Dear ECP Committee,
I feel like I have put a lot of time into designing my classes but feel like I am being met with blank stares. I can’t tell how my students feel about the course. What can I do?
A Bad Mind Reader
Dear A Bad Mind Reader,
It can be hard to tell exactly what’s going through our students’ minds in the moment and it’s easy to make assumptions when met with blank stares. You could wait for final evaluations to come back, but this can take a while and won’t benefit your current students. Collecting Midsemester feedback can be a great way to learn more about what your students are thinking, and to make (small) corrections to improve their learning environment. The information you obtain from students can also provide insight into any potential concerns about your class and allow you to improve your teaching.
What is midsemester feedback and how do I get it?
Many of us put a lot of time and effort into designing our courses. However, we are not always sure our plans will align with student performance. Midsemester feedback is when we ask students to tell us how the course is going from their perspective.
There are many ways to collect feedback from students. You can choose to collect the data yourself using a survey or invite a colleague or member of your school’s teaching and learning center to collect feedback for you. The method you choose can depend on several factors, including the level and type of feedback you’d like, the amount of class time you’d like to devote to obtaining feedback, and your preferences.
What to ask?
The questions you ask should reflect what you are interested in learning through your midsemester evaluation. If you’d like to obtain a general sense of how the course is going, you can ask general questions about what is helping students learn and anything that is hindering their ability to learn. If you are wondering about specific things, such as how your newly flipped classroom is going, then it is a good idea to include specific questions (e.g. “In what ways are the pre-class materials aiding your learning?”). You should not ask questions about items you are not planning to change. If you are required to use a specific textbook in your statistics course, then asking students “how do you feel about the textbook?” may lead to answers you cannot address.
If you need help picking questions to ask, have no fear! There are sample questions on the STP Facebook page and on many Teaching and Learning Center websites. This chapter and Midcourse Correction for the College Classroom provides an overview of how to collect and use midsemester feedback. When in doubt, your colleagues can also be a great resource!
How do I use Midsemester feedback?
Once you’ve collected student responses, you need to make sense of it. It can be helpful to look for patterns in student responses and identify common perceptions. Then, you can brainstorm responses to share with your students. If you feel lost at how to address certain responses, you can always rely on your colleagues and teaching and learning center.
When you ask for feedback, it’s important to address it with your students. Depending on the number of students and questions you ask, you won’t be able to address every single comment. However, you can mention any patterns you noticed in students’ responses, both the positive and negative. You likely won’t make every change that students request, and there may be times where student responses conflict, like whether the class pacing is “too fast” or “too slow.” In these cases, it can be helpful to acknowledge the pattern you noticed and explain why you aren’t changing that aspect of your course.
Any advice for getting midsemester feedback?
· Keep it brief! Midsemester often means midterms for students across multiple classes. Using brief, general questions can help you obtain feedback on the whole course. If you have a specific area you’re interested in getting feedback, devote a question or two to that topic.
· Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to. Make sure to focus your questions on things that you can address. If you can’t control the lighting, the room, or the textbook, don’t ask students how they feel about these items.
· Focus on student learning, not liking. You (and your course) cannot make everyone happy. Feedback on learning will provide you with more productive responses that can help you improve your course. Focusing on liking can lead you to receive feedback you can’t address.
· Focus on the middle. Students provide feedback ranging from “this is the best class I have ever had” to “this is the worst class ever.” While the former can raise your spirits, the latter can sting. When looking through feedback to address, it can be most helpful to look at the responses in the middle. These students may not sing your praises, but they may provide you with constructive criticism to make your class even better!
· Differentiate between emotional and actionable. It’s ok to respond emotionally to feedback, both positively and negatively. Before addressing feedback with your students, it can help to differentiate between evaluations you can act on (i.e., actionable) and those that elicit emotions from you (i.e., emotional)
Ultimately, collecting Midsemester Feedback can benefit you by providing specific ways to improve your course, serving as evidence for effective teaching, and to help your students feel seen in your classroom. We wish you luck with the rest of your semester!