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Using Mid-Term Evaluations and other Sources of Student Feedback on Teaching

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Faculty should also know that professors who do mid-term evaluations can achieve higher end-of-term evaluations.


The following excerpt gives some excellent insights on the benefits, as well

as the cautions, of using mid-term student evaluations of teaching. It is


:A Practical Guide

to Improved Faculty Performance, and Promotion/Tenure Decisions, by PETER

SELDIN, Pace University, AND ASSOCIATES. Copyright ? 1999 by Anker

Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


------------------ 1,096 words ------------------



pp. 60-64



Although the literature on the evaluation and improvement of teaching

stresses the importance of mid-term evaluation (Centra, 1993), too

many teaching evaluation systems are entirely preoccupied with

judgments. Most teaching centers can offer faculty various ways of

obtaining formative (improvement-oriented) feedback, either on their

own or with the help of the center. In addition to different kinds

of written mid-term forms, many of us offer the so-called SGID (Small

Group Instructional Diagnosis, Clark, 1979), a structured mid-term

interview of a class with the students divided into small groups,

which provides specific feedback on what the students like about a

course, what they feel needs improvement, and their ideas on how to

carry out the improvement. Although this method takes approximately

20 minutes of class time, it has the unique advantage of exposing

students to what their peers think of a course's strengths and

weaknesses. Any official teaching evaluation system should make sure

that faculty know about the availability and the desirability of

mid-term approaches. Yale is again a case in point; the Yale College

dean's letter regarding the summative evaluation system also mentions

that course improvement forms, intended for mid-term use, will be

sent to the faculty by the registrar along with their preliminary

class lists. Faculty should also know that professors who do

mid-term evaluations can achieve higher end-of-term evaluations

(Overall & Marsh, 1979; Cohen, 1980).

Although on my campus the SGID, the ME Peer Review, and faculty

self-designed questionnaires have proved the most popular types of

mid-term student evaluation, there are other models for obtaining

useful student feedback. At a National Science Foundation-funded

workshop for new (up to three years' experience) engineering faculty

hosted at Stanford in August 1998 by three colleagues and myself, we

found that these faculty responded positively to the suggestion of

teaching circles or quality control circles. As described by

Tiberius (1997), such circles involve the recruitment of student

volunteers from a class who agree to meet with the professor

regularly in order to convey feedback from themselves and their peers

on how the class is going. The fact that the student volunteers are

not representing simply their own reactions but are supposed to have

canvassed their peers means that students can engage in a level of

frankness to the faculty member that they may not feel comfortable or

secure about as individuals. We should also not underestimate the

benefit to the students of being such serious and influential

participants in the instructional process.

Let me emphasize, however, that the results of any alternate student

feedback system should remain formative and confidential. Otherwise,

alternative student feedback systems may suffer the same fate the

end-of-term evaluations have. As Centra (1993) points out, the

end-of-term ratings began as formative feedback; they became

summative when colleges and universities found themselves needing an

objective and quantifiable source of data on teaching that would help

them make sensitive and important personnel decisions.

Let me add one other final word of caution. Faculty who devise and

follow up on their own methods of obtaining student feedback should

be careful not to operate in a vacuum. Their sincere efforts to

strengthen their classes can backfire if they respond casually to

what they think they are hearing from their students. I have worked

with several faculty who had earlier done their own mid-term

questionnaires and had changed their courses significantly because of

what they had thought were important student suggestions. In the

end, however, they had invested serious amounts of time without

getting any more favorable student end-of-term evaluations. For

example, one junior faculty member had received complaints about

being disorganized. Because one student had suggested that he give

the class complete lecture notes, he invested literally hundreds of

hours in doing comprehensive and even elegant notes. The students

then complained that the class was boring because the professor was

closely following the lecture notes he had given them. His student

evaluations ended up no higher than when he had started out.

On the basis of my own experience, Boice's (1991) work on "quick

starters," and the work of many other experts (Stevens, 1987; Centra,

1993; Brinko & Menges, 1997; Tiberius, 1997; Menges 1999), I would

offer the following guidelines to faculty who decide to solicit

student feedback on their teaching:

* Specific, concrete, behaviorally oriented information is most useful

in trying to improve your teaching (Murray, 1984; Wilson, 1986; Geis,

1991; Menges, 1999). If the questions on your institution's student

evaluation forms do not provide this kind of information, you may

need to acquire it through other types of student feedback.

