Mid-semester course evaluations

Have you ever read comments in your official course evaluations and thought, “That would have been nice to know before the class ended”? While summative evaluation of courses have their purpose (all too clear to those currently applying for tenure), formative evaluation during the semester gives an instructor a chance to make changes that can help the very students he or she is still responsible for teaching.

An article by Carolin S. Keutzer sets out several benefits of midterm evaluations (“Midterm Evaluation of Teaching Provides Helpful Feedback to Instructors,” Teaching of Psychology 20 [Dec. 1993], 238-240). In particular, Keutzer is grateful for the ability to get student feedback on specific aspects of her teaching that she identifies as important. She also notes that asking for student feedback and implementing changes where appropriate increases students’ sense of shared responsibility for their learning. And this in turn may result in higher evaluations for the instructor at the end of the semester.

Midterm evals can take many formats. Here’s a form developed at King’s a few years ago. Moodle allows users to create custom surveys with its Feedback and Questionnaire features. In both cases, survey responses can be made anonymous.

If you can spare more time in class, you can ask a colleague to perform a small-group instructional diagnostic (SGID), used at many colleges. In SGID, you leave the classroom while a colleague asks students to discuss course issues in small groups. Each group must come to consensus, and then each group reports to the class as a whole. After more discussion, your colleague dismisses the class and develops a report for you. If you are interested in giving SGID a try, please let me know.

There’s also good old paper and pencil. You might prepare a short questionnaire or just use index cards. Last semester, I asked my students at mid-semester to write out answers to three simple questions:

  • What should the instructor keep doing, to help your learning?
  • What should the instructor stop doing, to help your learning?
  • What should the instructor start doing, to help your learning?

These questions nearly mirror the ones students will answer at the end of the term, thus perhaps forestalling having to find out too late that one’s quiz format is not helping students learn. (I am sure I got these questions from a ProfHacker post, but I cannot locate the source just now.) When I asked these questions last semester, I actually was concerned that my multiple-choice pop quizzes were failing to encourage students to do the reading assignments before class.

I had already planned to switch the quiz format to something closer to the Just-in-Time Teaching approach (having students give paragraph-long answers to questions posted online prior to class), and the results of the mid-semester evaluation suggested that this was the right move. Indeed, students took very well to the new quiz format, their grades improved, and I began to see better answers to exam questions, too.

Of course, learning is a two-way street. Mid-semester is a good time for students to evaluate their performance in the class so far. You might try asking students to grade themselves on class participation. I plan to ask students to write out what they should start doing, stop doing, and keep doing to help them learn. They keep those answers; here’s hoping that they’ll keep to those answers as well.

And while we’re on the subject of self-assessment, midterm can be an opportunity to judge how well we are meeting our own standards or keeping those new-year’s resolutions, whether anything that we are doing might be inhibiting our teaching, and whether anything we’re doing new has been especially successful.

Have you used midterm evaluations in your courses? Have they prompted you to make changes to your courses? Have you tried any formats for evaluations not mentioned here?

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One response to “Mid-semester course evaluations

  1. I have tried a number of new approaches this semester, and I’d like to get feedback while I’m thinking about them (I really like playing with Moodle). However, I also hate getting criticism at this time of year (and I’ve noticed that even if I set Moodle to gather “anonymous” feedback I can still see on the activity reports who has given feedback – sometimes making it possible for me to identify the source of comments.) (I wonder if I’d still get good comments without making it anonymous?). Recently, for example, I tried something very close to JiTT (I set up optional homework assignments due before class – that students could use to earn back a few points on the test they did so badly on). These homework questions changed my perception of their abilities. Most students have done very well with them (okay, I also caught a plagiarist), and are coming into class understanding the text much better than normal. I need to figure out how to learn from them how to continue to work with this technique.