Or What I Learned From Midterm Course Evaluations
This semester I tried something new — midterm course evaluations. I was inspired by Profhacker’s numerous posts on this issue over the years including George Williams’ post asking instructors to consider giving midterm course evaluation and Meg Worley’s post about how to get the most from midterm course evaluations. There are good reasons to conduct midterm course evaluations, but as a reflective practitioner (hello NWP) who regularly pushes both my students and the teachers I work with to pause and reflect on their work it seemed hypocritical not to practice what I preach.
I learned some interesting lessons for my own practice and got some ideas for future blog posts as well. This is a longer blog post than I usually like to write so I tried to break it up into chunks so you skim for the bits more relevant to your concerns and interests. Let me know if you’d like to know more about those tidbits and ideas and practices and I’ll address those in future blog posts.
A quick preview: I learned that while my students like multiple channels of communication they also prefer to use one platform. I also learned that my use of technology and interactive assignments means students are having fun while they are learning. Read on to learn more about how they feel about more specific assignments such as class blogs and be sure to tell me if you want to know more about my class assignments and activities and I’ll be sure to include those in a future blog post.
I did not go with the simple four open-ended question approach advocated by George Williams. I was influenced by Meg Worley to use a similar survey to the one which my department wants administered at the end of the semester. So my survey was 22 questions long (mostly of the Likert variety though so I don’t think it took too long) including four open-ended questions. Most of the department questions are focused on course organization, materials, instructor performance, etc. while I added some questions about specific assignments and activities.
I have done the more open-ended variety approach in the past – especially when I knew there was a need to readjust the direction of a course. This semester I’ve been pretty happy with the way things are developing which made me more than a little nervous to review the results.
Just over half my students responded which is not a wonderful response but not bad considering it was administered after the midterm rush and just before Spring Break. Timing is everything but I’m not sure sending it out during midterm craziness would get better results (and that wasn’t possible any way).
What I Learned
Use a single platform: No one thought the course was disorganized so it seems my decision to move the class discussion and journals back into Blackboard (rather than using Google Drive) was a good one. Previous semesters if students reported that organization was a problem it seemed linked to the fact we were using multiple platforms for class activities.
Multiple channels are good: One of the department questions “The instructor encourages students to ask questions” had me a bit nervous as I haven’t been getting many questions in the Info Booth I set up for that purpose and unlike other semesters I have not had many students using Google chat, but the overwhelming response was “Strongly Agree.” I guess that means my course materials are clear enough that they don’t need to post questions in the Info Booth or via Chat and that I encourage questions and discussion in other formats and channels.
Technology can foster relationships: I was very pleased students responded to another departmental question “The instructor uses technology to establish good relationships with students” with overwhelming strong agreement. This is something I work very hard on and it is always good to see results. Another departmental question “The use of technology enhances the course” also received a positive response.
Learning is fun: Overwhelmingly both groups of students responded that they are enjoying the classes. I am not as surprised by my professional writing students as they (for the most part) chose to take the class and I have more flexibility to make that class interesting and enjoyable, but it is nice to see that my general education students seem to be enjoying the class as well. I try to make it fun and interesting as well as beneficial and that is not always easy while struggling to meet department mandates.
Students understand the value of community: I have always worked to build a class community with introductory activities and a back channel but this semester I made these activities an actual assignment. The majority of my students felt that this assignment helped them get to know their classmates better. In addition, in response to more open-ended questions it was clear that the majority of my students understood the value of class community to their learning.
Students like video assignments: In recent semesters I have moved away from the traditional assignment sheet to creating assignment videos so students get a visual reminder and audio explanation to support the written assignment. Students seem to like this format and find it helpful.
Blogging promotes discussion and learning: I use a class blog to host class discussions. I make the first post of the week and then students write their own posts in response to my prompt and/or questions. We all then comment on a selection of individual posts. Every student that responded to the survey agreed (with only a few neutral responses) that the class blog contributed to their learning.
Creating a private channel was a good idea: This semester I require students to post weekly to a self-evaluation journal. My intent is for them to take responsibility for their own learning in this space as well as to ask me questions about their work. My hope is that this private channel could keep students on track with their work and catch problems before they seriously impacted their grades and/or performance. Overall, I’ve been pleased with this assignment and it seems that students feel it is keeping us connected.
Interactive assignments are better: I also asked my students which assignment has been their favorite so far. In my Writing II class the overwhelming response was the assignment “Using Comic Book Themes and Archtypes to Write About Humanity” although they also liked the blog assignment in general and the badges assessment of the community assignment. My Professional Writing students were more diverse although the big winner was our Group Learning Document assignment in which the students created digital tutorials and tips for their classmates. They also like the class blog.
Fodder For Future Posts
In the end, I found it worthwhile to conduct a midterm course evaluation. If nothing else I was able to determine that some of the changes I made for this semester were the right decision and that there are no major concerns or problems that I need to address. Plus I have ideas for blog posts which is always a good thing! Do you conduct a midterm course evaluation or self-evaluation? What have you or do you learn as a result? What kinds of questions do you ask? And again, please let me know if you would like to know more about my class activities and assignments.