I am a huge advocate of in-class evaluations with students.
- You can design your own question set to emphasize what you would like students to focus their feedback on (off the record!).
- You can frame the feedback session positively and guide the course in a direction change.
- Should there be a looming but undetected problem ahead, in-class evaluations are an efficient way to identify and address a potential disaster in the making.
When conducting in-class evaluations in the middle of the term, I often include a student “self-assessment” worksheet that invites students to reflect on what they have been doing to enhance their learning. Specifically calling out if they have used resources – like office hours, tutoring centers, McGraw-Hill’s Connect, etc.) that were provided, I in part look to see if they’re finding them helpful and also remind them that they’re available.
Questions targeting this area might include:
- I regularly read the text
- I come to class prepared
- I have worked with Professor ___________ when I have struggled with a concept
The in-class self-evaluation can also be used as a sort of diagnostic tool. As most faculty know, it is a little more straightforward to determine that students are struggling (low average exam score) than to figure out why. The in-class evaluation includes questions such as:
- I participate in class discussions
- I have been able to locate assignment feedback
- I find I am challenged by the material
Students can rate themselves 1-5 on these topics and give you clues that will help you address their needs and help them succeed in learning the material. In aggregate, this can be utilized to identify behavioral trends in the class. If you are interested in a more micro intervention, ask the students to put their names on the feedback for follow-up (make it optional so that they don’t feel that they have to identify themselves and therefore hold back their honesty).
In addition to the quantitative questions, I also include an open-ended set of questions to encourage students to provide feedback. This could be as simple as, “List two things you like about the course so far, and one thing that you wish would be improved.” Below is a sample of open-ended questions that could be used:
- What I have liked most about this course is:
- The topic I have struggled the most with is:
- What has happened during the course that has helped me learn:
- What would help me learn more is:
Questions can be worded to help students identify positive aspects of the course, rather than only complaints.
One of the best aspects of conducting mid-term in-class evaluations is that it can be used to frame or adjust the direction of the course if needed. Aggregated feedback can be utilized to spot class trends, positive impacts, repeated comments, or universal problems. Not every course needs a major structural shift, but the feedback collected mid-term can provide unique insight as to how this particular set of students in this particular term are faring with the material and other aspects of the course structure.
To best utilize the feedback, even without making significant course changes, try making a short PowerPoint presentation to show the students their own collective feedback.
- Emphasize their role in the learning process.
This is a great way to validate their role in their own learning and to communicate to them that you are taking their feedback seriously. (This may also alleviate their frustration, should there be any, and may result in more positive course evaluations at the end of the term.)
- Choose a couple of positive trends to highlight first.
For example, “68% of you reported that the online flash cards were helpful to you. That’s great! If you haven’t yet used them, ask a classmate about them or check them out yourself!” This draws student attention to the fact that there are aspects of the class that are going well, and you are using their own feedback to do so (this makes it more valid).
- Move on to the things that could be improved.
Occasionally, the feedback reveals that something is lurking under the surface. It could be anything, perhaps confusion, frustration with new software, a concept that wasn’t discussed fully enough, etc. Whatever it might be, through the mid-term evaluations you have an opportunity to detect it and help the students overcome it. Describe the issue that has been highlighted by their feedback; if possible, also describe what you are doing to address it. If it cannot be addressed during the term, or if your pedagogical reasons outweigh their feedback, explain this so that the students know that they have been heard and that you care about their learning and experience in your class.
In-class evaluations are a malleable tool that can be used to garner targeted feedback (off the record), create rapport and goodwill with students, reframe a course, or identify a larger issue in time to address it (as opposed to discovering it after the course has ended and the damage is done). It is this last, although least common, result of using in-class evaluations that is perhaps the most important. Steering away from the potentially looming iceberg by addressing a major issue during the term is valuable to both the students and the university.