How can I use Critical Incident Questionnaires?

How does it align with the module Learning Outcomes? Does it assess skills and knowledge that are key to the discipline?

It can be used with any module, as directing one’s own learning is central to all higher education,  but is particularly engaging for the students (and they are less likely to be confronted or alienated by it) if it aligns with LOs of reflection, communication, self-regulation and empathy.  

Will it be formative or summative? If summative, how will I give opportunities for practice? When will it occur in the term/module?

It should not be summative assessment because it would prevent honest feedback and reflection on the class. This is a reflective tool for students rather than a form of assessment, although it might be included as a required artefact of a reflective portfolio.

It can be used at any time in the module, but to avoid students seeing it as another survey/feedback seeking exercise from the university, it is not really appropriate for an end of module or mid-term only. Ideally, it should be used  2-4 times during the module so students gain the maximum benefit but don’t become fatigued.

How will I mark it? Will I grade it? What criteria will I use? How will I give feedback?

 As above, it is not a formal assessment tool but a means of reflective self-evaluation and a way of fostering teacher-student dialogue. Therefore marking or grading it as a performance is likely to be alienating for students, due to the subjectivity of the process. Brookfield (2005) made its completion a compulsory part of the course with a nominal percentage weighting, but individual CIQs were not graded or marked.

However, feedback and reflection from CIQs for both students and teachers should be addressed. This can take place in class or through an online forum.

According to Brookfield:

“If students have made comments that have caused me to change how I teach, I acknowledge this and explain why the change seems worth making. I try also to clarify any actions, ideas, requirements or exercises that seem to be causing confusion.  Criticisms of my actions are reported and discussed.  If contentious issues have emerged we talk about how these can be negotiated so that everyone feels heard and respected. Quite often students write down comments expressing their dislike of something I am insisting they do.  When this happens I know that I must take some time to re-emphasize why I believe the activity is so important and to make the best case I can about how it contributes to students’ long term interests. Even if I have said this before, and written it in the syllabus, the critical incident responses alert me to the need to make my rationale explicit once again.”

How will I address potential challenges?

Do I need to make any modifications for accessibility/inclusivity? Can I build these into the design?

It can be a forum for students to express discomfort with contentious issues, micro-aggressions or difficult interactions that have occurred as part of the diverse and inclusive classroom. These can then be explicitly addressed.

Although it should not be a forum for personal issues, if students do use it to highlight an issue of immediate concern to you, you can discuss this with them and point them to the appropriate support.

The usual modifications should be considered for visually impaired students, such as larger print and screen reader software. Anonymity will help to mitigate anxiety amongst students who do are not comfortable with reflection.

If you are uncomfortable with class discussion yourself, you could produce a brief report for students online, which is an alternative form of dialogue.


Do I need to make any modifications for large cohort sizes?Will it be time consuming to set up or mark? Is there anything I can do to modify it to address this?

Reading them may be time consuming, but they do not require a mark or any individual written feedback. If you are not used to qualitative analysis of data patterns, it can be more time-consuming at first. You could reduce the number of times the CIQ is completed by students or you can choose only one or two questions each time rather than all five.

In seminars or at the beginning of a lecture, you could also divide the students into groups and have them share their CIQs. One group leader completes a summary of the group’s CIQs to email to you. You may find some resistance to this as reflection is quite personal.

Try not to ask other people to read the CIQ if you are attempting to foster dialogue between you and the students. Asking a seminar leader or GTA to mark or discuss at a later date increases separation, and defeats the purpose of you understanding what is happening in your classroom.


How will I introduce it to students?

For critical incident questionnaires to be taken seriously by students, it is crucial that you explain your reasons for using them.  Describe how it works (online or paper) and, crucially, how you will respond to it. If you emphasise this as a key element of the module, and relate it to the LOs, they are more likely to be engaged with it.

If students do not engage with it, you could ask them to email it directly to you.  This  emphasises personal responsibility, but  prevents it from being anonymous.

Making students complete a CIQ at the end of each class might not allow time for meaningful reflection, so you might want to set a deadline for the following lecture or seminar. 

Brookfield and others caution that not all students will like this or want to engage with it on more than a surface level. This is a deeply personal activity and therefore they should be given that choice.