Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Early Course Feedback

Collecting Early Course Feedback (ECF) from your students is an opportunity to learn about how your students are experiencing your course. A well-designed process for ECF asks students for strengths and suggestions related to their learning in the course. The data provide formative and actionable feedback intended to help an instructor or instructional team make small, but impactful adjustments during the course. 

An Eberly colleague can administer the ECF on an instructor’s request, acting as a liaison between the students and the instructor while collaborating and strategizing with the instructor regarding how to respond. Alternatively, an ECF can be conducted by the course instructor using a simple survey. Regardless of which approach you choose, conducting an ECF will give you a window into students’ experiences in the classroom and their perceptions of their learning experience.

The table below highlights some of the differences between the most common approaches.  

Eberly-Led Focus Group Eberly-Led ECF Survey Faculty-LED ECF Survey
Early Course Feedback asks students about aspects of the course that are helping them and what suggestions they have for potential improvements for their learning. Targeted questions that you as the instructor may have can also be woven in. An ECF Focus Group facilitated by an Eberly colleague asks similar questions to the survey format but invites students to work in groups to report on their experiences in the class.

A simple anonymous survey. An Eberly Colleague is available to facilitate this and help with analysis.

A simple anonymous survey the instructor distributes and analyzes on your own to students.
In-Class time 20-25 minutes 5-10 minutes 5-10 minutes

Asks about strengths/suggestions related to learning 

Provides formative feedback to inform course adjustments

Allows for consensus polling on emerging topics/trends


Includes the opportunity to ask for more information and examples to elicit more specific, actionable feedback


Invites alternative perspectives where appropriate during class debrief


Eberly colleague analyzes and further anonymizes raw data 


Eberly colleague collaborates with you to create action-plan


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Request an Early Course Feedback Focus Group

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 See our Faculty-led ECF Survey and tips for analyzing the data if you'd like to do it yourself. 


Choosing how to collect feedback depends on a variety of factors. Use the table above to consider the various benefits of different options. An Eberly consultant can also help you choose the best format for your course and goals.
When writing targeted questions, consider what you will do with what you learn and then choose additional questions carefully. Avoid asking specific questions about aspects of the course you cannot change or are not prepared to change based on student feedback.
When an Eberly colleague supports your ECF, they will administer the survey during class or facilitate an ECF-Focus Group, depending on the format you collaboratively select. When reviewing the feedback, an Eberly colleague aims to be the voice of students and to help you understand and effectively interpret the feedback. Their role is not to evaluate your performance, but instead to help you explore the pros and cons of evidence-based strategies in response to student feedback and to formulate a plan for how to talk with students about the feedback afterwards.
No. When you work with an Eberly consultant to collect feedback, they will only share the students’ feedback with the instructor or instructional team. 
The ideal time in a semester-long course to conduct an ECF is typically between weeks 4-8 or in a mini course in weeks 3 or 4. Consider selecting a point in the semester after students have become familiar with the structure of the course and have received feedback on their work but when there is still time to make adjustments based on the students’ feedback. 
Whether you administer the survey yourself or collaborate with an Eberly colleague, reserving time during class ensures the feedback best represents the full range of students’ experiences. Response rates tend to drop significantly when students are expected to complete the survey outside of class time. For these reasons, Eberly-supported formats require using in-class time for data collection.
If in-class time is limited, consider choosing a format that requires less in-class time. Eberly consultants regularly facilitate in-class ECFs in mini courses and can work with you to use class time thoughtfully while also inviting formative and actionable feedback.
You might choose to conduct an ECF in a particular course you are teaching for a variety of reasons. For example, when teaching a new or significantly revised course, an ECF is one way you can learn about students’ experience of that shift in design. The ECF can also be tailored to focus on a few specific changes you made or new course elements you incorporated. If you are teaching multiple courses in a single semester and using the same course design approach (e.g., lectures with exams for both courses), choosing just one course in which to conduct an ECF often makes sense. You can then extrapolate results across courses.
Doing an ECF across at least 2 iterations of a single course, especially if you have made changes after the first offering, can be beneficial to illuminate how the students’ experience has changed or what new themes emerge in their feedback. After 2 semesters of stable data in a single course, you may consider pivoting to a different course or taking a break until substantive changes are made to the course.
An Eberly consultant may occasionally visit CMU-Q’s Doha campus. During these visits, in-person ECF Focus Groups would be available to interested faculty. A consultant is also available to work with you to design effective surveys and can support you ​​remotely to facilitate in-class surveys or focus groups when the time zone difference permits.
Speaking with students after you’ve reviewed their feedback, regardless of how the feedback was collected, is important for closing the loop and assuring students they were heard. Responding to students can range from thanking them for their feedback and letting them know you are taking it into consideration to sharing specific changes you have planned in response to their suggestions and/or explaining, where appropriate, why certain changes are not possible. When working with an Eberly colleague, they will help you formulate and plan your response.
Students may identify things they like and don’t like about a course in addition to those things that are helping them learn. Consider why students might have made certain suggestions and if there are opportunities to reframe or share the rationale behind those aspects of the course. When designing your survey or identifying topics for your Eberly facilitator to highlight in a focus group, avoid asking directly about aspects of the course you cannot or will not change.
Students may identify things they like and don’t like about a course in addition to those things that are helping (or would help) them learn. Where possible, consider sharing with students your reasons for relevant course design decisions. Students tend to respect honesty and transparency even if your choices do not align with their preference. Recognize and honor that the students’ feedback reflects their experience, and avoid language that may be perceived as accusatory or dismissive.
There may be different reasons that some strengths or suggestions appear to garner less consensus than others. In some cases a small number of students may make a suggestion that could benefit all students in the class (although that change may not be popular with the majority). In other instances, the experiences of only a few students could have critical implications that should be addressed (e.g., students feeling marginalized or disrespected). While consensus is one way to measure impact, students and their experiences are diverse. When interpreting feedback quantitatively, remember to consider how continuing or changing a particular teaching practice would enhance student learning, equity, or inclusion.
It is normal to be nervous about getting feedback from students. Students overwhelmingly appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback. That said, thoughtfully responding to students after you have reviewed their feedback is a critical step in assuring students they were heard. Thank students for providing feedback that is true to their experience. When students’ suggestions are not feasible within the semester, acknowledge you heard them. Be transparent about those things you can and will change in response to their feedback. Students assume you are asking for feedback because you are willing to consider changes. If you are not willing or able to make any changes, an ECF may not be the best option.
No. An important feature of ECF is student anonymity.
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