The middle of the semester is an ideal time to check in with your students and ask them how their learning experience is going in your classes. Even if you’re a skeptic with regard to the value of the student comments on end-of-term Student Ratings of Instruction, there is value to asking students for their input at a time in the semester when their feedback is most useful and in response to questions framed by you and for your purposes.
Only students have experienced your class from the beginning of the semester and can draw on that full range of experiences to tell you how the class is either helping or hindering their learning.
Here are a few ideas for how to frame questions that elicit the most helpful feedback:
Simple, open-ended questions
Open-ended questions give students an opportunity to weigh in on whatever they think is most relevant to their learning experience. For example, you can ask students to respond to the following prompts:
- Red light--STOP! Write about the parts of the class that are not working for you. Include suggestions for changes that would help you learn better.
- Yellow light--CAUTION! Write about special or personal circumstances that impact your learning in this class.
- Green light--GO! Write about the parts of the class that really help you learn and that you wouldn’t change.
Combination scaled and open-ended items
These items that combine a Likert-scale question and an open-ended question work well when you want to ask students for their input about specific aspects of a course, e.g. an assignment, a policy, or a pedagogical approach.
For example, if you asked students to work on a group project that culminated in a multi-media presentation, you can phrase the questions as follows:
All students were required to work in groups to research an issue and present findings.
This expectation helped my learning (circle one): Strongly agree; Agree; Disagree; Strongly disagree
What changes to this assignment would have helped your learning more?
There are several validated scaled items available for you to administer for student feedback. Purdue University has developed a “cafeteria” style bank of scaled items from which you can pick the ones most relevant to your course and your particular needs and interests (the items are written for a scale of responses ranging from “Strongly agree” to “Strongly disagree”).
The College and University Classroom Environment Inventory is a well-established instrument that measures students’ perceptions about the climate for learning in a course. You can read a short description of the instrument and its uses here. If you are interested in administering this instrument, please contact the Center for Faculty Development for a version.
Closing the loop
Whatever approach you choose, it is essential to close the feedback loop by bringing the results, and your thoughts about what those results mean for the class, back for discussion soon after eliciting the mid-semester feedback from your students. Even if you choose not to make some of the changes that students ask for, the very act of soliciting input offers an opportunity to have a discussion with students about why a particular policy, assignment, or expectation is optimal for their learning. When students see that you care about their learning and are taking their input seriously, they are likely to account for these teaching traits when it comes time to complete the end-of-semester Student Ratings of Instruction.