Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Kresge Library, Room 430
100 Library Drive
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4479
(location map)
(248) 370-2751
[email protected]

Speech bubbles with question marks

Ask Students Early On: From a Simple Form to Open Response

Wed Aug 12, 2020 at 07:30 AM

Every semester we are met with brand new students who come to our classes with different experiences, expectations, concerns, and abilities. Getting a snapshot of who they are can help inform our expectations and approaches so that we have a successful class that engages student learning. So as you are making decisions about the semester ahead, ask students early on about what they are bringing to the course.

Asking students brings the added benefit of building anticipation and reflection, both important for learning focus and retention. 

Two simple ways to get early input from your students is by giving a simple form or providing an open answer prompt.

The Form

Giving students a simple form with some basic questions has the benefit of being easy for students and giving you a glance at students’ overall answers. OU faculty can select the Preparing for the Semester form in OU’s Google Form templates, edit and add questions, then distribute it to their students via email or in email. The questions here provide a broad range of what you may want to know based on a variety of class types, such as:

  • What has your experience been with this course subject in the past?
  • What do you hope to get out of this course?
  • What technology do you have regular, personal access to? (Select all that apply.)
  • If our class goes online, what timezone would you be in?
  • What concerns do you have coming into this semester?

If you are teaching classes on campus, asking students what technology they bring to class can help you consider whether interactive polls with phones will be a viable option for engagement. If you are teaching online, asking students if they have taken an online class before will help you gauge where students might need more structured explanation of how Moodle works.

Whatever your questions, consider the importance of anonymity when asking questions. Some students may not want to reveal information you are asking if you are requiring they share their name or email. If you want to use this type of form to get to know each student, ask questions that allow students to choose which questions they answer or that have open response fields.

The Open Response

If you want to skip the form, you can give students a prompt to which they can provide an open response. While responses can still be anonymous, students may be more inclined to share personal identifiers, as they can choose how they answer the prompt. You might even allow students to submit their pieces in a format other than text-based writing, such as audio or video. Prompts might be something like:

  • Tell me a little bit about yourself (major, interests, etc.), what you hope to get out of the class, and any concerns you might have for the semester ahead.
  • What are you anticipating about the semester ahead, in this class and beyond?

Prompts don’t necessarily have to be traditional introduction prompts like these, but something more creative. Past OU guest speaker Bryan Dewsbury asks students to write This I Believe essays, even in his large biology courses. 

Whether a form, prompt, or something else, reaching out to students to ask them about their experience and input not only gives them the buy-in to know they are being heard, but starts the semester on a note of caring and support, what we and our students won’t be able to get enough of this academic year.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

Written and designed by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University.  Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC View all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips . Follow these and more on Facebook , Twitter , and LinkedIn .