How’s it going? That’s a question that most of us encounter on a regular basis, particularly during this pandemic. It’s a quick way to stay connected and feel supported within a shared community. Asking your students quick, check-in style questions is a good way to keep your fingers on the pulse of your class. Mid-semester evaluations, a variant on Angelo and Cross’ Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)1, are an effective way to gather formative feedback that can enhance your teaching throughout the semester. As a general rule, mid-semester evaluations are succinct, ungraded and anonymous to encourage honest reflection. The information gathered allows you to make adjustments to course content or teaching methods to better support student learning by identifying and removing barriers before they become problematic for students.
Mid-semester evaluations can provide information on content comprehension, course structure and support, or general classroom behaviors. Using student feedback from mid-semester evaluations to make modifications to course content or delivery is one way to let students know you care about their success. CATs have been a focus of study since the early 1990s, and the effective use of these techniques have been shown to:
- Positively affect student motivation2-4
- Lead to increased student engagement in class4-5
- Reduce the time it takes to learn a concept or skill6
- Enhance critical thinking and critical analysis abilities4,7
- Build student metacognitive skills7
- Improve equity of earned student outcomes4
- Increase student responsibility for their own learning4
Quick, mid-semester evaluations can occur at any point in the semester but are most effective while there is still time to implement changes based on the feedback you receive. That said, it’s important to note that not all information can be acted on immediately. You may find it helpful to sort the feedback you receive into three categories: (a) items to address immediately, (b) items to address next semester, and (c) big ticket items that can be addressed in the next course revision cycle. Many variations of CATs are easy to design and quick to deliver using tools like Google Forms or the Journal tool in Blackboard. Examples include:
- Distribute exit tickets after each class meeting
- Assign reflection surveys at the end of a unit or module (e.g. minute papers)
- Ask students to identify one thing they want to start doing in class, stop doing in class, and continue doing in class
- Ask students to rate information about the course structure: what’s working or not working (e.g. organization, relevance, timeliness of feedback, instructor support, general suggestions for improvement etc.)
- Ask students to rate themselves on their digital literacy skills
- Utilize a Critical Incident Questionnaire
- Additional examples: 50 CATS by Angelo and Cross
In addition to providing insight about your students, using mid-semester evaluations can create an opportunity for you to engage in the process of self-reflection and thoughtfully consider both your areas of strength and areas where you can expand your teaching practices. To quote the King and I (1956):
It’s a very ancient saying
But a true and honest thought
That if you become a teacher,
By your pupils you’ll be taught.
No matter how you structure mid-semester evaluations, or when you choose to implement them, consistent and regular check-ins with students is one way you can build community and provide a safe learning environment that supports student success.
1Angelo, T. A., & Cross, P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
2Sadler, R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18(2), 119-144.
3Barchfeld-Venet, P. (2005). Formative assessment: The basics. Alliance Access, 9(1), 2-3.
4Pastor, V. (2011). Best practices in academic assessment in higher education: A case in formative and shared assessment. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 1(2), 25-39. doi: 10.3926/jotse.20
5Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2007). Checking for understanding: Formative assessment techniques for your classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
6Leahy, S., Lyon, C., Thompson, M., & William D. (2005). Classroom assessment–minute by minute, day by day. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 18-24.
7TEAL center fact sheet No. 9: Formative assessment. (2020). Literacy Information and Communication System. https://facultyinnovate.utexas.edu/mid-semester-feedback
Jenn Pedersen, Ph.D.
Jenn is the Course and Program Manager for UAF eCampus with nearly two decades of experience in teaching and higher education administration.