While end-of-term evaluations are key for institutional accountability, mid-semester feedback allows instructors to improve their courses midstream, and make teaching adjustments specific to the particular needs and desires of current students. In addition, mid-semester feedback generally produces better quality feedback than end-of-term evaluations, since students have a shared stake in the results and instructors can seek clarification on confusing responses.
Yale undergraduate students have indicated that they understand these benefits and welcome more mid-semester feedback opportunities in their courses. The Yale Daily News reports that Yale College students want their instructors to conduct mid-semester feedback, and prefer that opportunities for feedback occur before the first significant graded assessment. Similarly, the Yale College Council released a 2015 report wherein a majority of Yale College STEM majors supported the institutionalization of mid-semester feedback to improve teaching in STEM courses.
Instructors can consider working with a Poorvu Center staff member to customize mid-semester feedback exercises that best fit their needs:
- Students assessing the instructor’s teaching
- Students assessing their own learning
- Discuss with a peer or reflect on self-solicited feedback based on clear criteria provided by the instructor
- Complete ungraded online quizzes
- Engage with self-reflective knowledge surveys or journaling assignments
- Student-instructor co-designed assessments
- Co-create questions, co-design the format, and co-analyze evaluation results
- Use this approach as a creative and more radical way to empower student voices and actively engage students as respondents, researchers, and learners
- Choose the right questions - Instructors should consider what are the most important two to three aspects of class they really want to know more about. Four core questions exist as a default in the Midsemester Feedback tool on Canvas:
- What is helping your learning in this class?
- What is hindering your learning in this class?
- What could the instructor change to improve your learning experience in this class?
- What could you do differently to improve your learning experience in this class?
- Note: Early in each semester, instructors may add up to four additional questions in more specific areas where they would like feedback.
- Choose the appropriate methods - Instructors should consider what form of mid-semester feedback is best for their course. Various approaches will offer different data for instructors’ pedagogical goals. For instance, small group feedback sessions yield high-quality results but take 20 minutes of class time. Conversely, anonymous online surveys take less time but may be less thorough or reliable. In-class discussions or one-on-one meetings with the instructor are generally beneficial for assessing student learning but may inhibit students’ freedom to give instructors honest feedback.
- Choose the best time - Instructors should try to schedule mid-semester feedback before the first significant graded midterm assignment; this gives students a chance to specify areas and ways in which they feel underprepared before they are formally assessed.
- Encourage students to give feedback - Clearly offer the opportunity for mid-semester feedback to students via Canvas, and if time, set aside class time for them to complete the feedback to ensure a representative sample of students from each course respond.
- Be aware of bias in student feedback - The literature suggests that student evaluations may be biased against women and minorities and thus not always valid measures of instruction (Basow, 1995; Watchel, 1998; Huston, 2005; Reid, L. (2010; Basow, S.A. & Martin, J.L. 2012). With this in mind, instructors may consider student evaluations as one data source in their instruction, take note of any prevailing themes, and decide how to respond. They can seek out other ways to assess their practices to accompany student evaluation data before taking steps to modify instruction. One option is to include external observation and anonymous discussion with students for more real-time, and often more honest, feedback. The Poorvu Center offers consultations regarding mid-semester feedback data collected.
- Follow up with students regarding their feedback - Instructors should keep in mind that asking for feedback without following up can hurt class, since it suggests to students that their opinions might not matter. Instead, instructors can clarify any confusions or misunderstandings with students about their feedback, explain their intended plans for utilizing the feedback, and thank students for their honesty, inviting them to continue working with the instructor to improve the course.
To help make the most of this teaching tool, the Yale Poorvu Center helps instructors collect, interpret, and respond to mid-semester feedback data. Some specific Poorvu Center services include the following:
- Organizing in-person course evaluations through small group feedback sessions (SGFS) (without the instructor present) and/or classroom observations
- Providing sample questions for evaluation surveys and instructions for creating anonymous online surveys
- Arranging in-person consultations to interpret results and plan possible responses
Mid-semester feedback may help both instructors and students as it leads to course adjustments that benefit both. Other times, instructors may take in the feedback, acknowledge it, yet explain why a certain practice or workload will continue because it is essential to the course learning outcomes.
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Basow, S. A., & Martin, J. L. (2012). Bias in student evaluations. In M. E. Kite (Ed.), Effective evaluation of teaching: A guide for faculty and administrators (pp. 40–49). Society for the Teaching of Psychology.
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