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Maximizing Your Mid-Semester Evaluations

Advice for getting helpful feedback from your students.

March 8, 2016

Anne Guarnera is a doctoral candidate in Spanish at the University of Virginia. You can find her on Twitter as @aguarnera and at her website.




Congratulations on making it through another half semester! Whether you’re feeling energized about your classes or you’re just slogging through, now is a great time to take a step back and reflect on how things have gone thus far. A mid-semester evaluation offers insight into your students’ experience of your class, helping you understand what’s going well and what might need to be tweaked to improve your teaching—and their learning—for the remainder of the semester.


Regardless of which type of mid-semester evaluation you ultimately administer (for example, the start-stop-continue format or the four-question model), a little bit of scaffolding can smooth the process, so that your students provide the most helpful responses possible and you are able to complete and follow up on the evaluations in a timely and thoughtful manner.  


To that end, I suggest following these steps when giving a mid-semester evaluation:


  1. Prepare yourself mentally. If you are new to teaching, it can be nerve-wracking to ask students for their feedback, and even if you’re a veteran TA, there is inevitably some stress involved in the evaluation process. Regardless of where you are in your teaching career, let me encourage you to approach your mid-semester evaluations with a positive perspective. Remember that the ultimate goal of teaching is to promote student learning, and evaluations are just a helpful tool to help you get there. As you read them, therefore, try (as much as possible) not to make them about you personally—although of course, they reflect on your teaching, any feedback that they provide is only relevant insofar as it helps you to facilitate your students’ intellectual growth. Additionally, it can be useful to view the mid-semester evaluation as a chance to avoid negative feedback on your end-of-semester evaluations (which may, in some cases, be included in your permanent record). By making some tweaks to your classroom now, you may be able to avoid some (or even most) negative feedback from students in the future.
  2. Give students a heads-up about the evaluation. Two to three days before giving the evaluation, tell students that you’ll be collecting their feedback on how the class is going. Ask them to consider what’s going well for them as learners, and what they would like to see change. Especially for first-year students who have never done a mid-semester evaluation, it may be helpful to walk them through a few examples of what helpful comments look like. Remind them that in general, comments should be focused on classroom practices—not departmental policies, such as the grading scale—with an eye to those things that add to or detract from the learning process. If you are doing something new in your class this semester (for example, using a flipped classroom for the first time), let students know that you would be especially interested in feedback regarding that particular element. If you don’t have time to discuss this in class, or if you want to provide students with a bit of “inspiration” through examples, you could always have this preparation conversation via email.
  3. Design the evaluation in a way that will help you collect and analyze your data most efficiently. There are two things to consider here: the questions that you use and the method of their delivery to students. Aside from the formats mentioned above (start-stop-continue and the four-question model), you may also find it helpful to peruse this bank of course evaluation questions and choose those that seem most relevant to your situation. Once you’ve decided on your questions, take a minute to consider how you’ll give them to students. If you have 200 students in a large lecture course, reading hand-written evaluations might not be the best use of your time. Instead, consider using one of these free polling apps or even Google Docs, which will ultimately save time by making student responses easier to analyze. That said, if you have only a few students in a discussion section, developing an online poll may be more work than it’s worth. If you go the paper route, you can save even more time by using one of these pre-existing templates for your evaluation; don’t feel that you have to re-invent the wheel.
  4. Set aside class time for the evaluations. Like everyone else, students are incredibly busy, and so if you want the best answers for your evaluations, it is important to allow sufficient class time for their completion.  Depending on the kind of evaluation that you choose, this may take anywhere from 5-20 minutes. As a bonus, by devoting class time to evaluations, you are modeling the value of reflective thinking—which is something students also benefit from as learners.
  5. Designate a specific time to review students’ feedback and discuss it in class. Students will be able to best understand the impact of their comments if you review and discuss their feedback soon after conducting the evaluations. In an ideal situation, the class period immediately following the evaluations would include time to discuss their results. Give students an overview of general trends in the comments—both positive and negative—and name specific actions that you are going to take to address their concerns.
  6. Follow up on the changes you’ve made. If you’ve decided to reinvent your teaching as a result of your mid-semester evaluations, make sure to assess the changes you’ve made at the end of the term. If you have changed the frequency of quizzes, for example, be sure to include a question addressing that fact in your end-of-semester evaluations. You want to know how your students have received the course adjustments (pun intended) that you’ve made. If your institution uses standardized evaluations that you cannot change, it would be good to give students an additional brief evaluation at the end of the semester, touching on those issues you’ve addressed following the mid-semester review. This doesn’t have to be anything extensive—just a few targeted questions to see how the changes that you have made to the course have affected their learning.


Do you have any other suggestions for getting the most out of mid-semester evaluations? What are your favorite ways to check in with students at this halfway point?


[Image by Flickr user BillsoPHOTO and used under a Creative Commons license.]


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