Even under normal teaching conditions, there are good reasons to gather feedback from your students at mid-semester. Perhaps you’re trying a new teaching strategy or teaching a new course and you wonder what your students think of it. Or you want to avoid surprises in your end-of-semester evaluations.
But with the pivot to remote instruction, as well as the changes to face-to-face instruction caused by the need for social distancing, it’s more important than ever than ever to check in with your students. You may be one of the many instructors new to teaching online or in a hybrid format. You may be facing unfamiliar circumstances in your teaching, such as teaching to physically present students and online students simultaneously, or teaching a totally asynchronous course. In these and other new situations, it’s particularly helpful to gather some feedback from your students.
A mid-semester evaluation gives you an opportunity to get targeted feedback on specific teaching strategies, including those you’re trying for the first time. It also gives you a chance to make changes in a course at a point when they can improve your current students’ learning. Finally, if it’s done well, a mid-semester evaluation can improve your end-of-semester evaluations (McGowan and Osguthorpe, 2011).
If you decide to get some feedback through a mid-semester evaluation, there are several questions to consider.
When should you collect it?
It’s best to collect feedback after students have had a chance to adapt to your course—after the first few weeks have passed. And you’ll want to collect feedback before it’s too late in the semester to make changes to the course to improve your students’ learning (say, after week 12 in a 16-week course). Any time within this window is an appropriate time to gather feedback.
What method should you use to gather the data?
Your options include:
- an anonymous Canvas quiz
- a paper form (if you’re teaching physically face to face)
- an online survey using a tool such as Qualtrics
- a collaborative method such as Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID), which uses a trained facilitator to run a sort of focus group in a class to gather actionable suggestions from students.
What questions should you ask?
Most mid-semester evaluation instruments are short and simple. The kinds of questions you ask depend on what kind of feedback you’d like to get.
To get general feedback about the course, ask open-ended questions such as these:
- What are some things your instructor does that help you learn?
- What are some things your instructor does that hinder your learning?
- What are some concrete, practical things your instructor could change about this course in the remainder of the semester that would help you learn?
To get feedback targeted at specific teaching strategies, ask closed-ended questions on those strategies. One way to do this is with Likert-type questions (with response options ranging from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree). For example:
- I always know what work I need to complete each week in this course.
- The recorded lectures help me learn course content.
Another way to ask closed-ended questions is to give specific answer options. For example:
- For me, the pace of this course is: [Answer options: Too fast; about right; too slow]
- My preferred method of discussing controversial issues in class is: [Answer options: Meet in small groups in breakout rooms; have a whole-class discussion; type opinions into the chat; other (please specify)]
Note that you can combine these options by including both a few closed-ended questions and a few open-ended ones in your survey.
Once you’ve made these decisions, you can create a form to obtain the feedback and administer it to your students or ask them to complete it online. Regardless of how you administer the survey, you should explain its purpose to your students—to get thoughtful, constructive feedback to improve your teaching and their learning.
What should you do with the feedback?
When you receive students’ feedback, you’ll want to analyze the responses and decide how to respond to them. It’s a good idea to sort the students’ feedback into three categories:
- Things that seem to be working well in the course
- Suggestions for change that you’re willing to implement or try out
- Suggestions that you don’t want to implement
There’s one more step in the process, and it’s VERY important: discuss the results from the mid-semester evaluation with your students during a subsequent class period—what you heard them saying, what you are going to try changing, and what things you aren’t going to change and why (bonus if you can offer other changes that address their underlying concerns). If you don’t do this, your students may feel that they were ignored or that their feedback wasn’t valued. You don’t need to take much time (5 to 10 minutes is plenty), but you should include the main points from each of the categories above. You can also take this time to explain your pedagogical choices and to thank students for their feedback.
Join us for a conversation
We will be discussing approaches to midterm feedback on Friday, October 9, 2020, at 11:00 am – noon: “Coffee Talk: Gathering Mid-Semester Feedback from Students.” Details and registration here.
McGowan, W., & Osguthorpe, R. (2011). Student and faculty perceptions of effects of midcourse evaluation. In Miller, J. & Groccia, J. (Eds), To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational Development, 29, 160-172.