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It’s the Middle of the Semester… So, What Do My Students Really Think?

“Wait, are we already that far into the semester? There is so much left to do in so little time!

If this is a constant thought on your mind, or an all-familiar expression in recent conversations with other faculty and instructors, we might be nearing an crucial waypoint in the semester (e.g., midterm, holidays). Although it is tempting to be overwhelmed by the approaching deadlines and all the content that needs to be covered, this time also offers an opportunity to address other important elements of teaching and to check in with your students (Chickering & Gamson, 1987).

Higher Learning Outcomes & Improved Class Atmosphere

Traditionally, students are asked to provide feedback about certain elements of a course as well as their learning experiences at the end of the semester. Due to the timing of these final evaluations, all an instructor can do is to review this summative feedback, decide to make changes (if necessary), and apply them to the next iteration of the course. Using this approach, current students, the ones who provided feedback, are at a disadvantage because they do not have any direct benefits.

In contrast, midterm evaluations are generally formative and can impact an ongoing class by providing valuable information at an earlier point during the semester. An instructor can take the students’ feedback into account and, when appropriate, still make adjustments to the ongoing class. Thus, current students are directly impacted which could lead to improved end-of-the-semester evaluations, higher learning outcomes, and a more favorable class atmosphere (Overall & Marsh, 1979).

Tips for Midterm Evaluations

(partially adapted from GSI Teaching & Resource Center, UC – Berkeley)

  1. Key to receiving valuable feedback resides in the questions. On one hand, questions need to provide important insights to the instructor. On the other hand, one has to balance the formative and often informal nature of midterm evaluations. With this in mind, many instructors tend to focus on the following questions:
    1. Which aspect of the course is most helpful to you?
    2. Which aspect of the course is least helpful to you?
    3. Are there any suggestions you would like to make about how to improve the course?
  2. The way a formative evaluations are administered can also impact the feedback an instructor will receive. Survey tools, such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey, allow to easily setup and collect anonymous evaluations. Also, explaining to students why their feedback is valuable and important can further impact the quality and quantity of responses.
  3. Once the survey is closed and students have submitted their responses, it is necessary to take into account the whole picture when interpreting results. By looking for emerging themes or topics across all responses, one can focus on the larger good for the class and avoid paying too much attention to one particular answer.
  4. Finally, a crucial but often overlooked step is to report overall findings and to share any consequences with students. By being open to feedback and showing willingness to adjust practices, instructors demonstrate their interests in their students’ success. Additionally, students not only learn that an instructor values their input, but also what others are thinking about the class.

Have you been using formative evaluations? Do you have a favorite question that you like to ask? Please share your experiences with our community.

 References:

  1. Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3-7. Retrieved from http://teaching.uncc.edu/articles-books/best-practice-articles/instructional-methods/7-principles
  2. GSI Teaching & Resource Center, UC – Berkeley. (2011). Conducting a midterm evaluation. Retrieved from http://gsi.berkeley.edu/teachingguide/improve/midterm-eval.html
  3. Overall, J. U., & Marsh, H. W. (1979). Midterm feedback from students: Its relationship to instructional improvement and students’ cognitive and affective outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71(6), 856.