By TAHIRAH WALKER and NANCY REILLY
October marks the middle of the regular fall semester. Many instructors may be concerned about mid-term testing and material coverage. As we tackle those important mid-semester tasks, it is often a good idea to get some feedback from students about how the course is going.
Conducting mid-semester surveys to measure student rating of instructional effectiveness is a practice that offers many benefits. Mid-semester surveying reminds students of the overall course objectives, builds rapport between students and instructors, and provides a space for student feedback.
The feedback may open doors for critical shifts in pedagogical approach or give way to explanations that help you interpret the needs of students more effectively. It also correlates to an increase in the number of responses to end-of-semester surveys (known as OMETs here at Pitt). The following are some basic tips to help you navigate creating and deploying mid-semester surveys.
- Make time for them. Allowing for class time to both administer surveys and discuss outcomes can be an effective way to foster motivation to complete them. Sometimes instructors feel they simply do not have the class time to spare for this. One solution is to push some of your in-class content delivery to another format. Panopto works very well for lecture content that might otherwise prevent you from using class time on surveys.
- Make them anonymous. Qualtrics and CourseWeb are both good tools that you can use to administer the surveys and collect data without forcing students to name themselves. If you want to offer some form of credit for completion, you can offer everyone credit if the response rate reaches a certain value (i.e. 90 percent of students). Or, if you use CourseWeb, the survey can be structured so that only completion is documented by student name in the Grade Center.
- Make them short. Five question surveys are recommended. You also may benefit from having some questions that are general and some that are specific to content areas or learning needs.
- Make them count. If you receive feedback that you can use to adjust the course, don’t wait until next semester to implement changes. Of course, sometimes there will be feedback you can’t or shouldn’t act on — spoiler alert: “too much reading” is a comment that loves to make an appearance in open-ended course feedback. Acknowledge any frustrations expressed or challenges that are presented. It is OK to share the rationale for your pedagogical approaches. Students appreciate knowing this.
- Make them transparent. Show students as much of the outcomes as is appropriate. If a large percentage of your students are saying the same thing and you choose to ignore those comments, those same comments are likely to appear in your OMETs. Students talk, and if they know you aren’t addressing something that they see as a problem, you’ll lose credibility.
Having both formative and summative feedback is a critical component of improvement. Mid-semester surveys also may help you gauge how well you are doing in the affective domain of teaching practice and increase students’ sense of rapport. This in turn opens new pedagogical routes that are formed in the context of positive emotional experiences.
In addition to talking with your students about the feedback they have offered, consider seeing a Teaching and Learning Consultant who can help you navigate other issues that may come into play, such as diversity, inclusion and equity or educational technology needs. Consultation can help place student feedback in additional light and create plans for using the information you receive both in the current versions of your courses as well as future ones.
For additional resources on this topic, please take a look at the references listed below and visit the Center for Teaching and Learning OMET website.
- Boysen, G. A. (2016). “Using student evaluations to improve teaching: Evidence-based recommendations.” Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 2(4), 273-284.
- Cavanagh, S. R. (2016). “The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion.” West Virginia University Press.
- Jonas W. B. Lang, & Kersting, M. (2007). “Regular feedback from student ratings of instruction: Do college teachers improve their ratings in the long run?” Instructional Science, 35(3), 187-205. doi:10.1007/s11251-006-9006-1
Tahirah Walker is a teaching consultant, and Nancy Reilly is the director of the Office of Measurement & Evaluation of Teaching, in the University Center for Teaching & Learning.