It’s time for mid-semester evaluations

Standard

Have you ever gotten student evaluations back after the semester is over, and had some surprises? Some of these surprises are avoidable.

Once your course gets into a groove, it’s a great idea to see how the students feel about the course. You can do this with a mid-semester evaluation. This is just a form that you administer yourself, just for your own use. You can ask the students questions you have about how they feel the course is going, what they like, what they don’t like, and to express any suggestions they might have. It’s really useful to have this information while you still have the opportunity to change course well before the end of the semester.

This can help you design a more effective course. It also can help you anticipate what your teaching evaluations at the end of the semester might look like.

For example, when I was teaching an introductory organismal biology course, each day started out with a “creature of the day.” Students picked an organism at the start of the semester, and then picked a day to give a 2-minute presentation on the natural history of the biology. I thought it would be fun. It wasn’t worth a ton of points, each student did it once, and it was a good way to start the class.

Except, apparently, it wasn’t a good way to start the class. At the end of the semester, it was pretty clear from the evaluations that the students didn’t like it. It was more a source of worry than anything else, wasn’t apparently that fun, and I didn’t provide students with enough support. If I had this feedback during the semester, then I could have changed tack. I fixed things for the next semester, but that was of no use to the students in my course that particular semester.

There are a variety of ways you can do your mid-semester evaluation, depending on your needs. You could hand out a form in class, and give them five minutes to fill it out anonymously. If you are particularly concerned about students sussing our your handwriting, or you’re very digital, you could come up with an online form (like a google form) that can be done anonymously. If you don’t do this in class hours, though, it might be hard to get a good response rate. I know some folks who have done their own form and also distributed copies of the official university evaluation, with the same likert scale, which could be useful for you if your institution has an unhealthy emphasis on the numerical scores and you need to size up where you are mid-semester.

If you do mid-semester evaluations, when/how/why do you do them? What questions do you ask? How does it impact your teaching?

3 thoughts on “It’s time for mid-semester evaluations

  1. Hi Terry, neat post. I agree wholeheartedly that the earlier we can get feedback the better, particularly to help solve problems for the current student group. To this end I’ve taken to using padlet (www.padlet.com) to allow students to provide anonymous feedback on any issues as they crop up. It works particularly well in courses where we have used this tool early in the semester to provide answers to questions that I pose to the class. They get used to padlet and are then happy providing ongoing feedback on parts of the class. I still do a mid-semester evaluation, but this can quickly nip problems in the bud. Other anonymous, real-time commenting tools could also be used for this, but padlet works great for me.

  2. In the past (as a TA) I have handed out index cards and asked students to write 3 comments with the prompts stop, start, and continue. One thing they don’t like, that they’d rather I stop doing, one thing they suggest I do that I am not already, and one that they like and want me to continue. It’s a great way to get quick feedback on anything the students really dislike, or really would like, before it’s too late.

  3. I always ask: what’s going well, what’s not going so well, what can I, and you, do to improve things in the second half. It’s always nice to see how honest my students are about what they could be doing differently. Also, this term I discovered via my midterm evals that no one understands any of the textbook readings, which meant that students were not feeling prepared for class, which meant that they were all sorts of stressed out about the course. I’m so glad I discovered this before the end of the term, and turns out it’s an easy enough fix to “work around” the textbook.

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