in the course. Below are 10 questions I include in my mid-term survey along with a brief rationale for each item:

1. On average, how many hours a week do you spend on this course (reading, studying, assignments, viewing lectures, taking quiz)?

(Options: 0-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 14+)

I place this as a first question to ground students in some self-reflection on their commitment to the course. It also helps me know if my workload expectations are appropriate on the whole.

2. Before starting this course, you may have had an idea on how easy or difficult it would be. Considering your current percentage on the assignments and quizzes so far, how do you feel you are doing?

(Options: about the same as I imagined I would, better than I thought I would, worse than I thought I would)

This brief question is a good window into the headspace of the student. In addition, I can combine data from the first two questions to get a good picture of each student. Spending 2-3 hours a week on the course and yet doing worse than expected? Or spending 8-9 hours a week and doing better than expected? These are distinctly different student profiles, and the rest of their answers on the survey can be interpreted in light of this information.

3. Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statement: This PSY 230 course is organized and easy-to-navigate.

(Options: strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree)

I just have to ask this up-front. If course navigation/organization isn’t working for the student, general dissatisfaction with the course is likely.

4. What aspects of the course do you find the most helpful?

(Open-ended response)

Obviously, I want to continue what is working well in the course. In truth, if the course is running well the responses to this prompt generally amount to a “lovefest.” And what instructor doesn’t need a mid-semester boost?

5. How could the course be improved to better support you?

(Open-ended response)

I always hold my breath when reading responses to this prompt, but they’re never that bad. I consider every criticism and evaluate if a change is needed. If certain themes emerge in the feedback, I am more likely to make changes. For example, a few years back I noticed a theme of students needing help with statistics vocabulary, and I went through my course materials and provided more clarity in my definitions.

6. Describe something you have learned so far in this course that is of value to you.

(Open-ended response)

The goal of this survey item is to assess what students see as instrumental in their learning. A side-benefit is I get a good feeling from seeing their real-life connections.

7. What is your most effective study strategy in this course? (In other words, what helps you to learn the material in this course?)

(Open-ended response)

I can separate out the students who are doing “about the same as -” or “better than they thought they would” in the course and gather study strategies to share with other students.

8. What advice would you offer future students entering this course?

 (Open-ended response)

I am trying out this question for the first time this semester. My goal is to collect advice for future students.

9. What is your age range?

(Options: under 18, 18-21, 22-25, 26-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, 61-70, 71+)

This is just a basic demographic question that helps me to see if students experience the course differently depending on their age range.

10. Do you have any other feedback for Dr. Duggan?

(Open-ended response)

Usually “lovefest, redux.” 

Tips for mid-term survey administration

I am happy to share the mid-term survey Canvas quiz export file with anyone who would like to import it into their courses. Just shoot me an e-mail at

What items would you add to the survey? Please write any suggestions in the Comments section.

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