Using the Critical Incident Questionnaire as a Formative Evaluation Tool to Inform Online Course Design: A Qualitative Study

  • Anita Samuel Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  • Dr. Simone C.O. Conceição University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Keywords: student evaluation of teaching, Critical Incident Questionnaire, online course design, formative assessment


The online instructor plays a prominent role in influencing how students respond to an online course, from designing the course structure, course activities, and assignments to encouraging interaction. Therefore, to develop effective online courses, instructors need robust feedback on their design strategies. Student evaluation of teaching (SET) functions as a summative evaluation of the course design and delivery. Yet, the feedback from SETs can only be integrated into the next iteration of the course, thereby failing to benefit the students who provide the feedback. One suggestion is to use midsemester formative evaluation to inform course design in real time. A qualitative research study was conducted to explore whether the Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) could be an effective formative evaluative tool to inform real-time online course design and delivery. Thematic analysis was conducted on the midcourse evaluations obtained from 70 students in six fully online master’s level courses. There are three key findings from this study. First, CIQ use can provide opportunities for real-time adjustments to online course design and inform future redesign of online courses. Second, responses received via the CIQ prioritize the student voice and experience by focusing on factors that are critical to them. Finally, this deep-dive analysis reinforces the enduring factors that contribute to effective online course design and delivery. A recommendation for practice is to use the CIQ as an effective tool to gather formative feedback from students. This feedback can then be used to adjust course design as needed.

Author Biographies

Anita Samuel, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, USA

Anita Samuel is Assistant Director of Distance Learning and Assistant Professor with the School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

She earned her doctorate in Urban Education with a specialization in Administrative Leadership in Adult, Continuing, and Higher Education, and her areas of research are online education and faculty development. She strongly believes that student success is dependent on educator satisfaction and is passionate about the welfare of educators. She has won various awards for her work including the 2019 Innovation in Education Award at USU and the Graduate Student Research Award for her work on faculty experiences in the online environment.

Dr. Simone C.O. Conceição, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Simone C. O. Conceição is professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and owner of SCOC Consulting, a consulting firm that helps educators, designers, and administrators understand and apply global strategic thinking, intentional learning design, curriculum development, instructor training, and program evaluation.


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How to Cite
Samuel, A., & Conceição, S. (2022). Using the Critical Incident Questionnaire as a Formative Evaluation Tool to Inform Online Course Design: A Qualitative Study. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 23(2), 151-169.
Research Articles