Why Collect Mid-semester Feedback from Students?
Mid-semester is an ideal time to solicit feedback from students. Generally by mid-semester students have a sense of the class expectations, your teaching, and how they are doing. Mid-semester feedback from students can inform you about what is supporting their learning, what may be impeding their learning, and suggestions that could improve their learning. This allows you to then reinforce the pedagogical practices that are effective, yet make adjustments and revisions to improve learning before the term is over. Gathering feedback at the midpoint of the semester also provides students with the opportunity to reflect on their learning and make their own adjustments to learning practices and strategies.
Here are suggested steps for collecting mid-semester feedback from students.
Step 1: Prepare in Advance
Consider building feedback into your syllabus calendar so that from the first day of class students can see this is a planned event, and not a reaction to something in the class, or a result of something going wrong. This also provides you a reminder in your schedule to prepare your questions and collection method for subsequent times you teach the course.
Step 2: Determine Method of Collection and Questions
Think ahead about the task you want students to do, and how you will make the format, instructions, and expectations explicit for students. Information can be gathered by simply having students write responses to questions on index cards or a handout. Or, you can streamline the process by leveraging technology such as the Survey tool in TCU Online or Google Forms, both of which can be configured to allow anonymous submissions.
As you are developing your questions, consider what kinds of questions would give you useful information about your course and the students’ experiences. Questions that tend to work best have been tailored to your specific class and students’ needs. Here are a few examples of the types of questions you might ask and what kind of data they provide.
You might be interested in gathering questions in which students are selecting from a pre-populated list in order to see larger trends.
- Example: Which component of the study guide are you finding most helpful when studying? A) vocabulary list, B) practice problems, C) reading questions
- A question like this may help you tailor future study guides for the course.
You might ask a Likert scale question in which students assess their learning related to specific course outcomes or topics covered so far.
- Example: As a result of your work in this class, what learning gains did you make in regard to the following course topics/outcomes (1 = no gains, 2 = little gains, 3 = moderate gains, 4 = good gains, 5 = great gains).
- A question like this might show you gaps in learning that students are experiencing before moving to the next half of the course.
You might ask students to put in order the topics or skills they are more confident about compared to those they are less confident about.
- Example: Please rank the following skills by how confident you feel with your ability to XXX (do, complete, define, use) them. Put the one you feel most confident at the top and the least confident at the bottom.
- A question like this might show you larger trends across the class or a pattern that gives you data about how to help students learn specific skills. You might find that the students who rank one topic or skill as their highest also are ranking another specific topic or skill as their lowest.
You might also ask students questions in which they generate unique responses to your prompts.
- Example: Please describe in 2–3 sentences how the XXX (weekly quizzes, class activities, journal article reviews, student presentations) helped your learning.
- Example: What is something I (the instructor) could do to help you learn in this course? Please be specific so that I know how this would help you learn.
- Example: In 4–5 sentences, please reflect about your own learning practices for the course this far. What are you doing that is working well? What could you adjust or change to improve your and your classmates’ learning in this course?
Step 3: Collect Feedback
Now that you have your questions written in the delivery method you have chosen, think ahead about how to deliberately and thoughtfully communicate to students that you care about them and their learning, and you value their feedback. Consider emphasizing anonymity, reinforcing that you want to know what is working, and showing you are open to making small adjustments.
Here are some sample phrases to introduce the process and expectations of getting feedback:
- I’m sure you’ve experienced good instructors in the past, and in order to become a good instructor you have to keep developing through feedback and practice. I want to keep getting better each semester, so today you will… (explain what they will be doing).
- Just as you improve at (insert discipline) through feedback, revision, and trying new things, I work to improve and refine my teaching by also getting feedback. Today you will… (explain what they will be doing).
- Sometimes even when I teach the same class back-to-back or over different semesters, I find one class needs one thing and another class needs something a little different in order to learn best. I like to tailor how I teach to the students I have. In order to do that, today you will… (explain what they will be doing).
- I like to keep my courses relevant to (research, developments, current events, etc.), so I’ve made some changes from the last time I taught this class. I want to get your feedback to see if the changes are helping you (learn the information, practice relevant skills, etc.). Today you will… (explain what they will be doing).
- I have some time set aside today for you to answer a few questions anonymously so I can find out what is working for the class, and what adjustments we could make now so the second half is even better. Today you will… (explain what they will be doing).
