Take a Step Back
The midpoint of the semester presents an opportunity to reflect on the successes of your course and to identify areas for improvement, particularly at a time when many course elements are relatively new to students and faculty (e.g., virtual office hours, live class meetings in Zoom, “lectures” via video). What frameworks or techniques have worked well for your students? Are there any strategies or technologies that are not meeting expectations?
In addition to collecting feedback on your course itself, this is also an appropriate time to gauge student mental health. Learning Innovation’s guide to supporting student well-being emphasizes the importance of checking-in on students, which can come in the form of a mid-semester student survey.
Surveying students using polls, focus groups or other methods can yield valuable insights into your teaching; however, it is important to collect student feedback only if you intend to take action in response to the feedback.
Zoom polling is a simple way to tap students’ impressions of the first half of the semester. Consider setting aside a few minutes of class to collect student feedback about various aspects of your course. A multiple choice Zoom poll could inquire, for example, “How would you rate the fairness of the take home exam?” Likert-type responses (“agree”, “strongly agree”, etc.) are useful for such questions. The Sakai poll is another quick tool for recording student feedback. An advantage of Sakai polling is that results can be published on your course site. Don’t forget to communicate the purpose of the poll before administering it.
Qualtrics is a powerful survey platform for nuanced assessment and analysis. Qualtrics offers survey items beyond multiple choice, including open-ended, rank-order and sliding-scale inquiries. Open-ended questions are a key tool for tapping students’ personal experiences in your course. Examples of open-ended feedback questions include:
- What is the most effective way this course helps you with your learning?
- What could I do to improve your learning in this course?
For more inspiration, check out the UC Berkeley sample questions for midterm course evaluations. Accessible teaching in the time of COVID-19 is another great resource for questions related to accessibility.
If you would like to provide students insight into their study habits in particular, consider asking students to fill out an exam wrapper as a final step of the midterm. The questions on an exam wrapper usually focus on student preparation for the exam, awareness of the common problems in their exam, and reflection on how to prepare for the next exam. Carnegie Mellon’s teaching center has some useful examples of exam wrappers.
Frequent, short feedback assessments (formative assessments), such as minute papers or exit tickets, can also be used to measure teaching effectiveness on a regular basis. Vanderbilt has a helpful guide for these more focused methods.
In addition to collecting student feedback, try critiquing your own teaching by watching a recording of your class. Self-observation is straightforward in Fall 2020, since most classes are recorded automatically. Decide what aspect(s) of your teaching you’d like to concentrate on before viewing. Here are some examples of target areas for critique:
- Am I calling on and hearing from multiple students?
- Is there enough wait-time after asking a question?
- Am I providing a good balance of instructor talk-time and student talk-time?
- Is my delivery clear and engaging?
- Are my instructions for breakout rooms clear?
- Are my technologies (digital whiteboard, etc.) achieving their desired effect?
Once you’ve collected student feedback, it’s time to analyze the data. The analysis and sharing protocol should be shared with students ahead of time so that there are no surprises or breaches of confidentiality.
Some faculty prefer to outsource survey analysis to student delegates. Assigning students to review their own feedback maximizes transparency and can serve as a valuable learning opportunity. Other instructors prefer to review midterm feedback themselves. In any case, the most important thing is to share your results and reflections with students. The results can be discussed live in class or a curated presentation can be developed ahead of time.
It is important to explain to students how you intend to respond to their feedback. Which requests for change will you honor? Are there any misunderstandings that need to be addressed? Seize the opportunity to highlight what is working well, and clarify your rationale for using certain strategies or technologies. Inevitably, some feedback items will not yield direct changes to the course, either because it is too late or because the request is unrealistic. In these cases, explain to your students why no action will be taken.
One creative way to put students in the driver’s seat is by conducting a syllabus hack-a-thon, which allows students to participate in the course design process by modifying the syllabus themselves.
For more resources on collecting mid-term feedback, check out Learning Innovation’s guide to teaching assessment.