Mid-term Assessments

In recent weeks, I’ve heard quite a bit about final student evaluations of instructors.  If you haven’t heard yet, VC is transitioning from using the IDEA forms that we have used in the past to a shorter evaluation form.  The process is a bit different, but I’m told it has been simple and quick in the few fast-track classes that have completed it.  If you haven’t heard about this yet, you will in the next week or so.

While there’s some debate as to the validity of student feedback, that’s not the topic of today’s post.  I would like to focus on the timing of the feedback we receive from our students.  Most of the time, we receive this information in the middle of the following semester, which is too late to have any time of meaningful impact until one full year after the course was taught from which you received the feedback.  By that time, the feedback is virtually useless, even if it was good information.  And, this feedback feels both evaluative and summative – much like our final exams must feel to our students.

Mid-term is an excellent time to collect more formative and timely feedback.  It is timely enough to be useful and can provide valuable insight into how students are perceiving your course.  I’ve used mid-term assessments in the past and the information I received was often not what I anticipated, but it was very insightful.  And, as a bonus, it was done very effectively during the last five to ten minutes of a class session.

I generally only ask two open response questions.  The first time I asked the wrong questions.  I asked versions of “What do you like?” and “What would you change?” The first question wasn’t bad and there were a variety of responses as all students are different, but the second question was entirely useless.  I received comments asking to change the homework, the tests, the reading assignments, etc. – basically all of the “work” of the class.  However, neither of these questions focused on what I really wanted to know.

So now I ask different – better – questions.  Ultimately, I want to know how I can help the students learn better.  I’ve asked, “What can I do to help you learn?” and “What have I done that has been helpful to your learning?” I have found that most students choose the tiniest things that I wouldn’t have even considered as things that have helped them (like the fact that I write short comments on their end of the class reflections before handing them back to them).  And, my students have always been totally honest about what I can do to help them – most say that I can’t do anything more and it’s all up to them – but a few have suggested small changes that I could make.

After listening to a recent podcast (I can’t recall which one) on this topic, I realized that I can focus my questions even more.  This week I asked – What factors are helping you learn? and What factors are hindering your learning?  I haven’t read the feedback yet, but I’m hopeful that I get some useful information.

As with any formative assessments, there are a few things to remember:

  1. Always tell students why you are asking for the information and be clear about what you are willing (and able) to change.
  2. Consider having the feedback turned in anonymously.  This may encourage more honest feedback from the students, but I’ve never done mine anonymously and I feel as though my students were honest with me.
  3. Share the results with your students.  If the requests are reasonable and easy to implement, tell them what changes you are making and why.

I’m interested in learning what mid-term assessments you do and the types of responses you’ve gotten.  Oh, and smile! Half of the semester is now behind us!

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