Traditionally, faculty receive feedback from students only at the end of the semester, when it is already too late to address their comments or concerns. What if you could get a feel for their experience while there is still time to do something about it?
That’s the beauty of the Midterm Survey!
By adding a short survey to your course midway through the semester, you can find out from students what issues there are that you may not be aware of, and address those concerns in time to help them get more out of the class. The students feel they are being heard, and you get the benefit of tweaking your teaching to make the students more successful in your class.
I have been talking to faculty about adding these surveys through UTC Learn, and have been able to share a sample survey with them that was created by Dr. Jennifer Ellis. She teaches Educational Technology and has been using the surveys for about 6 years. She originally pieced one together from questions she found from other schools, and she has also added a 15 minute chat component that she says takes the feedback to a new level. She is primarily connecting this way with her online students, but you could incorporate the Midterm Survey with any modality of teaching.
I spoke to Dr. Ellis about her use of the surveys and the data she gleans from the comments. She has found that any change to a course could be gauged by using the survey: for example, a change to a new textbook or eText, a new version of the learning management system, or even general changes you have made to a previously taught course.
I asked Dr. Ellis if she feels the students are honest in the surveys and take them seriously. She says that she does and she dedicates quite a bit of time to reviewing the data from the surveys and addressing what they have shared. She has the anonymous surveys, but then she also follows up with a Google Hangout or a Zoom with each student. She finds they are more candid in the anonymous portion, but together these two tools help her gauge if what she is doing is impactful, if the rigor is about right, and if they are putting in enough hours – especially in graduate level courses. For example, she expects them to put in 6-9 hours, and if they mention committing less than that to their coursework, she can let them know that may be a contributor to why they are making lower grades than they should!
AFTER the initial survey she holds a short, online, individual chat with each student. After that initial online meeting, they are more likely to reach out to her on chat again in the future when something isn’t clear. She tells them “don’t spend hours trying to figure it out, get help, ask me.” Before it ends, she invites them to engage her online in the future. After the online chat, Dr. Ellis says the 2nd half of the course tends to go more smoothly.
We talked about the opportunity for specific changes to the course, and I asked her what is the biggest change she has made that came about due to student feedback? Dr. Ellis said, “On the front end, explain the “why”. Explain the reasons for assignments, and link them back to the course outcomes. Their “voices are heard”, especially when she can see trends on certain assignments, if there is one that gets mentioned over and over. If they say they don’t see how it relates to the course learning outcomes, they may need a bigger picture explanation. She might then go back and create a short video instruction, or give more details in the textual instructions, to help them make that connection.
We spoke about the impact the surveys have on student perceptions of her, her teaching, and the course.
She has created a very transparent process. She publishes the results with comments. They can tell she has reviewed the data and spent the time needed to analyze it. This shows her support of their learning, especially the asynchronous online portion: they are allowed to be ‘seen’ and captured during the learning process.
After reading some of her survey data, I told Dr. Ellis I found this student comment fascinating, “Less discussion boards. I rarely, if ever, have gotten anything out of a discussion board in any online course I’ve taken.”
She gave me a great response! “I love all the contradictory comments I get on my Midterm evaluation. Most of the time it all balances out and I have to make minor adjustments.”
I asked her about that comment, how she addressed it, and she said she addressed this by justifying the why and going back to the course learning outcomes.
Also, she said lots of times the comments will be at both extremes: “this was the best tool, this was the worst tool”. She said you can choose to share that kind of data or not, but if you do share it, address it and give your rationale.
The Midterm Survey evaluations offer a more “timely response” than the end of semester, when there’s no chance for more clarification. This can also help instructors professionally, as when they are looking at tenure it is another data source to help guide your pedagogical decisions.
Faculty, if you would like to try a Midterm Survey with your classes, contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org . We’re happy to meet with you and get your started!