Midsemester Feedback with a Focus
Around this time each term, we suggest gathering feedback on how the course is going for students so far. Checking in with them at midsemester (or at several points) is much more helpful than waiting until the end of the term because there’s still time to use what they say to make adjustments to the course. By the time we typically get their feedback, on our course evaluations, it’s too late to make any changes.
There are many ways to invite our students to share their perspectives. We can ask them to write about how the course is going, or to take a survey on which they can provide quantitative, qualitative, or both types of feedback. (Samples are available here and here.) You can use or adapt a template, or create and distribute your own survey during or outside of class time, using Canvas, Qualtrics, or another survey app. We’ve developed a sample midterm evaluation that you can import into Canvas, and instructions are available here.
Most midterm feedback surveys ask students about aspects of our course design and teaching practices. A simple set of questions might look something like this:
- What’s working well for you in this course? What’s helping you learn?
- What’s not working well for you? What hinders your learning, or what obstacles are you facing?
- What suggestions do you have that might improve your learning experoce in this course?
We can also get more specific, asking students questions about the readings, the assignments, the exams, the pacing (whether too fast or too slow), or any technology they’re using in the course. It’s always illuminating to get students’ feedback on our teaching, which is why we make this recommendation every term. This semester, though, we wanted to suggest the possibility of focusing more on collecting feedback about the human dimension of teaching and learning, like the classroom climate and students’ attention.
Our colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University remind us that the “teaching-learning process is an inherently social act, and as instructors we need to be mindful of the quality of the social and emotional dynamics in our course, because they impact learning and performance.” Sometimes it’s hard to know, though, how students are experiencing the climate of our courses. We may be doing our best to create a learning environment that feels warm and welcoming, but it turns out to feel that way to some students and not others. A survey at midterm presents a great opportunity to find out more and make adjustments. Questions might include:
- How welcome and included do you feel in this class?
- Do you feel comfortable sharing your ideas and questions in class?
- What has your experience interacting with your peers been like?
- Do you look forward to coming to this class?
In his latest article in the AACU magazine Liberal Education, James Lang encourages us to “recognize that attention is an achievement, not a given.” He says, “If we view attention as a concerted effort by both instructors and students, then our task as educators becomes clear: we should be helping and supporting our students as they work to achieve attention in our classrooms. When we don’t do that work, we should not be surprised when we see our students drifting toward their distractions.” He goes on to share strategies for helping students stay focused in class, some of which many of us may already be successfully using. But it’s hard to know how students are experiencing this dimension of the learning environment unless we ask. Lang offers some suggested questions as well:
- What helps you pay attention in your courses?
- What interferes with your attention? What sends you to your distractions?
- What could I do in this class to help you stay focused?
Of course we can’t focus on every aspect of every course every time we ask for feedback, so it makes more sense to take a different approach each semester, based on what you’re curious about or working on in your teaching, or on what seems to be going on with the students. Just the act of checking in with our students about how the course is going from their perspective shows that we care about their learning and success.
Since midterm evaluations give us vital information on different dimensions of our teaching in time to act upon it, they often improve end-of-semester evaluations as well. But there are two important provisos: First, students must be confident that the feedback process is safe and anonymous, so that their honesty will not negatively affect your relationship or their grade. Second, it’s essential that you follow up with students, thanking them for their feedback and outlining how you’ll use it: accommodating reasonable, useful suggestions and explaining why others aren’t feasible this semester.
If you’d like support, we’re happy to help you design a method of collecting feedback that works well for your course. We can also help you interpret the results, consider adjustments you’d like to make, and plan how you will discuss the feedback with students. Just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be at your service. We look forward to working with you!