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Using Mid-Term Evaluations to Promote Student Learning
At this time of the semester you might consider administering a mid-term course evaluation. You can use these evaluations to take the pulse of your class(es) early enough in the semester to identify problems and to allow for productive changes.
End-of-semester evaluations often emphasize perceived faculty performance, but evaluations at mid-term can provide a window into, and even stimulate, student learning. Getting feedback at the end of the semester allows you to improve your teaching the next semester; however, wouldn’t you have loved to have known what your students were thinking while they were taking your course? Mid-term feedback is what you’re looking for then.
There are three types of questions that commonly form the core of these evaluations:
- What aspects of this course and your instructor's teaching help you learn best?
- What specific advice would you give to help your instructor improve your learning in this course?
- What steps could you take to improve your own learning in this course?
There are several advantages to asking these kinds of questions somewhere near mid-term, compared to the ones that appear on a typical end-of-semester evaluation:
- These questions change the focus from teacher performance to student learning. This shift can be an important one at mid-term, helping students remember that learning is a complex dynamic involving both teacher and learner.
- These questions ask students to become more self-reflective. Helping students recognize how they learn best can spur them to be more meta-cognitive, that is, to think about their thinking. Research shows that the more aware students are of their cognitive processes, the more likely they are to remember what they learn.
- These questions specifically ask students to identify their preferred study strategies, aides, and approaches and discuss how they fit within the course structure—or not. Given that research shows that most professors do not have the same learning styles as their students, these answers can help instructors understand why students struggle with certain disciplinary skills. Faculty can use evaluation responses to frame a discussion with students about how they as scholars think and learn in their field.
- These questions also send a message that the instructor cares about student learning and how to facilitate it. Ideally, faculty administer mid-term evaluations and devote some time in class, precept, or lab to talk about the responses. Students appreciate this openness to their views and this commitment to their learning and often respond with renewed enthusiasm.
Mid-term evaluation forms are informal and seen only by the instructor. Plan to have a mid-term evaluation some time during the course after students have gotten to know how you teach. Emphasize that you are using the evaluations to improve your teaching and help students learn, encouraging students to write helpful, constructive comments.
Suggestions for Conducting a Mid-Term Course Evaluation
- Provide enough time during class (10 minutes or more at the beginning of class) to complete the evaluation; don't assign it as homework or hand it to students on their way out the door.
- Provide questions for students to respond, not a blank sheet of paper.
- Summarize the results of the midterm evaluations for the class as soon as possible and explain what changes, if any, you plan to make in the class. Then implement those changes. Students benefit from a brief summary of the responses and an explanation of how their feedback might lead to making changes in the second half of a course. Often, student responses will be contradictory ("The math is too hard," "The math is too easy") and it's helpful for students to find out that not everyone is responding to the course in the same way. Students also respect an instructor's explanation of why the course content or style is NOT going to change.
- Be sensitive to individual students' desires for their comments to remain anonymous. (You could ask a department assistant to type the responses before you look at them. Also you could ask a colleague, a mentor, a student observer or someone else to review the evaluations with you).
- Index cards: You can ask for comments on what you are doing well and what you could improve upon. Alternatively, you could ask the students to list things that they are fuzzy on or things they would like to learn more about.
- Questionnaires: You can make a condensed version of the final evaluation form. Ask about the aspect of teaching you could reasonable improve upon during that semester. For example, you can ask about the pace, the amount and difficulty of the material taught (too much or too little). You could ask them to list topics or lectures that the students perceived to be good or bad. Another possibility is to distribute a piece of paper in class and ask the students to write one question they have.
- Small group discussions: It may be useful to form groups of a small number of students to discuss issues that require improvements and ask a representative from each group to submit a summary.