Polling your class at the midpoint

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, these evaluations are greeted with stress and anxiety.

Let’s step back. Why would we want to get 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://pedagogicalpracticum.wordpress.com/

Here’s a mid-semester evaluation form that I developed for my introductory biology courseĀ a couple of years ago. I wrote a brief section at the beginning that articulated my goals and how various assignments and class formats enable me to work towards those goals. Then, I ask for the following information.

I am interested in your input in the following, so that I better meet YOUR goals, as well as my own.

  1. What are your goals for this course? What do you hope to achieve?
  2. Do you have suggestions for me for things I should continue? Do differently?
  3. What can I do more of/less of to help you achieve those goals?
  4. What do you like about the course thus far?
  5. Think about the classroom conditions where you have learned well in the past/present. Please share with me your thoughts on what kind of classroom environment in the sciences is most helpful for your learning.