Spotlight on Teaching and Learning: Mid-Semester Check-In

October 15, 2020

There are a number of benefits to implementing a mid-semester check-in. In addition to the targeted feedback provided to instructors, some studies suggest that soliciting student input can influence how students view their roles as members of the learning community and can bolster positive perceptions of their learning and the learning environment (Hurney, et al, 2014; Hunt, 2003; McGowan & Osguthorpe, 2011). It can also be a valuable moment for both students and instructors to be metacognitive about learning and teaching, and to acknowledge the shared circumstances that are making the Fall of 2020 so difficult for both faculty and students.

Conducting a Mid-Semester Check-In

What do you want to learn more about?

In designing the questions to ask students, consider the aspects of student and learning experiences that you’re curious about and the type of information you hope to gather. It may be helpful to revisit the course goals and the teaching strategies you have implemented to determine what student input might be most informative. Also, consider questions that encourage students to be specific and self-reflective in their responses (see Rando, 2001(link is external) and Tanner, 2012(link is external) for discussion and examples).

Yale’s Poorvu Center suggests the following 4 open-ended questions(link is external) as a core for a mid-semester check-in:

  • What is working well for you in this class? What are you struggling with? 

  • What is helping you learn? What is not working? 

  • What could the instructor change to improve your learning experience in this class? 

  • What could you do differently to improve your learning experience in this class?

Likert-scale questions indicating agreement of disagreement with various statements (1-5 with 5 = Strongly Agree and 1 = Strongly Disagree) can also be useful. General examples include:

  • I am engaged in this class.

  • I am learning from the ________. (Fill in the blank with a learning modality: lectures, textbook, online modules, etc.)

  • I understand what I need to do to do well in this class.

  • When I need it, I am able to get help in understanding the material.

  • I am worried about my performance in this course.

Instructors may also want to specifically collect information about technology issues or other difficulties specific to remote instruction.

  • Technology issues have made my engagement with the class more challenging.

  • I can engage remotely and work with minimal distraction.

How should I collect the data?

You can collect input from students in a number of ways. For example, you might set up an anonymous bCourses quiz, or use a survey tool like Google Forms or Qualtrics. Some instructors might also use small group discussion-based activities to surface emerging themes across students’ feedback. To help facilitate an anonymous and confidential discussion environment for your students, connect with the Center for Teaching and Learning to request a Mid Semester Inquiry. 

Try answering the questions, too.

As you prepare questions that you will pose to students, consider taking a moment to reflect on them as well. You might also take this time to engage in additional metacognitive reflection around teaching:

“...developing a metacognitive stance toward one's own teaching—thinking about how you think about teaching—can be a wonderfully natural entry point into iteratively changing one's own teaching practice. Self-analysis about one's own ideas about teaching could include: What assumptions do I hold about students? To what extent do I have evidence for those assumptions? Why do I make the instructional decisions that I make? What do I know about teaching? What would I like to learn? What am I confused about? These analyses can also become more specific to particular granularities, ranging from an individual class session to the scope of an entire course.” (Tanner, 2012)

This table(link is external) provides some example questions that instructors may find helpful in reflecting on their teaching.

Examining and Sharing the Responses

In addition to collecting and evaluating the responses yourself, sharing your findings with students is also an important part of the process. In reporting results back to students, we signal that their ideas were carefully considered and emphasize that their time and thoughtful feedback is appreciated and valued. Additionally, it can highlight variation in learning experiences and perceptions among their peers.

The following section includes advice on examining and responding to students’ feedback, adapted from Barbara Davis and Steve Tollefson and Tools for Teaching.

Carefully consider what students say and identify any patterns.

First, look over the positive things students have shared about the course. This is important because negative comments can often be more salient to us. It’s also important to know what’s working well! Then read the suggestions for improvement.

For both positive and constructive feedback, try reading through the responses and sorting them into categories. Are there common ideas or overlapping comments? As with other forms of qualitative data, identifying patterns and themes in student responses can help us parse varied feedback.

Let students know what you learned, and what, if anything, will be adjusted based on their input.

Thank students for their comments and invite their ongoing participation in helping to improve the course. You might offer a summary of common ideas, or note areas where you identified conflicting student perspectives. Be sure to also provide a brief account of which of their most common suggestions you can act upon this term, which you will use to inform the next iteration of the course, and which you will not act upon and why. If you have collected mid-semester feedback in previous courses, you might also share how you have used these past comments to make changes. These are important follow-up steps, as explaining pedagogical choices can also influence how students experience learning environments (Seidel et al, 2015; Harrison et al, 2019; Deslauriers et al, 2019).

Are You Interested in Conducting a Mid-Semester Check-In?

Colleagues at the Center for Teaching and Learning would be happy to meet with you to discuss any part of the process, including question design or, if you have already collected input, debriefing and understanding your findings. Email sends e-mail).

Instructors can also learn about student experiences generally through existing multi-institutional surveys and reports. For example, results of this COVID-19 Student Survey(link is external) were shared in the summer and may offer some helpful insights.

References and resources for further reading

Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom assessment techniques. Jossey Bass Wiley, 2012.

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257.

Harrison, C. D., Nguyen, T. A., Seidel, S. B., Escobedo, A. M., Hartman, C., Lam, K., ... & Balukjian, B. (2019). Investigating instructor talk in novel contexts: Widespread use, unexpected categories, and an emergent sampling strategy. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 18(3), ar47.

Hurney, C. A., Harris, N. L., Prins, S. C. B., & Kruck, S. E. (2014). The impact of a learner-centered, mid-semester course evaluation on students. The Journal of Faculty Development, 28(3), 55-61.

Hunt, N. (2003). Does mid-semester feedback make a difference?. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13-20.

McGowan, W. R., & Osguthorpe, R. T. (2011). 12: Student And Faculty Perceptions of Effects of Midcourse Evaluation. To improve the academy, 29(1), 160-172.

Rando, W. L. (2001). Writing teaching assessment questions for precision and reflection. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2001(87), 77-83.

Seidel, S. B., Reggi, A. L., Schinske, J. N., Burrus, L. W., & Tanner, K. D. (2015). Beyond the biology: A systematic investigation of noncontent instructor talk in an introductory biology course. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 14(4), ar43.

Tanner, K. D. (2012). Promoting student metacognition. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 11(2), 113-120.