The Value of Mid-Semester Feedback
By Diana S. Barber, J.D., Lecturer in the Dean’s Office of Robinson College of Business teaching large asynchronous online sections of 750-800 students, mostly freshman and transfer students (March 31, 2021)
I have found that one of the most important aspects of refining and improving a course is the mid-semester feedback received from students. Not all instructors use this tool and I find such great value in seeking this feedback during a time in the semester when the student can take a breath after mid-terms and papers to share how the course is working, or not, for them. By 8 or 9 weeks into the course, students have a good idea of what is working for them. Each class poses different responses, but consistent themes do emerge. Sure, the end of the semester SEIs are important for evaluation purposes and direction on what to avoid for the next semester, but by the end of the current semester, it is too late to make any substantial changes in the current class.
Over the years and while listening intensely to what works and what doesn’t from my learned colleagues, I’ve implemented a very simple 3 question approach to oozing important feedback from students. Knowing that student attention spans are short, a short survey can promise great insights. I preface all questions by asking for constructive feedback and reminding the students that I’m all about continuous improvement yet somethings I simply cannot alter.
I’ve noticed comments on SEIs about my changes made mid-semester and students really feel as if their voices are being heard and they can effectuate true change in their class and their learning experience.
I use the Survey tool in iCollege and allow all comments to be anonymous. No extra credit is given, nor any inducements provided to obtain student feedback.
First question: What do you want me to start doing in the course?
Here I allow several lines for feedback. What I find is that most students (i) want extra credit, (ii) would like me to open up the entire course at the beginning of the semester which allows them to work at their own pace and (iii) to have a pre-set “live” Webex meeting each week. Many students enjoy the face-to-face meetings even though my online classes during the pandemic have been asynchronous. I record my meetings for those students who cannot attend the live sessions so they can view them at their leisure.
Second question: What do you want me to stop doing in the course?
Again, I provide ample space for multiple comments. Sometimes I get responses such as (i) no quizzes or exams, (ii) less readings and (iii) no assignments. After reviewing the entire volume of course content, my eyes tend to roll right past these suggestions. My course policy of not allowing late submissions of assignments or assessments, unless due to a family or medical emergency, is occasionally provided as something they want me to stop as they want credit for work even when it is past the due date. My philosophy on late work (absent a family or medical emergency, along with prompt notice to the instructor) is that students need to work on their time management skills and plan accordingly to get all their coursework done prior to the applicable deadlines. I teach mainly freshman students growing up in a generation where merely showing up was enough to garner a trophy. I stress to students how deliverables are more important than mere effort. I’ve received comments that they do not like the idea of the Lockdown Browser with a webcam as they feel it is intrusive to their privacy. I use this tool mainly as a deterrent to those opportunists who may take advantage of online non-proctored assessments.
Third question: What do you want me to continue doing in the class?
Here is where I receive great feedback about what I’m doing right. Students really appreciate the time I’ve put into organizing my iCollege pages, the detailed calendar in iCollege of due dates and checklists for each week during the course. They really notice when an instructor takes the time to anticipate student questions within assignment modules which shows that I truly do care. Another welcomed feedback is the acknowledgement that I am quick to answer email messages from students. I make a concerted effort to get back in touch with students as soon as possible.
Offering a mid-semester feedback survey is important but not as important as sharing the results with the students and implementing an idea or two, or three into the current semester. Students feel their opinions matter when their voices are heard. When the pandemic hit us and we all went online, my course was asynchronous. I learned through the mid-semester survey that students really missed the engagement part with the instructor, so half way through the first semester of the pandemic, I began a weekly Webex live lecture, which I recorded for those who had a conflict, and the attendance was much more than I expected. Give it a try as the insights are so valuable and align with the philosophy of continuous improvement.