How’s the course going?: One instructor’s approach to mid-course evaluations

Have you ever wondered what you could find out about students’ learning experience in your course while there’s still time to make adjustments during the term? Kristi Kouchakji, an instructor in McGill University’s Faculty of Arts, decided to ask the students. In a recent conversation, Kristi described the process of implementing mid-course evaluations with nearly 100 students in the course Media and Modernity in the 20th Century (COMS 300), and the influence of students’ responses on her teaching in that term and beyond.  

Why did you decide to implement mid-course evaluations? 

I decided to implement mid-course evaluations in the Fall 2021 term because it was my first time solo teaching, and it was a brand new course designed from scratch. That informed the questions that I posed, which I framed so that I could see whether my instincts were right or not, from when I put the course together. 

How did you implement mid-course evaluations? 

As part of the course structure, students met in small discussion groups, usually during scheduled class time. Each week I gave the groups different prompts for their discussion, related to that week’s materials. Each group submitted regular short group activity reports. But for one of their discussion groups in February, I assigned mid-course evaluation questions as the prompt instead. 

What questions did you ask?  

I attended a TLS webinar about mid-course evaluations. One of the ideas I came away with was that mid-course evaluations aren’t like a customer satisfaction survey. Rather, they’re an opportunity for self-reflection, and for students to think about how they can be accountable, what they can do to support their own learning, and if there are additional resources they need. 

So I asked students to discuss in their groups and report back, in writing, on four questions: 

  • What was most effective in supporting your learning? 
  • What could the TA and I do to enhance your learning? 
  • What could you or other students do to support your learning? 
  • What one thing would you change in the course this semester, keeping in mind delivery mode and assignment constraints? 

There were a number of insightful and constructive comments. There were some ideas that I was able to act on right away. And even when specific suggestions weren’t realistic, they still gave me ideas for how I might adjust things in the second part of the term to get at the underlying concerns. In the next class after the groups submitted their feedback, I shared with the students the changes I would make further to their comments. Some good ideas couldn’t be implemented right away, so they informed changes I made for the next iteration of the course. 

A couple of the changes I did make immediately were: 

  • Providing guidance for managing workload and autonomy: I’ve intentionally built lots of flexibility into this course – for instance, most of the assignments don’t have a set deadline, the class is recorded, and attendance is not compulsory. Many students expressed in the mid-course evaluation that they weren’t accustomed to having that much autonomy in planning their time, and didn’t know what to do, or felt they were falling behind. So I did a 10-minute lecture about ways to plan your time and workload. I shared an assignment planner and explained how I used to go about planning my workload when I was still doing coursework. (For the next time I offered the course, I also added an extra credit assignment where students could plan out their workload, scheduling the assignments for this course in relation to their other responsibilities beyond this course.) 
  • Considering students’ engagement with material: Often, my slides include images or key quotes from the readings. Some students wrote that they wanted more text on the slides. Since I speak to the slides during class, this feedback made me think that some students might be just speeding through the slides. To encourage them to slow down and really engage with the ideas, I made a couple of small changes. I remembered that exit tickets [see “exit cards” strategy] can be a good way for students to consolidate their understanding. I began having students do those on days where the lecture didn’t already have lots of reflection exercises built in, and started flagging all of those exercises more clearly in the lecture notes and on the recordings for students not attending in-person. Also, I made a point of encouraging students to write / participate in exercises during the class, giving then time to engage and encouraging them to do so. 
  • Addressing lecture recording tech issues: Students noted that there were issues with the quality of the classroom lecture recordings, so I followed up with IT to address that. 

What advice do you have for other instructors thinking about doing mid-course evaluations? 

Be clear with students about what you cannot change when asking for feedback. For instance, I asked them to keep in mind that I couldn’t change the mode of course delivery or the assignments in the term. But once you’ve described the boundaries, encourage the students to be creative within them. 

Some students will still make suggestions that can’t be addressed within the term. Consider what can be implemented right away, and what to keep in mind for the next time you teach the course.  

Use student feedback as an opportunity for students to reflect on how they can support themselves, one another, and even future students. I later asked students what one piece of advice they would give to the next cohort [see “advice letter” strategy]. Then I shared that advice with the incoming cohort, to help them do well in this course. 

Reflection question: What might you ask your students if you decide to do mid-course evaluations? (If you’re seeking additional inspiration, the sample questions here may help.)  

Image credit: Pablo García Saldaña on Unsplash

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