Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash
by Kristen Mosley
While helpful for long-term planning, student end-of-semester course evaluations are necessarily limiting in their ability to provide formative (i.e., in-the-moment) feedback. And, given the unique nature of each semester and group of students, the summative (i.e., after-the-fact) feedback that end-of-semester course evaluations provide isn’t always applicable to future semesters’ instruction. One approach to adding opportunities for formative feedback is implementing a mid-semester feedback (MSF) protocol.1
To implement MSF, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind:
Feedback that is positively framed, specific, timely, and useful provides the most motivating context for reflecting and, perhaps, implementing change.2
The size and culture of your class should guide the feedback process. For example, are your students comfortable working in groups? If so, building in 10 minutes of class time for students to discuss in small groups with one scribe to capture key thoughts will work. Alternatively, if social distancing means your course is hybrid, online, and/or limits students working in groups, then carving out 10 minutes of class time for students to complete individual, anonymous feedback forms will likely work better.
The phrasing of questions can greatly impact the feedback received. It is generally best practice to stick with open-ended, less-specific questions so that a wide range of responses can be collected and students have flexibility in voicing their thoughts. Additionally, in keeping feedback questions broad, it reminds students that an extensive set of realities impact the course—not just the instructor teaching it.1 Two sets of questions could guide the approach:
- What is helping your learning in the course?
- What is hindering your learning in the course?
- What suggestions do you have for improving the course?
- Start – What could be started to improve our course?
- Stop – What has been unhelpful or hindering in our course?
- Continue – What should be continued in our course?
After feedback is received, be sure to close the feedback loop by reporting findings and commitments to students. Ignoring or leaving feedback unaddressed can lead to disaffected students,3 but you shouldn’t feel tied to committing to all suggestions received. Instead, communicate which adjustments can be made this semester, which require advanced time and planning beyond this semester, which will be considered for future semesters, and which cannot or will not be made and why.
In the end, relying on student feedback alone is ill-advised, as a critically reflective instructor elicits as many perspectives as possible when reflecting on their practice.4 As such, student feedback – in addition to self-reflection, peer feedback, and review of scholarly instructional literature – is but one of many pieces in the instructional feedback and growth cycle. Additionally, as the leader of your course you are autonomous in what feedback you do and do not consider. The key benefit of an MSF, though, is opening your course and yourself up to hearing more from students in a formative way. The use of mid-semester feedback may or may not impact your instructional practice, but it is likely to foster collaboration, trust, and goodwill between you and your students.
1. Payette, P. R., & Brown, M. K. (2018). Gathering Mid-Semester Feedback: Three Variations to Improve Instruction. IDEA Paper# 67. IDEA Center, Inc.
2. Gormally, C., Evans, M., & Brickman, P. (2014). Feedback about teaching in higher ed: Neglected opportunities to promote change. CBE-Life Sciences Education. 13(2). 187-199.
3. Black, B. (1998). Using the SGID method for a variety of purposes. To improve the academy, 17(1), 245-262.
4. Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. John Wiley & Sons.