We in the CITL are big proponents of getting mid-semester feedback from students as a way of improving our teaching and their learning. While there is much we can learn from end-of-course evaluations, that information doesn’t offer us opportunities for smaller adjustments that can prove valuable to this semester’s students. And asking your students for feedback that can directly benefit them can lead to both improved feedback and student motivation.
We have already written about processes for gathering and responding to mid-semester feedback, but at its heart, the process involves finding an anonymous way for students to respond to a few main questions:
- What am I doing in this class that helps you learn? (That is, what should I keep doing, and maybe do even more of?)
- What could I do to help you learn better?
- What could you do to improve your own learning in this course? (A nice reminder that it isn’t all on the teacher.)
What is most important, though, is that you talk to your students openly and honestly about their responses. What did you hear from them, and what are you going to do about it? And if they ask for things you aren’t ready to offer, why not? In my experience, students sometimes ask for changes that we cannot or will not make, but we can dig deeper to understand the needs behind their requests and address them.
My favorite experience comes from years ago when a faculty colleague’s students asked him to provide detailed study guides for exams. He was honest with them and explained why he didn’t provide study guides–that he felt they lead students to fall back into a “memorize and regurgitate information mode,” as he said. Instead, they talked about why the students wanted study guides and what else he could do to address those underlying needs. He ended up helping them create collective study guides, using a wiki tool (this pre-dates Google docs) to collect what they thought were the key points worth studying for exams; it belonged to them, but he would address specific questions they had about items they added. They got the structure they wanted for studying, and he got the active learning and engagement he wanted. And in end, his relationship with those students improved and his course evaluations were great. (And I suspect students learned more than they would if he provided a study guide for them.)
I always loved getting feedback from my first-year writing students, in part because they ended up feeling more personally engaged in the course–that it was our course and they had more commitment to it. And I’ve also enjoyed facilitating conversations between instructors and students, finding those common ways they could improve the course together. If you want some help putting together a midterm feedback plan, let me know. And come back next week when I will be writing about ways we can specifically ask students about how inclusive our classes are and how we can improve their sense of belonging.