* Don't go it alone unless you have already established a successful

record for interpreting and acting upon your student feedback.

Instead, consult a peer, your teaching and learning center, your

teaching assistant(s), or a group of interested students. Check with

them before you invest large chunks of your time in significant

changes to your course.

* Take the tinkering approach (Stevens, 1987). Make small, modest

changes and don't abandon a change the first time it doesn't seem

successful. Tinker with it, making little adjustments, and see if it

can be made successful after all.

* Although one student's suggestion can seem especially insightful or

interesting, be aware of investing too much significance in any

single opinion. Concentrate on the issues that seem problematic for

large number of students or for a subset of students with particular

needs. Try especially hard not to take it to heart if only one or

two students are particularly critical. Every teacher has such

students at some time or other, and the reasons for their discontent

may lie more with them than with you. The one exception is if only

one or two students are brave enough to tell you that you are making

racist or gender-discriminatory remarks. This kind of feedback must

always be taken seriously.

* Start conversations with your colleagues about how they handle

difficult situations that you're struggling with. You don't have to

confess that something is a problem for you; just ask them, for

example, how they know whether or not students are following them or

whatever else you suspect may be hard for you. Although most faculty

don't seem to begin conversations on teaching very often, most of

them seem happy to engage in one once it's begun.

* Consult the sizable, and very readable, literature on teaching. Your

Teaching and learning center staff or any number of introductory

books on teaching (three of my favorites are Davis, 1993; Lowman,

1995; and McKeachie, 1999) can help you think more broadly about your

teaching situation and the options open to you.



Boice, r. (1991). Quick starters: New faculty who succeed. In M.

Theall & J. Franklin (Eds.) Effective practices for improving

teaching. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, No. 48. San

Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brinko, K.T. (1991). The interactions of teaching improvement. In

teaching. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, No. 48. San

Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brinko, K.T. & Menges, R.J. (Eds.). (1997). Practically speaking: A

sourcebook for instructional consultants in higher education,

Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Centra, J.A. (1993). Reflective faculty evaluation: Enhancing

teaching and determining faculty effectiveness. San Francisco, CA:


Clark, D.J., & Bekey, J. (1979). Use of small groups in instructional

evaluation. POD Quarterly, 1, 87-8=95.

Davis, B.G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Geis, G.L. (1991). The moment of truth: Feeding back information

about teaching. In M. Theall & J. Franklin (Eds.), Effective

practices for improving teaching. New Directions for Teaching and

Learning. No. 48. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lowman, J. (1995). mastering the techniques of teaching (2nd ed.).

San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mckeachie, W.J. (1979). Student ratings of faculty: A reprise.

Academe, October, 384-397.

Menges, R.J. (1999). Appraising and improving your teaching: Using

students, peers, experts, and classroom research. In W.J. McKeachie,

Teaching Tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and

university teachers (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Murray H. (1984). The impact of formative and summative evaluation of

teaching in North American universities. Assessment and Evaluation in

Higher Education, 9 (2), 117-132.

Overall, J. U., IV, & March, H.W. (1979). Midterm feedback from

students: its relationship to instructional improvement and students:

Cognitive and affective outcomes. Journal of Eductional Psychology,

71, 856-865.

Stevens, E.A. (1987). The process of change in college teaching.

Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University.

Tiberius, R. (1997). Small group methods for collecting information

from students. In K.T. Brinko & R.J. Menges (Eds.), Practically

speaking: A sourcebook for instructional consultants in higher

education. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Wilson, R.C. (1986). Improving faculty teaching: Effective use of

student evaluations and consultants. Journal of Higher Education, 57

(2), 196-211.

Wilson, r. (1998), January 16). New research casts doubt on value of

student evaluations of professors. The Chronicle of Higher

Education, A12-14.


MICHELE MARINCOVICH is assistant vice provost and director of the

Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University. She is a

past president of the Professional and Organizational Development

(POD) Network in Higher Education and a frequent presenter in the US

and abroad. Her most recent publications include Disciplinary

Differences in Teaching and Learning (1995, co-edited with Nira

Havita) and The professional Development of Graduate Teaching

Assistants (1998, co-edited with Jack Prostko and Federic Strout).