The middle of the academic semester can bring a slump in students’ attitudes about coursework. Halloween festivities, football season, and eyes set on fall breaks ahead all serve as great distractions from assignments and class participation. Institutions and instructors have opportunities to regain students’ focus and gauge student learning through mid-term course evaluations. Such evaluations provide an outlet for students to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of their courses. This feedback can be used to improve course structure moving forward and to assist faculty in engaging their student audiences. Many institutions and individual instructors use mid-term course evaluations as tools for gathering data to develop a continuous feedback loop. This strategy has proven successful at some institutions in increasing student participation in end of term course evaluations that follow (Enyeart 15).
Using online tools to survey students has demonstrated an increase in written feedback on course evaluation forms. Students are not limited by time constraints that may be associated with in-class paper-based course evaluations. It was documented at one institution that the number of words typed by students for open-text questions on web-based course evaluations was seven times greater than those written on paper-based evaluations (5).
Robert T. Brill, PhD., an associate professor of psychology at Moravian College, shared, in a blog posting at www.facultyfocus.com, his three-option feedback approach. This strategy poses questions about specific course components such as text books, assignments, lectures, etc. He asks his students to respond with one of three options: keep as is, keep but modify, or remove from the course. Such questions ask students to justify their responses – their feedback provides support to make changes in the classroom and, more specifically, what changes to make. It also provides support to continue successful practices in the classroom. Dr. Brill asks questions specific to the student learning outcomes for the course – this brings students’ focus to the educational objectives detailed in course syllabi. He welcomes written responses, but also invites students to participate online through his institution’s learning management system.
The Education Advisory Board’s 2009 study on online student course evaluations referenced in the beginning of this post provides example questions from one of the universities involved in its research efforts:
List the major strengths of this course. What is helping you learn in this course? Please give a brief example.
List any changes that could be made in the course to assist with your learning. Please suggest how changes could be made.
The Director of Assessment at this university noted that “[Using mid-term course evaluations] is a very simple, very easy-to-implement way of telling students that their feedback is valuable to them, and it always, always, always improves end of semester course evaluation response rates.”
Students support mid-term course evaluations because they demonstrate instructor interest in student opinions. Jeff Wojcik, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Academic Relations Officer at the University Michigan, wrote an opinion article in the Michigan Daily earlier this year detailing:
Unlike end-of-term evaluations, which can only create improvements for future students, instructors benefit from midterm feedback because they can augment their teaching, if necessary, for students who are currently taking the course. This immediate response can help students learn better and allow professors to adopt a style that best accommodates specific semesters and sections of students. Feedback also allows students to indicate an interest in a relevant political topic, a small change to lecture slides or other suggestions that might not warrant a meeting with a professor.
Learn more from the sources referenced in this post…
Online Student Course Evaluations: Strategies for Increasing Student Participation RatesChristine Enyeart, Michael Ravenscroft, Education Advisory Board, May 8, 2009
Faculty Focus“How to Make Course Evaluations More Valuable”
Robert T. Brill, February 29, 2009
Michigan Daily“More than final feedback”
Jeff Wojcik, February 14, 2011
Becky Yannes, AEFIS Team