Improving the Online Student Feedback System

In my previous post, I shared about how student feedback on modules are important in shaping the way we teach and learn at NUS.


Some time ago, the NUS Teaching Academy initiated a few projects to review existing processes pertaining to teaching and learning in the university. A sub-committee was convened to reflect on and review the current student feedback system. For those who are not familiar with the Academy, it is a unit established in 2009 to foster a culture of teaching excellence and enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the University, among other objectives.


After scrutinising the system we are currently using to collate and analyse feedback on our modules on a semestral basis, the Teaching Academy Fellows in the sub-committee highlighted two key discernible trends:


1. Student feedback response rates have been on the decline in recent years, especially for advanced level modules. The sub-committee noticed that while Year 1 students have generally been quite enthusiastic about providing feedback, the response rate for undergraduates typically decreases sharply after the second year, and dips to about 40% by the final year. A high student response rate is generally desired because it helps the University to enhance the quality of teaching and learning.


As I had mentioned in an earlier post, we constantly encourage our Departments to reflect on the student feedback received. We are now asking our colleagues to actively communicate to students, the changes and enhancements that have resulted from student feedback. Through this, I hope that students can see the value of their participation in the Online Student Feedback Exercise. Notwithstanding, I welcome ideas on how we can motivate students to participate in the Student Feedback Exercise.


2. Comments provided by students could be more informative about the quality of teaching and quality of modules. While the majority of comments have been constructive, some comments are too vague while others leave remarks that are irrelevant to the content, design or delivery of the module concerned.


Some examples of feedback that are less helpful but might make interesting reading tend to be along the following lines:

  • “the lecturer dresses really well for a small class”
  • “the lecturer needs to cut down on his intake of Coke”, and
  • “the lecturer’s jokes are not funny”.

We certainly would not want to prescribe or conscribe student’s expressions and feedback. At the same time, we hope that students can give constructive feedback and suggestions that directly address teaching and the curriculum, so that Departments and lecturers can take action to act on the feedback received, to deliver a better learning experience when the module is next conducted.


Taking these issues into consideration, the Teaching Academy has made several recommendations to improve the Student Feedback system. In consultation with a student team, they have also redesigned the questions to make them more comprehensive, and made the user interface more intuitive, streamlined and attractive to students.


Screenshot of the current interface


Screenshot of the new interface


The refinements to the Online Student Feedback Exercise are a continual process. Another feature that we hope to introduce, possibly from AY2014/15, is the addition of a section on teacher attributes, where students can select multiple descriptors that most appropriately describes the learning outcomes facilitated by the teacher.


My colleagues and I are always on the lookout for better ways of imparting knowledge to our students – this is at the heart of what we do as educators. A more efficient and effective student feedback system would go a long way towards achieving this aim. Your feedback is important to us, and my colleagues and I look forward to receiving your comments in the upcoming Online Student Feedback Exercise.



  1. Since the students feedbacks are valuable to the university, it may be a good idea to appreciate students feedback by some lucky draws. Another idea is that students who participated in the feedback survey can access their results one week erlier than others who did not participated. But the most important thing in the feedbacks are their confidentiality which it should be stated very clearly in the feedback forms.
    Best regards,

  2. Why are we ‘bell curving’ the new assessment? Somehow it feels somewhat wrong to rate a teacher as ‘Neutral’ just because the majority of my teachers so far have been really good.

    Also, to increase response rate, putting the response period as the post exam period really would help things… as students go through their years the amount of stuff to do/study increases… so it wouldn’t be exactly very surprising if at the later years people don’t respond as often. In addition the bid point enticement becomes kind of irrelevant when someone has 2400 points to spare, but it’s far more enticing to a year 1 who doesn’t ever want to run the risk of being unable to take a module by a few bid points.

    Also, from the ‘impact of feedback’ point of view people will generally be more willing to respond if they feel what they do has an impact. However, stating the feedback from previous years as much would not have the same impact than if we knew what we wrote directly affected the teachers in some objective way. Say… redistribution of research funding, so even those who prefer to focus on research than teaching would have an added incentive to also teach well. Just a random idea.

    At present as what we feedback doesn’t directly benefit lecturers that did well (except the additional optional section on recommending teachers for teaching awards), or directly apply any pressure on those who could have improved their approach more, the incentive to feedback is somewhat less strong. After all improvements to a module to ‘possibly benefit future batches’ with whom we have little or no communication is far less relevant to responders than impacts on the lecturers – whom we know, and whom we would care about.

  3. “Give Strongly Agree rating if the teacher’s performance falls in the Top 10% …”

    Ah-ha, it’s OUR turn to bell-curve them now!

  4. Then show students in a concrete way that the lecturers have worked and improved with the feedback. One of the reasons why response rate is low is because the feedback appears to be useless.
    Additionally, an end-of-semester feedback has little value to the students who are doing the feedback. Instead, have a mini mid-semester feedback so that lecturers get a sense of what they are doing well and where they need improvement. This way, students still have the second half of the semester to benefit from their feedback.

  5. Good evening Professor.

    I think one significant (but probably not the greatest) reason why the feedback system isn’t working out… are the questions in the survey. The more the descriptors try to achieve, the more complex they are, and the less likely I, as the student, is going to go through before closing the survey unfinished.

    The descriptors are wordy and boring, and at first glance are simply masses of text that make me want to close the survey.

    I suggest taking out the “this teacher has…” and “this teacher is…”

    and replacing it with key words. So it might be:

    This teacher:
    – inspires my intellectual passion
    – is effective
    – is approachable for consultation
    – inspires me to think across disciplines

    Alternatively, simply:
    encourages creativity
    encourages lateral thinking


  6. I think all modules held in an LT should be webcasted. If language modules can be recorded and webcasted, awesome. If every tutorial can be webcasted as well, that’s really awesome too.

    Personally, I’m not so interested in whether a lecturer teaches exceptionally well or not. If he’s boring and I loses attention halfway, that’s fine. I can just go back and rewatch that segment.

    Even for professors who teach well, when I rewatch their lectures at the end of the term, just before the exams, I realise I appreciate what they were saying so much more.

    So, if anything, I encourage every lesson to be webcasted as the rule of thumb. I know some lecturers prefer not to webcast, whether it’s because it’s their first time giving a lecture or because they want students to come for their lectures.

    But seriously, those reasons are selfish. Because…

    -A student watching at 2x speed could have gone through the same lecture twice in the same duration.
    -When a student miss something crucial in a lecture cannot follow the discussion afterwards, time is wasted. With webcast, problem solved.
    -Sometimes students don’t have enough time to copy down extra information said by the lecturer. Being able to pause is awesome.

    The list goes on..

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