The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

Early Course Evaluations

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-by Rachel Luckenbill and Dr. Steven Hansen

A few semesters ago, I noticed that one of my classes was not engaging actively in the large group discussions I was attempting to facilitate.   I tried asking different kinds of questions and moving chairs into a circle rather than having them face forward. None of my efforts prevailed. I decided to see if early course evaluations could determine what the problem might be.
Before mid-term, I asked students to tell me anonymously what aspects of the course helped them learn the most and what least contributed to their learning. I discovered that roughly half of the students preferred small group work to large group discussions. I acknowledged their feedback and began regularly incorporating small-group activities while making large group discussions less frequent. Having seen that I would listen to their feedback, students’ engagement increased and the class became much more lively.
The following is adapted from a “teaching and learning tip” authored by Dr. Steven Hansen:
In her research, Carolin Keutzer identifies “five distinct benefits of midterm evaluation: a) The information can he used to make changes during the current course; (b) students feel empowered to help design their own educational process; (c) it allows an assessment of specific behaviors rather than a global “quality of teaching” rating; (d) instructors can ask for the information most pertinent to them-even soliciting criticism without fearing any adverse consequences from the administration; and (e) the evaluations go directly to the instructor.” (Keutzer, 1993).
Peter Cohen’s meta-analysis of studies on the impact of early-course evaluations on end of term evaluations concludes, “Instructors receiving mid-semester feedback averaged .16 of a rating point higher on end-of-semester overall ratings than did instructors receiving no mid-semester feed- back” (Cohen, 1980). In a more recent study at Brigham Young University, the authors show that the impact of midcourse feedback on end-of-term feedback depends on what instructors do with the early course evaluation: “Student ratings showed improvement in proportion to the extent to which the faculty member engaged with the midcourse evaluation. Faculty who read the student feedback and did not discuss it with their students saw a 2 percent improvement in their online student rating scores. Faculty who read the feedback, discussed it with students, and did not make changes saw a 5 percent improvement. Finally, faculty who conducted the midcourse evaluation, read the feedback, discussed it with their students, and made changes saw a 9 percent improvement” (McGowan & Osguthorpe, 2011).
The table, adapted from an article by Buskit and Hogan (2010), offers guidance on how to process midsemester feedback. 
Throw out the off-the-wall comments that do not provide you with useful information and forget about them. “She needs a haircut and a new pair of shoes.”
Set aside the positive comments that don’t tell you anything specific. “Best class ever”
Divide the negative comments into two groups: those you can change and those that you cannot change. Can Change: … redistributing the points for different assignments because of the amount of work that they perceived were required for each assignment.
Cannot Change: … let students out of
class early rather than keeping them the entire class period.
Work on perceptions and learn to be explicit. As we look at our evaluations, we often think, “But I do that!” If we feel we are doing the things that students say we are not doing, then it maybe that we need to address students’ perceptions.
Savor the comments that are meant to be negative, but let you know you are doing your Job. “She made us think.” “Dr. S. is a very influential
teacher, but I didn’t come to college to be influenced.”


Karen Lewis (2001) says, “Perhaps the most important part of conducting a mid-semester feedback session is your response to the students. In your response, you need to let them know what you learned from their information and what differences it will make. ”

Some Early Course Evaluation Ideas:

Pluses and Wishes
“As this course progressed, I was able to get it back on track by using a mid-semester evaluation process called “pluses and wishes.” Students divided the evaluation sheet in half and placed all the positives about the course on one side and suggestions for improvement on the other. For the most part, the students were satisfied with the course, but the one “wish” that was prevalent was to increase student interaction” (Ladson-Billings, 1996).

Traffic Light Survey
Nakpangi Johnson (Pharmacy Graduate) uses a “One Minute Traffic Light Survey.”


More Early Course Evaluation Methods


Connie Buskist and Jan Hogan, (2010). She Needs a Haircut and a New Pair of Shoes: Handling Those Pesky Course Evaluations. Journal of Effective Teaching 10 (1), 51-56.

Peter Cohen, (1980). Effectiveness of Student-Rating Feedback for Improving College Instruction: A Meta-Analysis of Findings. Research in Higher Education 13 (4), 321-341.

Carolin Keutzer, (1993). Midterm Evaluation of Teaching Provides Helpful Feedback to Instructors. Teaching of Psychology 20 (4), 238-240.

Gloria Ladson-Billings, (1996). Silences as Weapons: Challenges of a Black Professor Teaching White Students. Theory into Practice 35 (2), 79-85.

Karen Lewis, (2001). Using Midsemester Student Feedback and Responding to It. New Directions for Teaching and Learning 87, 33-44.

Whitney Ransom McGowen and Russell T. Osgathorpe, (2011). Student and Faculty Perceptions of Effects of Midcourse Evaluation. To Improve the Academy 29, 160-172.





Author: duqcte

Founded in 1989 as a faculty initiative, the Center for Teaching Excellence helps faculty and graduate student teaching assistants excel as teacher-scholars deeply invested in their students’ learning. We believe that excellent teaching is an art that grows through scholarship, practice, reflection, and collaboration. Our approach at CTE is a personal one. We promote excellence in teaching by getting to know our faculty and TAs, learning from them, fostering their leadership, and bringing people together from across the University.

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