Midpoint Course Evaluations

by Katherine Kipp, Interim CTLL Faculty Fellow – Oconee

So we have officially passed the midpoint of the semester. Hopefully, we finally ironed out all the wrinkles in our courses and have settled into a comfortable pattern that works for us and works for our students. This is the time in the semester that I like to reflect on how well things are actually working, for me, but more importantly, for my students. I think I know how they are doing and what teaching strategies are working for them, but I’ve learned over the years that I can’t base my assessment solely on my own perceptions.

In the spirit of self-reflection, I like to conduct mid-point course evaluations in each of my courses/sections. These are similar to the end of course evaluations students complete in Banner, but they can be more useful because they are immediately beneficial to the students. I’ve always found these midpoint evaluations to be helpful or, at the very least, innocuous.

My procedure is to announce to the class my intention of conducting the midpoint evaluation. I ask the students to pull out a piece of notebook paper and write down 2 questions and their responses to each: (1) what do I like about the course and want to keep? And (2) what do I dislike about the course and want to see changed. I ask them to think about their learning in the course: what have I done that has helped or not helped them learn, what are they doing that is helping or not helping them learn. I ask them to be as thorough as possible because I will be acting upon their responses. I stress that it is very important to list things they like because if I only hear from those who dislike it, their “like” might be removed from the course. I spend a few minutes explaining that I’m doing this exercise so that they can actually have some input into the course and their evaluations will matter for the rest of the semester. With the instructions clear, I ask them to write out as much as they can, and then I collect their responses anonymously. It only takes about 10 minutes of class time.

Once I have their responses it is time for data analysis and reflection. For my procedure, I make a simple table listing every characteristic of the course that was mentioned and tally up the likes and dislikes for that characteristic. Usually I find a few key items showing up on most students’ evaluations and also a list of items only mentioned by one or two students. I reflect on the opinion of the class as a whole, and on whether I agree with their assessment. Next I reflect on what changes I could make to the course to improve, based on their suggestions. One of the beauties of this evaluation method is that students often clue me in on hurdles, obstacles, and techniques that I never would have thought of on my own.

Finally, I report back to the class. I read off suggestions and announce the number of likes and dislikes. Then I talk about how I will change to accommodate their suggestions OR the fact that I won’t change and, critically, why I won’t change. The students often enjoy this class interchange, but most importantly, they see that they are partners in the learning process, that they can influence their learning environment, and that I value their input and am eager to help them succeed.

There are many ways to structure a mid-point evaluation. Some of the parameters to consider include:

–      Anonymous vs Signed: some instructors like keeping the evaluations anonymous with the thinking that students will be more forthcoming whereas others think the students are more responsible when they sign their evaluations

–      Free-form vs Structured Format: the example above was a free-form, “write about how the course is going for you” format. Another option is to use the formal structure of the end-of-course forms given in Banner or by some other format. If you have specific techniques or issues you need feedback about, it is good to add those to whichever form you use. It is always good to have at least one open-ended question regardless of your preferred format, so that your students will have a chance to give opinions that might have been missed by your form.

–      In-class or online delivery: Contrary to what we might believe about differences in delivery format, research suggests that there are no differences in students’ responses between these delivery formats (Crews & Curtis, 2011). Although the method of gathering the evaluations doesn’t matter, it is important to have the debriefing discussion about the outcomes in person, with the class.

There are many benefits to using a midpoint evaluation. Students overwhelmingly want to be heard from in course structure and content, but very few actually feel that their evaluations are acted upon or that their feedback makes a difference (Freeman & Dobbins, 2013). This evaluation convinces them that what they think IS heard and DOES make a difference. Students gain confidence in themselves and trust in you as their instructor and partner in learning. It is a great way to get feedback in a low-cost, formative way that you may not get from the end-of-the-semester summative evaluations. And research suggests it does improve teaching for the rest of the semester (Cohen, 1980; Murray, 2007).

You can get more detail about this technique from McKeachie (2013) or Whitford (2008). There are many online forms offered as well, from the University of Maryland you can get instructions and evaluation forms, and others from University of British Columbia , Indiana University, Bloomington, and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. An especially helpful tutorial and sample forms are available here.

One final point – the most essential aspect of the mid-point evaluation is that you are willing to change something. It is not an effective technique to be used if you don’t plan to give-and-take with the students. It is also important that you don’t over-use the technique within a single course offering: students can suffer from survey-overload!

Good luck, and we are half-way there!

-Cohen, P.A. (1980). Effectiveness of student-rating feedback for improving college instruction: A meta-analysis of findings. Research in Higher Education, 13, 321-341.

-Crews, T.B. & Curtis, D.F. (2011). Online course evaluations: faculty perspective and strategies for improved response rates. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36, 865-878.

-Freeman, R., & Dobbins, K. (2013). Are we serious about enhancing courses? Using the principles of assessment for learning to enhance course evaluation. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38, 142-151.

-McKeachie, W.J. (2013). Teaching Tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (14th ed.). Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company.

-Murray, H.G. (2007). Low-inference teaching behaviors and college teaching effectiveness: Recent developments and controversies. In R.P. Perry & J.C. Smart (Eds.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education: An evidence-based perspective (pp. 145-200). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

-Whitford, F.W. (2008). College Teaching Tips. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

PowerPoints of Interest

Many of us use PowerPoints in class and at conferences, and our audiences often spend more time reading the screen rather than paying attention to the speaker. Research shows that these competing dynamics of person and screen text lead to low retention. Even if we just use mini-presentations coupled with lots of active work, it is worth our time to consider how we might best employ PowerPoint to communicate our ideas. An article in Faculty Focus provides some valuable ideas and links.