Mid-semester evaluations can help professors gauge student comprehension


Nathan Goldsmith

Instructional developer Anne Braseby examines questions generated by participants during a workshop for UT faculty Wednesday afternoon. The workshop aimed to help professors better understand the needs of their students by conducting more effective mid-semester course evaluations.

Rachel Thompson

Mid-semester course evaluations allow professors to incorporate student feedback into their course before moving on to a new batch of students.

The Center for Learning and Teaching met Wednesday with professors from different departments to discuss ways to administer more effective mid-semester course evaluations that gauge the way students feel about the workload and expectations of the course. The professors and staff of the Center for Learning and Teaching wrote down questions they thought would be effective on a student survey and swapped ideas to formulate better questions. Mid-semester evaluations are distributed to students at the will of professors and do not replace nor coincide with year-end instructor and course evaluations.

The purpose of mid-semester course evaluations is to allow students to express their opinions about the courses they take and allow professors to respond to that criticism and better their approaches, said Karron Lewis, associate director for the Center for Learning and Teaching.

Lewis said she doesn’t think most instructors administer a mid-semester course evaluation, but the use of one is highly encouraged.

“We’re trying to help them understand that it’s a good thing to do,” Lewis said. “It opens up communication with the students, but then you have to go back and say, ‘Thank you for the feedback — these are the things I can do, these are the things I can’t.’”

Joseph Rodriguez, an instructional developer at the Center for Learning and Teaching, said mid-semester course evaluations provide him with insights about material he was covering that he wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

“I realized I was covering a lot, and students weren’t really understanding the concepts,” Rodriguez said. “This informed me that I needed to add questions to guide students as they read. I wanted them to read with a purpose.”

Accounting professor Kristina Zvinakis said she wasn’t sure about mid-semester course evaluations when the idea was first brought up.

“I thought it was almost like cheating,” she said. “I thought it was like I’d be ensuring that I’d get better evaluations at the end of the course. But now I see they have a dual purpose.”

Developing and interpreting mid-semester course evaluations is a bit like finding a plumber on Yelp, said Anne Braseby, instructional developer for the Center for Learning and Teaching. With more effectively structured surveys, results will be easier to interpret and put into action for the benefit of both staff and students, Braseby said.

“I wanted to get a workman that was good, so I went on Yelp,” she said. “They were saying, ‘Daniel was very friendly,’ but the bottom line wasn’t that he was nice and friendly, the bottom line was that he was a good plumber. We have similar responses in our course evaluations.”

Students often respond to the way things are taught, rather than the material being taught, she said.

“The bottom line is [whether] students are learning,” Braseby said. “If the students are learning, then we’re doing our job. The feedback should reflect what this bottom line is.”

Printed on Thursday, March 1, 2012 as: Course evaluations provide professors with student response