Intro Course Surveys
Intro surveys are a pedagogical tool that instructors can use to solicit key information from their students at the beginning of the semester. They are usually formatted like a conventional online survey (Google Forms, Qualtrics Survey etc.) and can include both multiple choice or short answer questions, depending on the needs and the size of the course.
You can use the survey as a tool to get a general overview of the incoming class in terms of their interests and/or preparation, as well as set the tone for the semester and give the students a chance to share key information with you and/or your teaching team.
Students remark that hearing from their instructors directly early on in the term can ease nerves and make the instructor feel more approachable. In addition, students say that getting the sense their instructors care about students’ input and responses can help create a welcoming and inclusive environment for the course.
Information from the survey can also be useful for instructors for lesson planning and pedagogical purposes, as well as to address any common and recurring questions or anxieties students might express in the survey. If you do address responses from the surveys in aggregate, make sure to protect students’ confidentiality and speak only in terms of general trends.
If you’re teaching a course that has a set roster that will not change significantly during add/drop period, you might consider sending an intro survey to your students up to a couple days before the first day of classes, or give them 5-10 minutes to fill it out during the first or second class session.
If you’re teaching a course whose roster changes significantly during add/drop, you might want to readminister the survey to the new students after the second week, or hold off until the roster is finalized and distribute the survey then.
While some students may have reservations about receiving course-related requests from instructors before the class officially begins, others express that a direct communication from their instructors can set a warm tone for the course and make them feel welcome. It is always best to consider what makes most sense for your set of students and course format, and to be reasonably flexible regarding due dates for completing the intro survey, as students might not check their Barnard/Columbia emails as carefully before the semester officially starts.
In addition, the decision as to when to circulate the intro survey will also depend on what kinds of questions you are asking in the survey and how soon you need to have the responses for your pedagogical purposes. Please see the next section for the kinds of questions you might include and why you might want to include them.
If you are teaching a large lecture class, you might understandably be daunted by the prospect of going through hundreds of survey responses. That said, with some modifications, intro surveys can still be a very useful tool for large lecture courses.
For large classes, consider making the majority of your questions multiple choice so that you are able to see the trends in student responses in aggregate. If you have TAs who lead discussion sections, you can also ask them to administer a modified version of the intro survey for their sections with the more open-ended questions. They can then relay any information that seems particularly important or urgent to you.
What kinds of information should I ask for?
Why You Might Want to Ask & How to Use It
First and Last Name (here, you might want to indicate you’re asking for the name the student would like to be addressed by, especially if it differs from what’s on the roster)
To make sure you have the correct names for students (especially as sometimes students’ names do not match the name on the roster), make sure all students
Pronouns (here, you might want to indicate this is optional, only if the student is comfortable sharing)
To make sure you use the correct pronouns for your students and to avoid accidentally misgendering anyone. For more on this, see CEP’s Gender Inclusive Practices in the Classroom Resource.
|Barnard/Columbia email address||To make sure you have every students’ correct email address|
|Section (if your course has multiple sections)||To be able to track section-specific trends in student responses|
Why You Might Want to Ask & How to Use It
|Previous experience in the field or related fields||For example, for language classes, you might want to ask if the student is a heritage speaker or has experience with any other languages to get a sense of their previous background in the language|
|Any prerequisites or co-requisites taken||For example, for STEM courses or programs that are more sequential in nature, getting a sense of what the student already knows might be helpful for lesson planning purposes; diagnostic assessments can also be helpful ascertaining prior knowledge and misconceptions about course content|
|Whether the student has access to particular technology/materials||For example, for writing classes, knowing whether the student is able to bring a laptop or a tablet to class for in-class writing exercises might be helpful for lesson planning purposes|
Why You Might Want to Ask & How to Use It
|Why a student is interested in taking this class||To get a sense of what might motivate your students as a group|
|What they are most excited about or nervous about||To address these (in aggregate & anonymously) to ease student anxieties or to create a sense of curiosity and intellectual engagement|
|What kinds of support or structures they need to succeed||To get a sense of what kinds of Barnard resources you might want to refer students to, or what kinds of structures you might implement in your course planning and scaffolding|
|Any accommodations they might need||To anticipate access needs early on in the semester and to have time to make adjustments as necessary|
|Any content warnings they might need||If you choose to offer content warnings, to anticipate content warning needs early on in the semester and have time to communicate them to the students before assigned readings/viewings/ recordings or in-class screenings|
|Any large responsibilities they have outside of academic ones||To be able to contextualize your students’ ability to engage with the class fully|
|Any support they might need to purchase textbooks and materials for the class||In case your department or program has textbook or material support for students beyond what Access Barnard already offers|
|Any other information the student would like to share||You can also include a blanket “Any other information you’d like to share with me?” to give students space to share any important information that your survey doesn’t cover|
DOs and DON’Ts of Intro Surveys
- Offer a clear description and framing for the survey: For example, “This intro survey is meant to help us create a classroom environment that works for everyone” or “This survey is meant to get information about what kinds of support you need to succeed in the class.”
