Taking Stock at Mid-Semester

This post is a shameless repeat from last semester updated just a bit. In part, it’s because this is what I’m thinking about doing in class this week and in part because I am too overloaded to come up with a fresh idea! Look for a new post from me next week!

Most Colleges and Universities have their faculty members hand out some kind of course evaluation form at the end of the term in order to get student feedback about the class they just took and the professor’s teaching of that course. The feedback, often a combination of written comments and numerical scores, becomes part of the faculty member’s teaching record. Sometimes the scores are used in making salary and promotion decisions. With a lot riding on the scores, we greet these evaluations with stress and anxiety. Does this feedback help us be better teachers? Wouldn’t feedback be more effective if received earlier in the term?

Let’s step back. Why would we want student feedback?

1. The classroom experience is a two-way street. Students get feedback from us (most of us have to figure out a grade for the students after all) as a crucial part of their learning experience. We need their feedback, too, to learn from them and become better teachers.

2. Every group of students is different, leading to a different class community, a different class chemistry. Feedback from students about their impressions of the course can help us figure out ways to improve a course for that particular community. Will those changes work for the next group to walk into your classroom next term? Maybe, maybe not. That community will be different.

Better to gather feedback mid-semester if you want to get some insights into how the class is doing this term. I find this feedback to be quite valuable.

3. You can use student input mid-semester to discover what’s working and what’s not in time to make changes before the end of the term.

4. You can use the evaluation itself as a learning experience for the students. I ask students to reflect on how they are approaching the course and the material. How do they best learn? What aspects of the course format work well with their learning styles? It’s also a great way to remind them of some of the major pedagogical goals for the course.

image from: http://theclassroomdj.com/suggestion-box/

Here’s a mid-semester evaluation form that I am handing out in my intermediate-level neuroscience course this coming week:

  1. Do you feel that your ability to read and understand primary literature papers, a key course goal, has improved so far this semester? If not, are there things I might do differently to help with this goal?
  2. Do you feel you are learning to take a question of interest and develop a hypothesis that you might be then able to test? We are developing this skill in class through considering hypotheses that others have tested, and in lab by designing your own experiments. If you feel you are not learning this skill, are there things I might do differently to help you achieve this course goal?
  3. A course goal is to become well-versed in the language of neuroscience, to learn to write and speak on the discipline. Do you feel you are beginning to achieve this goal? If not, are there things I might do differently to help you achieve this goal?
  4. Do you feel you are learning some important concepts and information about neuroscience and behavior from multiple different levels of analysis? Do you feel you are beginning to be able to integrate concepts across topics?
  5. Do you feel that you are on your way towards achieving a solid foundation in the experimental approaches to a variety of research questions in neuroscience and behavior? If not, are there things I might do differently to help you work towards this course goal?
  6. Do you feel like we are developing a supportive and engaging class community/community of majors? If not, are there ideas you have about how we might better achieve a good classroom environment?

It only takes a few minutes and the information is likely to be valuable as you prepare for the second half!