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Early class surveys – why and how

January 3, 2013

Spring classes start soon and one of the most important early tasks for teachers is getting to know their students. Many faculty members like to give out a survey of some kind on the first or second day of class. This activity can help in lots of ways.

  • Make a good first impression – start to show students you care. If the classroom climate is positive, then students are more likely to ask questions and share their thoughts.
  • Help students get to know each other. This can help build group cohesion, laying the groundwork for collaborative projects.
  • Learn about student interests and motivation for learning. It’s good to be reminded that students are different from each other — and from us!
  • Identify questions and misconceptions students have about the course.
  • Collect baseline data on prior knowledge. This can identify areas that need more or less emphasis.

survey Image

What kinds of questions could you ask? There’s a long list of ideas at the end of the article. You can also click the image above to see a survey I used in one course.

These surveys are most effective if you actually use what you learn – and students realize you are doing so. For starters, you can incorporate anonymous data into class examples and explicitly answer questions that students raise about the course.

How to gather data

One can certainly use pen and paper; you’re most likely to get a complete set of responses if students fill out a survey during class. On the other hand, you may not want to use class time. Having students respond online takes the activity out of the classroom and saves you the trouble of entering data. Here are some tools you could use.

  1. Poll Everywhere – poses one question at a time.
  2. Socrative – a polling tool that lets you create multi-question surveys
  3. Google Forms – creates a form that saves data in a spreadsheet.
  4. SurveyMonkey – provides more elaborate features but may require a fee.
  5. Sakai (or Blackboard, D2L, etc.) – lets you conduct multiple online activities in one place.

Learn more

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2013 3:27 pm

    Reblogged this on teachingandlearningatmsu and commented:
    In addition to surveying, a previous blog post of mine recommends sending out an introductory email a week or more prior to the beginning of class. Read more here: …The importance of establishing a positive and comfortable communication climate cannot be overstated. Thanks for the list of tips!


  1. Back to school reading | NspireD2: Learning Technology in Higher Ed.
  2. Starting Strong on Day One | Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence
  3. Early class surveys – why and how | KOILS |

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