- Keep students’ responses confidential and tell them exactly who has access to the information (this might be just you, or you and your TAs/Lab Assistants, etc.): For example, “This information will only be accessed by me and your TAs and will be kept confidential.”
- Keep the survey short. It is best if students can complete it in 5-10 minutes.
- Consider when would be the best time to send the survey out: If you’re asking for information that you absolutely need to have early on, send it out before or during the first week of class, otherwise, consider waiting until your roster is finalized.
- If you’re doing the survey outside of class time, consider adding it to Courseworks as an Assignment so that students can remember to do it.
- Be intentional about the questions you’re asking: Reflect on why you’re asking a particular question and what your pedagogical goals are, and only ask questions that you actually need.
- Be transparent about how you’ll use the survey responses: This can be part of your description or framing of the survey at the very top, or be incorporated into specific questions as needed.
- Use the information you solicit: If a student has shared their pronouns with you, for example, make sure you use them correctly in class, if a student has expressed an issue that is critical to their participation in the course (e.g., access, accommodations) follow up with them if necessary.
- Don’t make any question that solicits personal information (pronouns, responsibilities, need for textbook/material financial support etc.) required. Give students the opportunity to not disclose information they don’t feel comfortable or ready sharing.
- Don’t ask demographic questions (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity etc.) as this may constitute an intrusion into students’ personal lives that does not have a bearing on the teaching and learning environment.
- Don’t share the information from the survey with anyone (if you’re sharing responses with your TAs, you can indicate that in the survey description).
- While you can ask if students have a request for a particular accommodation, do not ask them to identify a disability to justify their accommodation request.
Sample Intro Survey Questions
Modify these questions to suit your purposes or craft new ones to get started on your intro survey. Please keep in mind that students report appreciating when their instructors demonstrate that they have put effort into learning about them. Copying and pasting these questions without customizing them for your own class risks making it appear as though you are doing this as a pro forma exercise.
- First and Last Name (please write down the name you would like me to use, especially if it's different than what's on the roster)
- Phonetic pronunciation of your name (optional)
- Your Barnard/Columbia email address
- Pronouns (optional: only if you're comfortable sharing)
- Will you have access to a laptop and/or a tablet that you can bring with you for in-class activities?
- What interests you most about this class? What are you most excited about?
- What is your previous experience with [INSERT YOUR FIELD/DEPARTMENT]?
- What kinds of support do you anticipate needing to be successful in this class?
- What kinds of classroom engagements help you learn best (individual work, lecture, small group work, project-based learning, groupwork etc.)? Check all that apply.
- What do you hope to gain from this class? What, if any, anxieties do you have about taking a/an [INSERT YOUR FIELD/DEPARTMENT] course?
- Do you have any large responsibilities and time commitments you would like me to know about (such as family obligations, on/off-campus jobs, sports teams etc.)?
- Please tell me about any accommodations you might need for the course (even if you don't have official documentation from CARDS yet) and any content/trigger warnings you would appreciate having.
- Anything else that you'd like me to know about you?
This resource was put together by Duygu Oya Ula and the CEP team. We would also like to thank the CEP Student Advisory Committee and the CEP Faculty Advisory Committee for their generous input and help with this resource. If you have any questions about this resource or other practices you’d like to suggest regarding introductory surveys, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.