It seems unbelievable, but we are getting close to the mid-semester mark already. How are things going in your classes? While many instructors are asking ourselves this question, it isn’t usually until the end of the semester that we receive any feedback from our students on the topic. At that point it is too late to make changes, but by conducting informal midterm course evaluations in your classes you can make changes before it is too late.
Mid-semester course evaluations are a great tool for improving our understanding of ourselves as teachers. Just as we want our students to practice what they are learning and to reflect on their progress, so should we. Informal evaluations give us a window into what our students are thinking. They are easy to carry out, require little effort, and don’t take up much time. Collecting feedback from students equips you with the knowledge you need to alter course content and activities to improve student learning and foster motivation and positive attitudes about the class. It also gives you the opportunity to address any unrealistic expectations students might have about the course.
With all of these excellent reasons in favor of performing mid-semester evaluations, I know you are eager to get started and here is how . . .
When should I conduct informal student evaluations?
You can ask your students for feedback at just about any point during the semester. However, conducting evaluations during the 6th or 7th week of classes works well because it gives students a chance to get a feel for the course, and still allows time for you to make changes.
How can I conduct mid-semester course evaluations?
In classes with fewer than 100 students, an easy way to get feedback is to distribute notecards toward the end of a class meeting. Ask the students to anonymously answer two questions—one on the front of the card and one on the back. Ask targeted questions if necessary and try to focus on things you can change. Direct students to give specific examples and tell them you will summarize their responses and share them with the class. Before leaving the room, ask one of your students to collect all of the cards and bring them to you afterward. Of course you can vary this approach as necessary: have students use a sheet of paper, distribute a printed page with the questions, etc. In larger classes, you might ask students to complete an on-line survey, use polling clickers, or put out an old-fashioned “suggestion box” and ask that any student with a specific concern or compliment place it in the box.
What questions do I ask?
Open-ended questions that require students to think about their experience in the course are best for eliciting useful responses. You might want to ask “What have you liked about the course so far?” or “What aspects of the course have contributed to your learning so far?” On the flipside, ask students, “What aspects of the course could be improved?” or “What could the instructor do better to facilitate your learning?” If you are using an alternate technique like surveys or polling clickers you will have to formulate questions specific to your course.
What should I do with this information?
It is important that after you have gathered this data, you address what students had to say. Do you see any patterns in the feedback you received? What were some common problems? Were there any blatant disagreements? Identify the major themes that emerge and focus on those; try not to give outlying opinions unwarranted significance. Then respond to students’ comments during the next class meeting. Think about how you can change things this semester to improve students’ experiences and be clear about what will remain the same and why. If students are complaining that there is too much reading, but you feel it is an appropriate amount—tell them so. If students disagree about things that are taking place in class, let them know about that, too. You can examine this feedback on your own, but if you would like a second set of eyes and ideas you can contact CETL to schedule a consultation.
I hope these ideas help you elicit productive feedback from your students that you can use to head off any issues before final course evaluations occur at the end of the semester.
Have a nice fall, y’all!
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Lyons, Richard E. Success Strategies for Adjunct Faculty. Boston: Pearson, 2004.
Svinicki, Marilla and Wilbert J. McKeachie. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Thirteenth Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011.