Friday, 13 March 2015

mid-course feedback from students

So many post-secondary institutions are now making mid-course evaluations routine. I had read of this practice in a Faculty Focus post a couple of years ago and have been wanting to try it for some time. What has held me back is that I also remember reading that faculty should only implement this with their students if they are willing to consider students' suggestions and to make time to discuss the results of the feedback with the students. This term I implemented some innovations in my senior capstone course such as an e-portfolio assignment and in-class team assignments and discussions. I wanted to see how these were being received by students. After searching for some resources for best practices in the types of questions to use, I came across a great resource from UBC and found that some of their sample questions would work well for me if tweaked and also sparked some creativity to come up with a couple of my own questions.

I used the survey tool available in Moodle (our university's LMS) and created an anonymous feedback form making it available to the students in my class during Spring Break. Ten out of 22 students completed the survey over the week and I received some very good feedback. This is what I found:

(A) The material covered in class is challenging and intellectually stimulating.
-  1. strongly disagree:  0
-  2. disagree:  0
-  3. neutral:  1 (10.00 %)
-  4. agree:  3 (30.00 %)
-  5. strongly agree:  6 (60.00 %)
 (B) I am able to make overarching connections between each week’s material.
-  1. strongly disagree:  0
-  2. disagree:  0
-  3. neutral:  1 (10.00 %)
-  4. agree: 8 (80.00 %)
-  5. strongly agree:  1 (10.00 %)
 (C) Sensitive material in this course is discussed by the instructor and my classmates in a way that…
-  a) always respects my feelings and the feelings of other students: 8 (80.00 %)
-  b) usually respects my feelings and the feelings of other students:  2 (20.00 %)
-  c) sometimes respects my feelings and the feelings of other students:  0
-  d) rarely respects my feelings and the feelings of other students:  0

 (D) What aspect of the course do you think is contributing the most to your intellectual development?

In this section I was pleased that students indicated they felt that the course content was challenging and that the course structure (team-based discussions) were facilitating their processing of the material helping them to think in ways they hadn't done before. Students also wrote that having a rotating group leader to facilitate discussion of the assigned readings was helping them to broaden their thinking. One identified the class structure as a flipped classroom (students are required to write a two page response to the assigned reading for entry into the classroom) while others indicated that the writing was helping them make connections between assigned readings and to their other courses and life outside the classroom.

(E) What aspect of the course do you think is contributing the least to your intellectual development? 

This was interesting because what students had indicated above was aiding their intellectual development others indicated here were not contributing: writing, discussion leaders, e-portfolio, reading. When I parse through the responses carefully, what students really seem to be saying is that the workload for the course is too high. That is the only way I can reconcile the seeming contradiction in their responses. The readings, discussion, writing are contributing to their intellectual development, yet the readings, discussion, writing are contributing the least to their intellectual development. I wonder if there is also a tension between having students actively engaged in the material (peer discussion and student leaders) with students desire to have an "expert" tell them what is correct. 

(F) If you were the instructor, what one change would you implement to make this course a better learning experience?

This question produced results indicating that students were feeling the workload for the course to be too high. They had different suggestions: one reading per week, shorter readings, break up the required readings with in-class discussion of videos, make the course into a 6 cr full year course.

(G) What do you know now about the course that you wish you knew at the start of term?

Some students commented that they wished they had known how much work the course would be and how much philosophy would be part of the course content. For some reason students equate philosophy with difficulty. Odd, because the philosophy we are doing is simply considering the structure of biological thinking and how it developed. But we do use philosophical approaches to investigate these (e.g. David Hull, Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, Andrew Pickering, Ernst Mayr). I think they may simply be finding thinking hard work.... which it is.

A couple of students noted that they would not change a thing and that the 'horror' stories they had heard about the course from previous students were largely exaggerated.  That was nice to hear. On the other hand a couple of students indicated that they were not finding the writing dossier or e-portfolio to be an educationally meaningful experience. I am not sure what to with those comments because a number of other students have indicated that these are facilitating their thinking. Again, I wonder if students dislike the writing and e-portfolio mostly because of the time they are taking to complete.

So how did I respond to their feedback? I determined that I could delete three of the 11 remaining assigned readings without compromising the integrity of the course and have replaced them with in-class videos with subsequent class discussion. Students have responded very positively to the changes and indicated they appreciated that I acted on their feedback.

I'll use these questions again for mid-course feedback in future terms. One thing I also learned from this is that I prefer the questions that I placed on my feedback form to some of the questions available in our USRI - Universal Student Ratings of Instruction.


Tunks KW. 2012. Transforming Teaching through Supplementary Evaluations. Faculty Focus, August 20.

Office of the AMS VP Academic and University Affairs. (n.d.) Guide to Collecting Mid-Course Feedback at UBC. UBC Mid-Course Feedback. University of British Columbia.