Mid-Semester Evaluation: Don’t Wait Until it’s Too Late for Student Feedback

Dr. Diane D. Chapman, Teaching Professor, ELPHD
Director, Office of Faculty Development
NC State University

Before it’s too late, it’s time to plan for eliciting mid-semester feedback from your students.  I say “too late” because when asking instructors how they know what to change in order to improve their courses and their teaching, end-of-course evaluations or student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are the most common response.  However, at the end of the term, my current students can never reap the benefits of any suggestions they give.  They are long gone by the time I see their feedback and my chance to actually improve their course experience and learning has passed. This is the heart of why I am an avid proponent of mid-semester or mid-term course evaluation.  

Mid-semester course evaluations are a formative evaluation strategy that instructors can use to elicit feedback on how to modify their teaching or materials while the course is being taught.  Feedback is collected from students in the middle of the term rather than waiting for formal end-of-course evaluations.  As a result, the students giving feedback on how to better the course are the same ones who will benefit from modifications. Thus, students may feel more buy-in to giving feedback since they can actually benefit. Mid-semester evaluation is a win-win in terms of students and instructors.

Fortunately, mid-semester evaluations are easy to implement. At my institutionwe recommend asking three simple questions:

1.       What has helped you to learn in this class?

2.       What has hindered your learning in this class?

3.       What can we do to improve the learning environment?

Many instructors also add space for other comments and some add questions particular to their course content. Another strategy is Start-Stop-Continuewhere students are asked to write three short sentences. The first sentence describes one thing they’d like to stop doing in class; the second, one thing that they would like to start doing in class; and the third identifies one thing that they’d like to continue doing in class. But there are many optionsof what to ask your students in mid-semester evaluations. The goal is to make the evaluation short and the questions easy to respond to.  The other important aspect to mid-semester evaluation is that in order to get valid feedback, the data collection should be anonymous. Remember that because this is done in the middle of the term, students may fear retribution for any critical comments.  The anonymity addresses this, although instructors may need to take special care to assure students that electronic evaluations are truly anonymous by describing the steps taken to make them so. 

Evaluations may be distributed in a number of ways. Instructors can hand out forms in their course, allowing time for filling them out and for collection by a student or another instructor.  Instructors may also opt for delivering the evaluation electronically and either distributing via email or through sharing a link during class time.  Evaluations done in class typically take about 10-15 minutes to complete and collect, time for analysis (dependent upon the number of responses received), and about 10-15 minutes to discuss the results in class. 

Like end-of-course evaluations, I do not recommend incentives be given to complete a mid-semester evaluation as this may bias the results. You can help to increase your response rate by explaining to your students how their feedback will be used and the value you place upon it. You can also help your students help you by giving them tips on how to give useful feedback.

Analysis of results need not be intensive.  A simple review of the responses noting trends may be enough.  I normally review the themes found in the responses to each question, then decide what, if any, changes I will make based upon them. 

The important part about analyzing the results and making decisions is that this process is discussed with the students. Students will expect a response to the feedback they give.  I usually discuss with students details of the response rate and any themes I found in the data.  I talk about any changes that will be made immediately as a result of the data and any that will happen in the future.  I also discuss themes that suggested changes be made, but will not be made.  This is a vital discussion, and it may actually add to the students’ understanding of the requirements and goals of the course.

For me, the biggest benefit of using mid-semester evaluation is the focus on improvement.  The results are only seen by the instructor, who then has the choice about what to improve now, what to improve in the future, and what do disregard. You may be surprised at the notion of disregarding evaluative comments, but we all know that some things cannot be changed and there are some things an instructor will not want to change.  

There are a variety of other benefits to making mid-semester evaluations a regular part of your teaching.  It is one way to head off any frustrations with a course before they are out of control… an early indicator of sorts.  It gives students a voice in their education and actually puts some of the control for learning in their hands. Studies have shown that properly implementing mid-semester evaluation can lead to better end-of-course evaluations (Wickramasinghe & Timpson, 2006) as their use positively affects students’ perceptions of the overall learning environment (Hurney, Harris, Prins, & Kruck, 2014). Mid-semester evaluations do not suffer from the convoluted usage that end-of-course evaluations do (as tools for both improvement and for promotion, tenure and reappointment), and recent research suggests that the benefits of using mid-semester evaluation may extend beyond individual classes (Sozer, Zeybekoglu, & Kaya, 2019).

Hurney, C. A., Harris, N. L., Prins, S. C. B., & Kruck, S. E. (2014). The impact of a learner-centered, mid-semester course evaluation on students. The Journal of Faculty Development, 28(3), 55-61. Retrieved from https://proxying.lib.ncsu.edu/index.php/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/docview/1696856596?accountid=12725

McGrath, L. B. (2014, March 11).   Mid semester evaluations: How to do some spring cleaning in your classroom. Inside Higher Ed.Available at https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/mid-semester-evaluations

Sozer, E. M., Zeybekoglu, Z. & Kaya, M. (2019) Using mid-semester course evaluation as a feedback tool for improving learning and teaching in higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1564810

Wickramasinghe, S. R. & Timpson, W. M. (2006). Mid-semester student feedback enhances student learning, Education for Chemical Engineers, 1(1), 126-133.https://doi.org/10.1205/ece06012

Dr. Diane Chapman serves as NC State’s Director of the Office of Faculty Development in addition to her role as a faculty member in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development. She has previously worked at UNC Chapel Hill and in training and managerial positions for Fortune 500 companies in the private sector. Dr Chapman has her undergraduate and master’s degrees in business administration and her doctorate in adult and community college education. In addition to teaching master’s and doctoral evaluation courses, she works as a program evaluator for both large and small grants, and serves on NC State’s evaluation of teaching committee.