Responding to Mid-Semester Discontent

In any given semester, I always find a few students who are unhappy with my courses. They may have scored poorly on an early project, they may resent the work I’m assigning, or they may be uninterested in the content I am teaching. Sometimes I find that they are generally dissatisfied with their education, and my course is simply a symptom of that broader experience. When I review the results of my midcourse survey, I’m on the lookout for these students. It may not be possible to win over every student, but by addressing concerns early in the semester, instructors can improve overall classroom morale.

Here are my strategies for responding:

  1. Show that I hear them. Each semester I publicly review the feedback and highlight some of the critical comments. I don’t argue, I just acknowledge their concerns with the class.
  2. Announce special office hours. In a one-on-one meeting we would be able to make quick progress talking through any course-based concerns. For this reason, I always suggest that students with concerns are welcome to visit me to help me better understand.
  3. Offer a “focus group.” If many students seem upset, I suggest that students join me in a focus group where we can talk through course issues. In a live class, I might do this as a class activity during the last 15 minutes of a class session. In online classes I individually invite students to join a live video call. This works much like “Small Group Instructional Diagnosis,” which compliments what is learned from the survey while giving students an opportunity to be heard.

I have found that this combination of strategies dramatically improves the class atmosphere, and many times, disarms dissatisfied students and helps them commit to the course.


  • Cook-Sather, A. (2009). From Traditional Accountability to Shared Responsibility: The Benefits and Challenges of Student Consultants Gathering Midcourse Feedback in College Classrooms. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(2), 231–241.
  • Robinson, K. (1995). Using Small Group Instructional Feedback (SGIF) as an Alternative to Mid-Course Questionnaires: Practical Guidelines for Instructors and Facilitators.
  • Samuel, A., & Conceição, S. C. O. (2022). Using the Critical Incident Questionnaire as a Formative Evaluation Tool to Inform Online Course Design: A Qualitative Study. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 23(2), 151–169.

Chris Drue, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Teaching Evaluation & Lecturer
Office of Teaching Evaluation & Assessment Research
Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey