Using mid-semester evaluations
One way to improve the teaching and learning experience is to get feedback from your students in the middle of the semester. A mid-semester evaluation is a low-stakes way of obtaining formative feedback from your students at a point in the semester when any adjustments you make can benefit your current students. For students, a mid-semester evaluation is a chance to reflect on their learning and practice giving thoughtful, constructive feedback. For instructors, administering an MSE has several benefits:
- It shows that you value students’ feedback and are interested in improving your teaching.
- It enables you to get targeted feedback on a new teaching strategy or a course you’re teaching for the first time.
- It can help avoid surprises in end-of-semester evaluations, and can even boost those evaluations if it’s done properly (McGowan and Osguthorpe, 2011).
Preparing to administer the survey
When should you administer it? The best time to administer a mid-semester evaluation is after students have been in the course for at least 3 or 4 weeks, and have completed at least one significant graded experience (exam, paper, team project, etc.). It’s also important not to wait until it’s too late in the semester to make significant changes that may improve your students’ learning. That’s why the middle of the semester (or perhaps slightly earlier) is best.
What questions should you ask? The most useful questions are those that provide you with formative feedback that you can act on to improve your teaching and your students’ learning. So the questions on an end-of-semester evaluation (which are intended for summative evaluation) are usually less useful for a mid-semester evaluation.
To get general feedback, your MSE could be as brief as 3 questions (What aspects of this course help you learn? What changes could the instructor make that would help you learn better? What could you do to improve your own learning?). Or you could write your own questions targeting specific teaching strategies or issues you want feedback on. Another option is CITL’s online mid-semester evaluation system, which includes both Likert-scale and open-ended questions. To learn more about CITL’s MSE, see this 7-minute video:
What format should you use to gather the data? Your options include a paper form, an online survey (using an application such as Qualtrics or Survey Monkey), or the online mid-semester evaluation provided by CITL. You should encourage your students to attend class on the day you plan to administer the evaluation, and (if you decide to use an online survey or CITL’s form) remind them to bring a device (laptop, tablet, or phone) to class.
Administering the survey
It is best to administer the mid-semester evaluation during a class session, to ensure a high response rate. Tell your students that the purpose of the mid-semester evaluation is to obtain their feedback about the course and your teaching, at a point in the semester when changes can make a difference for them. You might also point out that the survey will be anonymous (CITL can help you ensure anonymity in paper surveys).
Analyzing the feedback
The purpose of analyzing responses to your mid-semester evaluation is to identify patterns—places where the quantitative and qualitative responses converge, for example. For responses to open-ended questions, first discard the comments that are off-topic or not specific enough to be useful. Then sort the remaining comments into categories based on their content, and determine a general trend within each category. For example, you might have a category of comments about the exams, with many saying that that they do not seem to be clearly related to course content. Another category of comments might focus on in-class activities, with the majority being positive comments that mention how helpful they are for students’ learning.
After analyzing your feedback, you need to decide what you want to take action on. Choose a small number of categories or issues to act on; these might be items that are easily addressed, or that are likely to have a significant impact on student learning. Keep in mind that you may decide to reject some of the students’ suggestions because of practical, philosophical, or disciplinary objections.
Taking action on the feedback involves two steps: deciding how to change the course to address students’ feedback, and telling students what you heard from their feedback and how you will respond. The second of these—the step we refer to as “closing the loop”—is particularly important, because if students perceive that their feedback and advice have been ignored, they can give more negative evaluations at the end of the semester. On the other hand, closing the loop with your students after a mid-semester evaluation can actually improve end-of-semester ratings (McGowan and Osguthorpe, 2011).
Close the loop in class by first thanking the students for their feedback. You should mention both the positive and the negative feedback. You can take time to discuss the changes you are willing to make to enhance student learning, as well as what you are not willing to change about the course. The most important point is to let students know that you have heard and considered their feedback, and that you are interested in improving their learning.
McGowan, W. R. and Osguthorpe, R. T. (2011). Student and faculty perceptions of effects of midcourse evaluations. To Improve the Academy, vol. 29(1), 160-172.