Getting to Know You Survey

A humanizing element for online courses. Sends the cue, “I want to know how I can support you.”

Weeks zero and one identified on a continuum as a "high opportunity zone." The Getting to Know You Survey is positioned on the continuum in week one.

When we teach online, it can be easy to relate to students as mere names on a screen. But each name on our screen is actually a real human who brings a wealth of experiences, challenges, and aspirations to your class. Humanized online teaching leverages students’ lived experiences as the context of your curriculum. This involves intentionally designing a class that is built to ensure you know your students as real people and are prepared to utilize your knowledge of their lives to adapt your teaching and support their success. A Getting to Know You Survey in week one is an important part of fostering trust and laying the foundation for the instructor-student relationship you will leverage to challenge students and hold them all to the same high expectations.

Developing & Implementing Your Survey

It is important that you clearly inform students that the information they share in their survey response will be seen only by you and that you will use the information to support them. Some of our favorite questions are:

  • What would you like me to call you?
  • Do you have any pronunciation tips for saying your name (Provide an option to record an audio or video response!)
  • I may leave feedback in video format for you. Does that work for you?
  • When you use Canvas (our online platform), will you mainly use your phone, a laptop/computer, or something else? (This can be especially helpful for troubleshooting but also very illuminating, in general, to start to understand how many students are mobile-dependent.)
  • In one word, how are you feeling about this class?
  • What is the one thing that is most likely to interfere with your success in this class?
  • What are your aspirations in life?
  • What can I do to support you?
  • Is there anything else you would like to share at this point or anything you’d like to ask me?

To develop your survey, you may simply choose to use the survey tool provided within your learning management system. If you use Canvas, follow this How to Create a Survey instructor guide for assistance. Alternative options for survey tools include Google Forms or Microsoft Forms.

Sample Survey — You will find a sample Getting to Know You Survey in the Canvas Commons shared by Mike Smedshammer of Modesto Junior College. Just search using this keyword: #HumanizingSTEM. This template can easily be imported into your Canvas course and customized as desired.

Adapting Your Teaching

A snippet of the Canvas gradebook showing the Notes column with a heart emoji in three entries, one-word responses in all caps, and additional notes.
A view of the Canvas gradebook with the Notes column enabled.

Use this survey to identify your high opportunity students — those who will benefit most from your high touch interactions — and adapt your teaching throughout the term. In week one, I review every student’s response. I also turn on the Notes column in my Canvas gradebook. The Notes columns is a simple feature but can be a game changer. The details an instructor types into the notes column are only visible to the instructor, not to students. This provides a very simple way to keep pertinent details about students very visible to you as you review students’ contributions and provide feedback during the term. The details I type into the Notes field in week one for all students are:

  1. Their response to the question, “In one word, how are you feeling about this class?” I type that word in all caps. Then I look over the list and insert a red heart emoji (copied from into the Notes field for each student who shared a word that indicates an emotion that could be a barrier to their learning. These are my high opportunity students who I reach out to right away with a positive, welcoming, and affirming video message. With a warm smile, I tell them I am here to support them and that I will be in this journey with them.
  2. Details about how to pronounce their name, if any are provided
  3. A summary of their response to this question, “What is one thing that may interfere with your success in this class?” From that one question, I have learned so much — students awaiting surgery, students who are pregnant and would deliver their babies during the term, students caring for ailing family members, students who are single parents working full-time and will be doing their coursework while their families sleep. It illuminates the context that matters most to students. And when their instructor cares about this context, they care more about the class.

During the term, if a student has not logged in or has missed an assignment, I review my notes from their survey response and reach out with a personalized message. Use a subject line that conveys concern like, “Carlos, is everything ok on your end?” as opposed to something like, “Missing Work.” See the different cues these two subject lines send? In your message, reference details shared in the survey and affirm the students’ ability, as well as effort. For example, “I remember you shared that your father has been ill. How is he doing? I imagine juggling our course on top of this stressful situation is extremely difficult. I’m looking at your work and it’s clear you’ve been working hard and have mastered many of the skills we are now building on. Would you be available to speak with me this week via phone or Zoom so we can put a plan together?”