Additionally, students may not have experience with providing constructive feedback. You may need to model this or give a mini-lesson. If you are using technology, you may want to demo how it will work, or provide written steps.
- Before we get started, I want to ask you to think about how you can write constructive feedback that will help improve your learning and the learning of your classmates. Here is what constructive feedback looks like. (Give examples that pertain to your discipline or needs.)
- While you answer the questions, I want you to focus on your “learning.” This may be different from what you “like” or think is “fun.” For example, consider XXX (quizzes, discussion questions, reading logs, etc.). You may not particularly like them, but having them keeps you accountable for the work and provides you with feedback to help you improve before the exam.
Step 4: Analyze the Feedback
Once you have collected the feedback, look for common themes and trends. Consider the feedback within the context of student learning.
Consider grouping the themes into three categories:
- things you can or are willing to change.
- things you cannot or are unable to change.
- things you need more information about.
For some things, you may already have ideas or solutions. For other things, you may need to seek outside help.
- Research in teaching journals, books, websites, or disciplinary organization resources.
- Reach out to an advisor, mentor, or colleague for suggestions or ideas.
- Ask a TA in the department to brainstorm ideas or review materials you are developing.
- Contact the Koehler Center (firstname.lastname@example.org) for ideas for class activities, strategies for learning, or assistance reviewing documents or assignments.
Step 5: Talk with Students About the Feedback
It is imperative that you take some time to revisit and talk with students about the feedback. It is best to do this within a week or so of collection. Think through how you will summarize the results to the class and how you will share it with them.
Start by thanking students for their feedback. Select two or three things that were positive that you plan to continue doing or will reinforce. If there are things you will change, explain what you will change and why. If there are things you cannot change, provide a rationale. Sometimes just knowing why something is the way it is, or understanding it is that way for a reason, is a solution in itself. Clarify any confusion or misunderstandings about goals, expectations, or procedures. Ask for further information if necessary. Where appropriate, ask for students’ help in making a change, or let them know how they can help with improvements.
Here are some sample phrases:
- Thank you for your constructive feedback. I read through everything to look for common themes. Several of you mentioned that X is helpful so I plan to…
- Unfortunately, I cannot change X… because it is a department standard for… But, know that I am here to support you with this through… Previous students have found Y (direct to resources) helpful, and I’ll put links in TCU Online…
- A few of you mentioned needing more help with X, so I have posted a few resources in TCU Online about…
- I would like to get some more information about X, so I have a notecard (or an anonymous follow up survey) and some questions to help me get more specifics…
- Several of you mentioned that I have a tendency to go too fast. I want to work on this so I’d appreciate it if you would signal me whenever… Let’s figure out a signal so I know when to slow down.
Step 6: Reinforce the Changes
Students may not notice when or if a change is made, so whenever possible, make it explicit through both your words and your actions. These moves will also help students remember the changes when it is time for end-of-course evaluations. For example, “You all said having a reading guide would help you learn and prepare for class, so I created this guide for next week’s reading with…” This will help students see that their feedback was valued and has made a difference.
If necessary, explain to students how to better utilize some of the changes. For example, “You all said it is sometimes difficult to know what to take notes on. Let’s go back and look at your notes for today.”
Then use guiding questions to help them make connections:
- Did you notice how the practice problem was similar to the one you did for homework?
- Did you get the practice problem right or wrong?
- How did you write down the problem?
- What did you write down about the problem?
- Did you include comments to yourself to help explain things later when you are studying?
- How might you take notes differently to help you better prepare?
This also helps reinforce the development of students’ metacognitive and self-monitoring skills.
Step 7: Continue to Solicit Informal Feedback
Continue to check in with students about the changes and ask for informal feedback. This can be accomplished with anonymous notecards or online survey tools; by adding reflection questions or exam wrappers (ex: Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University) to the end of exams; or by including process memos as part of an assignment. These tasks ask students to reflect on what helped them prepare for or successfully accomplish something.
You can also get informal feedback while helping students see how a particular change can help them learn. For example, “You all asked for a study guide to help you better prepare for the exam. I’d like to take some time to deconstruct the exam and get some feedback on how the study guide helped you prepare. Let’s discuss which pieces of the study guide were most helpful and how you used it to study…”
Seldin, P. (1997). Using student feedback to improve teaching. To Improve the Academy, 16, 335-346.