When checking for written student feedback on end-of-year evaluation opt-scans, I always hope I don’t receive a comment about a small, simple change I could have made that would have made a major difference for a student. At that point, nothing can be done. Of course, that student could have made this suggestion during any of the occasions that I ask students how they are doing with the class activities and if there is any concern they’d like to bring up. Still, as a student and an instructor, I know voluntarily deciding to critique an instructor to their face isn’t exactly an easy thing to do.
Fortunately, I’ve found a way to decrease this type of feedback on my student evals by completing a course assessment midway through the semester. I’ve mentioned this tool before when talking about my various assessment strategies, but today’s post is all about the “Midterm Chat.” This is my top tool for insuring that (a) my students get the most out of my class and (b) my evals are as positive as I can inspire them to be.I like that this is the first question, as it inspires positive thoughts about the course before delving into what might not be working. Click To Tweet
What is a Midterm Chat?
Basically, a midterm chat is a facilitated discussion that takes place without the instructor present. A staff member from the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) visits your class and leads students through the discussion after you have introduced them to your students and left the room. Before the chat (by at least 24 hours), you meet with the facilitator 1-1 to go over course details that they might need to know going into the discussion. During the midterm chat, students can be up front and honest about what they might be struggling with when it comes to your teaching style. They also discuss what’s working well for them and what they can do to improve their experience, as well.
I promise, it’s not just an anonymous complaining session. You’ll get productive feedback to work with during the second half of the semester. After the chat (by at least 24 hours), you’ll meet with the facilitator one last time to go through a summary of what was discussed during the chat. It’s then highly recommended that you go over that feedback and your response to it with your students.
What if your campus doesn’t offer this tool?
Here are all the specific details on this tool from ISU’s CTLT website. In this post, I’ll go through each of the main questions asked during these chats and what types of feedback I’ve received from my students in response to each question. But, before I get to that part, I want to emphasize that this isn’t a tool that is only available at schools with a CTLT that offers this resource. You can ask a friendly coworker to facilitate a midterm chat for you. You can return the favor for them, if they are interested. The site linked above outlines all the steps.
You can also create an anonymous survey for students to complete. Create a quick google form with the four questions below and have students answer the form anonymously. Make clear how seriously you’ll take their feedback and I’m sure you can get some great material to work with.
If this resource is not available on your campus, please don’t let that stop you from creating your own version of the midterm chat. And if your campus has a CTLT without this resource, suggest it to them! I’m sure any CTLT will be ecstatic to receive such interest from a graduate student or faculty member. Having said that, though, let’s move on to the four questions students are asked during a midterm chat and the answers I’ve received from my students throughout the past five years.I've taken part in a midterm chat as a student and was astonished by how differently we all saw the same class material and teaching style. Click To Tweet
THE FOUR QUESTIONS
What aspects of this course help you to learn?
This question focuses on your teaching practices and style (lectures, visual presentations, discussions, quizzes, reading materials, LMS usage, class activities, major projects, etc.). I like that this is the first question, as it inspires positive thoughts about the course before delving into what might not be working. Here are a few response I’ve received:
- Having the PowerPoint lectures posted on the LMS site
- I love using my LMS site, as you can see from this post
- Sticking mostly to discussions rather than being lecture heavy
- Dividing the novel reading into separate sections for different class days
- Letting them lead discussion activities in small groups
- Here’s a post about this assignment, if you’re interested
- Being willing to meet with them outside of office hours
- Responding to email within 24 hours (usually much less)
What aspects of this course inhibit your learning?
Once students have had time to think about what’s working for them, it’s time for the hard part (for the instructor sitting outside wondering what their students are saying). It seems to me that this question would be the hardest one to gain a consensus on (which is a major element of the facilitator being present and guiding the discussion). I’ve taken part in a midterm chat as a student and was astonished by how differently we all saw the same class material and teaching style. Still, this is the question that gives me the most material to work with. Here are some examples of feedback I’ve received:
- Too much reading at too fast a pace (most common response)
- I don’t change the reading pace midway through the semester. I do explain why we read at the pace we do and why we read so much in a literature course. However, I used to teach whole novels at a time. So, students would read a whole novel and we’d discuss it over the course of a week. After this midterm chat, I broke up the reading into two days. This semester, in my ENG 128 gen ed course, I’ve split the reading into three days. It’s working well so far. Yes, we read fewer books. But, we discuss them in much more detail.
- Not enough guidance when reading the novels for homework
- When I received this response, I created an active reading concept map for the rest of the novels we read. Basically, a blank digital concept map that included 5-10 key terms for them to focus on when reading (like “foreshadowing,” “family dynamics,” “ideology,” and “tone.”
- Not enough visuals in the PowerPoints
- Coincidently, the rest of the semester was already designed to be more visuals-heavy, so I didn’t need to make any changes.
What suggestions can you offer that would enhance your learning in this course?
I like this question because it requires students to offer productive suggestions after the last question. The instructor might not end up put these suggestions into practice. But it at least gets students thinking about how possible it would even be to make changes in the ways they’d like to see. Since students need to come to a consensus during the chat in order for the suggestions to be added to my chat summary sheet, you’ll likely get at least a few suggestions of things that are possible to actually do during the last half of the semester. Here are some suggestions I’ve received:
- A reading guide for each novel
- I didn’t create a guide, but I did make the concept maps described above for this class.
- Adding more visuals to the PowerPoints
- See above
- Splitting up the readings in future courses
- I appreciated that these students realized that this suggestion wasn’t likely to be possible in their class. I told them so when going over the feedback and the changes I’d be making to the rest of the course. As I mentioned above, I have taken this advice into consideration.
- Clarifying what I expect from their written assignments
- I don’t use rubrics since I grade projects holistically (a topic for another post). I made sure to go over the assignment sheets again and explained what exactly I was looking for in their work. Also, I explained the goal/purpose of each assignment and its design.
What can you, as students, do to improve your learning in this course?
I love this question! Getting students to see it’s not just on the instructor to improve the course is so central to the midterm chat. The answers I’ve seen to this question make really clear that students are often really aware of how their own actions affect their learning. Of course, they might not recognize these self-made obstacles without the help of a mid-semester assessment. Here are some answers I’ve seen:
- Starting the reading of each novel earlier, so they don’t fall behind
- Reading instruction sheets more carefully to see what the assignment requirements are
- Setting up meetings with the instructor if they can’t meet during office hours
- Emailing the instructor with questions or asking questions in class rather than depending on other students or not asking anyone at all
- Starting writing assignments earlier so they have time to revise and proofread them
I hope this post has made evident to you why I love this resource so much and why I consider it the best assessment tool to apply midway through a semester. I’ve chosen to post about this tool right before my spring break begins. Your spring break might be over already or still a couple weeks away. Whatever the case may be, take some time to consider how you can get feedback from your students as soon as possible. Make it as anonymous as possible so students can be honest with you. Make clear to them that you will take their thoughts seriously and they should therefore take this opportunity seriously, as well. Then, of course, talk to them about what changes you are making and what changes you are not making after receiving their feedback.
I’ll be curious to know how this activity goes for you and how it might influence the type of student eval comments you receive at the end of the semester. [If you’re reading this near the end of your semester, try out a course assessment activity instead.] But for now, just let me know in the comments section:
Have you ever used a tool like this one in your own courses? Do you have a better way to assess your courses midway through the semester?
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