by Belle Gironda
At this point in the semester, most of us usually have a sense of how our classes are going, based on the quality of the work students are submitting, attendance and participation, the atmosphere in the classroom, the affect and actions of the students, etc. After the term has ended, the official course evaluations submitted by students will offer some additional information about their experiences in the class and can be helpful as we plan future classes. Sometimes these evaluations also include surprises, such as information we wish we had been aware of while the class was still going on. For this and other reasons, midterm can be a good time to try to gather some informal feedback by generating your own customized questions and course specific mechanisms for eliciting feedback.
Rationales for Mid-semester Evaluations
- If you are teaching the class for the first time or implementing a new instructional approach, assignment, project or assessment strategy that you have not tried before, it can be particularly helpful to get students perspectives on how things are going, while the course is still in progress.
- Because you design the mid-semester evaluations for your own purposes, you may harvest different, more specific, or more tailored information about your course to supplement the feedback that you will get at the end of the semester.
- If something is not working well for your students, their feedback may help you to retool your approach during the class and may improve their performance in the course, the atmosphere in the classroom and/or your evaluations at the end of the semester.
- Like anyone who is engaged in and impacted by a group process, students like to feel that they have some input into and influence on that process. Knowing that you are collecting feedback from them that is solely for the purpose of improving the course while they are still taking it, can be good for class morale and can motivate them to offer very constructive responses.
Technology for Mid-semester Evaluations
The Prof Hacker, Brian Croxall, blogged specifically about using a shared Google Doc to collect open, collaborative, (but still anonymous) feedback, rather than the more typical, individual and private survey data collection form. His primary rationale for the shared document was that he wanted students to be able to see what their peers thought about the class. He also felt that this gave more weight and credibility to the activity, because the open nature of the responses also increased his accountability. The other advantage to this approach is that it can be the quickest and easiest way to collect some anonymous feedback. Croxall chose to use just two very open-ended questions to collect students’ impressions about the course:
- What is working well so far?
- What could be done better?
Croxall indicates that the next time he teaches multiple sections of a course, he will experiment with various approaches to collecting midterm feedback to see if he can detect whether or not the shared document leads to any significant “group think” issues in the students’ responses.
If you prefer a more traditional survey to be completed by students individually, Google Forms is a useful tool for the relatively simple construction of a wide range of survey questions in various formats including: multiple choice, Likert type scales, check boxes and short or long text answers to open ended questions.
Access Google Forms by entering Google docs via your Adelphi email acct. Click on the red “Create” button and select Forms. When you have created the survey a link can be emailed to your students and their participation can be anonymous.
If you are teaching using Moodle, you can also create an anonymous questionnaire in your Moodle course, by using the “Add an Activity” pull-down menu and selecting Questionnaire. This tool is very robust and can be used for serious data collection and analysis. It may be overkill for gathering midterm feedback and more labor intensive and time consuming than the other tools above. But if it is a tool that you are already familiar with, you may choose to use it to create a brief questionnaire that has the advantage of being embedded in your course.
Pen and paper
Of course you can also use analog technologies like pens and paper, asking your students to write for a few minutes at the end of class about their experiences in the course, so far.
For more assistance with any of these tools, call the FCPE @ X4220, or use the online form to make an appointment with an FCPE staff member, or stop by the FCPE computer lab in Alumni Hall 01, x4228.
What Kinds of Questions to ask
As mentioned, Croxall opted for open ended questions that may generate a wide range of feedback. Another approach would be to target specific aspects of the course and to ask a few more focused questions. For example, perhaps you are particularly interested in the role of reading assignments in your course this semester, getting students to complete the reading, holding them responsible for it and making reading assignments a more productive learning tool. You may ask questions that will help you to gauge which reading assignments have been most effective so far or which factors students identify as important in relation to their commitment to and comprehension of the reading in the class.
A posting to Stanford University’s “Tomorrow’s Professor” listserv, references a variety of sources that suggest that “specific, concrete and behaviorally oriented” feedback is often the most useful for those trying to make constructive improvements to their teaching.
For other ideas and examples of the types of questions one might ask, see the following links:
- Faculty Resources on Teaching Evaluations and Assessments (The Committee on Teaching, Oberlin University)
- Getting the Most Out of Early Student Feedback (The Derek Bok center for teaching, Harvard University)
In general, I would not suggest a lengthy time-consuming survey at midterm. Keep it fairly brief so that it is not an odious task for students to complete it or for you to read through and process the information it yields.
For more assistance with developing a midterm (or other early) feedback mechanism for your classes, call the FCPE @ X4220, or use the online form to make an appointment with an FCPE staff member.
NOTE: This posting refers exclusively to personally designed feedback processes that individual instructors may choose to create in order to collect information, exclusively for their own use. There are no institutional expectations, requirements or procedures related to mid-semester course evaluations at Adelphi.