Gathering Information on Remote Teaching and Learning

This page offers principles to inform information gathering on remote teaching and learning experiences at McGill. Its intended audience is deans, department chairs, and instructors considering inviting colleagues or students to share their experiences of teaching and learning remotely.

6 Principles

1: Communicate

  • Recognize that email inboxes are overflowing and make it easy for your audience (e.g., instructors, TAs, students) to share their experience.
  • Explain briefly why the instructor or student’s input is being invited and how you are planning to act on it. (E.g., “We are inviting your feedback since… you have just completed your winter semester courses remotely (or) … you are preparing to teach a spring or summer term course.”)
  • To avoid redundancy and survey fatigue, coordinate and where possible consolidate survey efforts with other campus units or individuals that will reach out to the same audiences. (E.g., For Faculty deans and department chairs, this could involve coordinating with MAUT or the Office of the Provost, for example.)

2: Keep it simple

Multiple methods exist for gathering information about remote teaching and learning experiences, including: Surveys; focus groups*; interviews*; anecdotal evidence (email communication; conversations); document analysis; social media analysis; and town hall formats*. This is not the time to introduce new tools to students or instructors. Instead, gather information within established channels, using a method that is likely familiar to your audience. For instance, sources of information could include a survey with Microsoft Forms, notes taken during a town hall, or the saved chat in Zoom.

* A potential advantage of these virtual face-to-face formats is that they can help to keep a sense of connection despite distance; surveys may feel less personal.

3: Keep it brief

  • Given the many demands on time and attention right now, let your audience know how much of their time is being requested (e.g., “This survey is expected to take 3 minutes and includes 4 questions;” “This Zoom focus group will take no longer than 30 minutes.”)
  • Pose a limited number of questions.
  • Think about analysis and use question types intentionally. While being careful not to unduly limit people’s responses, keep in mind that responses to open-ended questions will typically require more time to analyze than questions with multiple-choice responses.

4: Make it actionable

  • Phrase questions carefully (and run the questions by someone else first) to ensure that questions are unambiguous and easy to answer.
  • Focus your questions on areas that you are able to address.
  • If you receive input that cannot be acted upon by you/your unit, consider communicating it to the person or unit who would be able to act upon it.

5: Manage expectations

  • Be clear about how the information gathered will be used.
  • Note the timeline on which information gathered will be addressed. Example: An instructor inviting feedback from students at the end of the winter term might say, “Your feedback about your experience will help me prepare to teach my summer term course.” An instructor inviting feedback from students one week into their summer term course might say, “I expect to incorporate some of your feedback into the remaining weeks of the course. Please note that some suggestions may need to wait until the next course offering.” See the Mercury mid-course evaluations page for sample questions to consider posing/adapting.
  • Indicate up-front the extent to which resources (and what type of resources) may be available to address concerns. Example: In response to a question about what would support instructors’ teaching during this time, an instructor might ask for additional funding to increase TA hours to monitor class discussion forums and the Zoom chat. If additional funding for TAs is not possible, this should be mentioned when the question is posed.

6: Balance questions

While it is useful to know what can be improved, don’t only focus on weaknesses or challenges. Consider balancing questions that look at challenges with others that ask your audience to identify strengths – that is, things that are going well that can be built on.



[crowdsourced]. (2020, April). COVID-19 Distance Ed Transition – assessment item bank. Retrieved from

Czerniewicz, L. (2020, March). What we learnt from ‘going online' during university shutdowns in South Africa. Retrieved from

Czerniewicz, L., Trotter, H., & Haupt, G. (2019). Online teaching in response to student protests and campus shutdowns: Academics’ perspectives. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 16. Retrieved from

Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS). (2020, March). HEDS COVID-19 Institutional Response Student Survey. Retrieved from

Hodges, C., et al. (2020, March). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. Retrieved from

Patton, M. Q. (2008). Utilization-Focused Evaluation. (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Trachtenberg, J. (2020). Easy Midterm Course Feedback. Retrieved from ASSESS Listserv (University of Kentucky) on April 3, 2020.


McGill University is on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. We acknowledge and thank the diverse Indigenous people whose footsteps have marked this territory on which peoples of the world now gather.

Back to top