Getting and Using Mid-Semester Feedback

Published: Tues., February 25, 2020

Graduate Teaching Assistants learn to teach in a variety of ways. You might take classes on teaching, attend workshops, or read about new ideas. However, one thing that all instructors should do is ask students for feedback. While most instructors get feedback at the end of a semester, that’s too late for you to change anything for the current semester. Hopefully if you teach the same class the next semester you can use those ideas, but sometimes that is not the case. Getting mid-semester feedback allows you to make changes in the moment.

How do you do it?

Another way to get feedback from your students is to collect mid-semester feedback. Collecting feedback in the middle of the semester gives your students enough time to know you to have valuable insights but it's not so late in the semester that you cannot use the feedback and see an impact on your teaching. What you ask and how you do it is up to you. Some prefer to do it in class taking 5-10 minutes for students to respond. Others might set up an online survey and ask students to do it outside class. Others may choose to include it on an assignments or test. There are benefits and disadvantages to each of these situations, so we recommend you choose the method that best works for you. Doing it in class ensures all students complete it, but will take time from class. Online surveys are more convenient for students, but tend to have lower responses rates, especially if they are to connected to their grades. Attaching it to an assignment would ensure students complete it but might lessen honesty or depth of response if they were tired after completing a test or afraid it would be connected to their grade. Anonymity usually helps encourage students to be more honest.

What do you ask?

You can ask anything you wish but it’s using best to focus on questions relevant to what you want to know. Some instructors will use a simple survey with three questions: 1) What’s working?, 2) What’s not working?, and 3) What changes would you recommend? Other instructors may ask specific questions, especially if they want to evaluate how students are responding to their assignments, course activities, or a specific change they made to the course. Keep in mind that whatever questions you use you want it to be something that can be completed in no more that 10 minutes. You can you multiple choice and open-ended questions, but it’s usually helpful to have at least one open-ended question for explaining their answers. In your instructions, make sure that you encourage students to be honest in their responses. Also, reminding them that giving concrete, actionable feedback (e.g. “I wish he would explain reflection assignments so that I knew what kinds of responses he is looking for. I never know how much detail to give.”) is more helpful that general responses (e.g. “assignments are unclear” or "our TA is awesome").

Responding to feedback

Take some time to look over the feedback. Some of it will be positive and some of it may be negative. If you do it towards the end of the week, you can look over it over the weekend so that you have time to process it. It’s worth noting that instructors tend to focus on the 1 or 2 negative comments more so than 25 positive ones. Try to pay attention to the relative weight of the comments. That’s not to say you should ignore the 1 or 2 comments, but just don’t let them be all you focus on. Take some time to think about the feedback and what you could do to change your instruction, if necessary, and what they respond to well. When you relay the information back to the class focus on discussing just a few ideas, usually this should take maybe 2 minutes. We recommend that you first thank the students for their feedback. Then, we usually recommend you discuss the feedback in three ways: 1) positive comments and things you will continue to do, 2) negative comments and how you will change your teaching to address them, and 3) any negative comments that you cannot change and why. For example, TAs may not have control over the course assignments or textbooks if those are decided by the faculty. While you can certainly share your thoughts with the faculty, you may not have any control over that. Sharing what you can change and how let’s students know you are listening to their feedback. You do not have to share everything, in fact it’s probably better that you only focus on a few things. Remember, this is not intended to be a conversation; you are just relaying information.

Getting advice

If you need help on your teaching, you can always contact our office at graddev@unl.edu. We also conduct mid-semester feedback for graduate students and postdocs and teaching observations when requested. You can request one here: https://www.unl.edu/gradstudies/professional-development/consultation-services (mark Teaching Development Program) and read more about the process here: https://www.unl.edu/gradstudies/professional-development/TDP