Creating Conditions for Receiving Good Feedback

Introducing mid-course evaluations to your class and explaining how they will be used is a vital part of the evaluation process. Students may be unfamiliar with mid-course evaluations, and may assume that they operate similarly to end-of-semester evaluations. Furthermore, students may not be aware of how instructors evaluate and incorporate student feedback. Part of the value of conducting mid- course evaluations is helping students understand the purpose, importance, and process of collecting student feedback. You should therefore be sure to emphasize the formative and communicative nature of mid-course evaluations, and work to help students provide substantive, constructive feedback.

3.1 WHEN TO CONDUCT EVALUATIONS

Evaluations should be conducted early enough to provide an opportunity to adapt the course, if necessary, but after students have and a chance to experience representative examples of several of the course elements, such as readings and problem sets, and to understand the standards and expectations of the instructor. If students seem to be having trouble grasping fundamental concepts of the course, you may wish to conduct the evaluation before the midterm so that you can identify and resolve major challenges with the course material. If at all possible, avoid conducting the evaluation the same week as a major test or assignment, and avoid survey fatigue by conducting mid-course evaluations only once (Davis, 2009, p. 462).

3.2 ADMINISTERING COURSE EVALUATIONS:

In administering course evaluations, you will want to consider the method of delivery and the timing of delivery. Regardless of how you decide to administer them, it is important that you ensure students’ anonymity.

METHODS

Paper: You can opt to print out your evaluation form and hand this out to students to be collected. The advantage of this method is that it requires no devices (e.g., laptop or smartphones) and so more students may be able to complete it. The disadvantage is that the collection and subsequent examination/analysis of the data, particularly for large classes, can be challenging.

Online: You can use an online tool to collect your evaluation data. In this case, students will need a device of some kind to complete the questionnaire. The advantage of this method is that data are easily collected and typically easier to examine/analyze. See following *** Note *** .

PROCESS  & TIMING

In Class: You may wish to dedicate in-class time to filling out the evaluations. It is recommended you leave the class if you do this. The advantage of this method is that you will likely have more students respond. The disadvantage is that students will likely have a relatively limited amount of time to complete the evaluations and may not provide as rich and/or detailed feedback. Delivering the evaluation online will require preparation (e.g., providing and/or telling students in a prior class to bring a device). See following *** Note ***.

Out of Class: You may ask students to complete the evaluation out of class. The advantage of this is that you will likely get more informative and deeper responses. The disadvantage is that you will get potentially fewer responses as students may not remember to fill them out and/or fail to bring them to a future class. In this case, reminders are critically important.

*** Note ***
One critical consideration when selecting an online survey tool is where the information collected through the tool is stored. As per privacy legislation, student data collected online must be stored in Canada. Many survey tools store data in other countries (e.g., the United States). This is to be avoided. For information or guidance around selecting an online survey tool, or for information on what is possible through the University’s own Portal, please contact the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation at ctsi.teaching@utoronto.ca.

3.3 HELPING STUDENTS PROVIDE GOOD RESPONSES

Because of their unfamiliarity with these types of evaluations, students may benefit from some guidance about what good answers look like. By helping students feel confident that their answers will be constructive, you may also help alleviate some of the anxiety that they may feel in completing an evaluation while the course is still in progress. Svinicki (2001) provides several suggestions of ways to encourage useful responses:

  • Provide students with models of helpful responses.
  • Offer students opportunities to provide positive as well as negative feedback.
  • Encourage students to provide examples to illustrate their comments.
  • Ask students to focus on teaching behaviours or other tangible elements of the course rather than inferred motivations.
  • Encourage students to explain how the elements they are discussing have affected their performance in the course.
  • Ask students to propose alternatives to what they identify as problematic elements of the course.

As will be discussed later in this document, you should also provide students with some feedback on their feedback as part of the process of discussing the evaluations. This input may help them to complete both future mid-course and end-of-term course evaluations.

3.4 CONDITIONS FOR RECEIVING GOOD FEEDBACK

Because of the format of end-of-course evaluations, students are more accustomed to evaluations as a one-way process from which they never see results – either in the form of a response from the instructor, or in the form of changes to the course. In order to establish conditions that will provide the most effective feedback, therefore, you should:

  • Highlight for students how evaluations will be used. You may wish to walk them through the process of creating the evaluation, and explain why you chose the questions that you did. Outline how you will review and interpret the evaluations, and prepare the students for the discussion that will ensue. The point of this exercise is to convince students that their feedback will be heard, to encourage them to take the evaluation seriously, and to provide substantial and thoughtful comments. Studies demonstrate that the more students know about the evaluation process, the better the comments they provide.
  • Explain to students what outcomes they can anticipate. Note that you may make some changes to the course as a result of the evaluations, and what students should expect of that process. If you have made changes to courses from evaluations in the past, you may wish to provide some examples. Also indicate what you may not do as a result of feedback (for example, reduce the number of readings or change assignment due dates).
  • Clarify with students how their anonymity will be protected. Students are apt to be anxious since, unlike end-of-course evaluations, their comments will be read by the instructor before final grades are submitted. Do not connect evaluations and the grading process (for example, do not administer evaluations as part of a midterm or provide marks for completion of mid- course feedback). Providing opportunities for students to offer positive feedback (for example, suggestions for new activities or new readings rather than suggestions of which readings to eliminate) can also help students feel more comfortable providing comments in a context of limited anonymity.
  • Provide students with enough time to both plan their responses and complete their evaluations. You may wish to alert them the class before you plan to conduct the evaluation, or provide them with the evaluation questions at this time, so that they will have an opportunity to prepare their comments. Encourage them to bring in notes and look at their syllabus as they complete the evaluation.