Next week is the week before spring break on our campus. Although the coming days may be busy and stressful, I also think it is a beneficial week to take a few minutes of class time for a mid-semester evaluation.
Spring break provides enough time for you to read the responses, get away from it all for a few days, and then come back and re-read the feedback, and, finally, make some considered and specific tweaks.
We’ve written about mid-semester evaluations before, notably in our October 2011 newsletter. In that article, we discuss some sample questions and how to use Google Forms to gather the data anonymously and electronically.
Combining both the pitch-perfect question and the use of Google Forms, Chris Clark from Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center recently wrote a blog post reviewing the book Teaching What You Don’t Know by Therese Huston. Huston advocates using a questioning technique drawn from clinical psychology. First, individuals are asked to assign a numerical score to an experience. Then, they are asked what it would take to raise their numerical evaluation by one point. In essence, this question targets the low-hanging, marginal fruit: what is the absolute minimum change that would be necessary in order for you to feel incrementally more positively about the class? Huston uses pen and paper, But Clark has a lovely example up on his blog of how this mid-semester eval approach might look with a Google Form.
There is an elegant cleverness to this one-point approach. Moving the course to Tahiti and giving everyone an A would probably increase positive feelings and ratings, but certain financial and ethical concerns prevent that. Thus, given the world we live in and the variety of real constraints faced by professors, receiving feedback focused on small changes definitely increases the usefulness and likely implementation of said feedback.
On the other hand, I wonder if the focus on points (and the specific goal of increasing those points) is some distant cousin of grade-grubbing. At our campus, mid-semester evaluations remain largely informal, but the shadow of the formal, university-collected end-of-semester evaluation looms large. “One point” may be a useful heuristic that yields specific feedback at mid-term time, but it may also seem to students that the professor is overly interested in achieving a certain numerical score in the end. I have yet to read Huston’s book, although it is on my list; I’m eager to see what she says about this issue or to hear from others who have tried this strategy. Share away in the comments section!