Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

REPRESENTING AND EVALUATING TEACHING 

This page offers practical strategies for documenting and recognizing effective teaching in your own instructional practice and that of your colleagues. Learning how to represent your teaching is an integral component in your development as an instructor; it involves keeping records of student performance as well as successful assignments, lessons, and teaching practices. These steps can help you refine your teaching and student learning over time and represent your teaching for evaluation purposes. Teaching evaluation is of course a regular professional activity for most instructors, but it can also be a formative and colleagial process that supports teaching development, for both the person being reviewed and the person doing the reviewing.

In addition to the material presented below, CTE also offers a Best-Practices Institute each May for faculty members and instructional staff members who would like to reflect on and learn to represent their teaching. For a brief introduction to the importance of making your learning visible, see this 2-minute mentor video with CTE Director Andrea Greenhoot and CLAS Associate Dean of Natural Sciences and Math, Bob Goldstein. 

Reflect on Your Teaching

Keeping a record of what you have done in the classroom, along with notes about why you did what you did, is the best way to avoid what Lee Shulman has described as “pedagogic amnesia.” It’s easy to forget which assignments clearly showed whether or not students understood a key concept. Did grading essay exams take that much time? At the end of a semester, what gaps were evident in student learning, calling for a restructuring of part of a course? Although you might feel exhausted at the end of the semester, we reccomend reflecting on your teaching while the course is still fresh in your mind. AFter you submit final grades, gather examples of student work and reflect on how you assessed student learning.

To keep a record of a course, you may wish to compile the items listed below. If you gather these kinds of materials for each course you teach, you’ll have a complete record of your teaching. With this record, you will be able to illustrate the trajectory of your teaching accomplishments for your reviews.

Items you can compile for a course record include:

  • Syllabus
  • List of course goals (may be included in the syllabus)
  • Brief description of how assignments relate to course goals (may be included in the syllabus)
  • Samples of student work at various levels (high, mid, low)
  • Notes on student performance:
    1. Were the course goals appropriate?
    2. How many students/what percentage achieved course goals?
    3. What gaps in student learning are evident?
    4. What material needs more time or a new approach?

Make Learning Visible to Your Teaching Community

After a course, you should compile evidence of learning found in student work and reflect upon what it says about the course. It’s challenging to identify weaknesses in an instructional design and plan changes that might benefit future students. In many cases, this process involves making the results of your teaching public and seeking feedback from others. Peer review of teaching provides an occasion for examining the intellectual work of teaching, including constructive feedback on that work from professional peers.

In the process of offering a typical course you’ll likely spend about 50 hours in contact with students (in class, labs, studios or consultations), and probably the same amount of time outside class in preparation, reading student work, and general course management. Rather than discard the products of that substantial amount of time, it’s very useful to set aside some time to write down your impressions of a course. You could comment on which topics or issues you would emphasize more or de-emphasize in your next offering. You could consider how well you felt the assignments, projects, and exams represented the skills and knowledge you hoped to see in your students. Were there particular areas of student work (e.g., assignments, particular exam questions, or dimensions of an assignment rubric) on which students consistently excelled, or seemed to struggle? Making notes about such changes is best accomplished right after the course is over, while the ideas and experiences are still fresh in your mind.

You also can save some representative samples of student work that show what you and they accomplished together. It’s disheartening to a teacher to think that after years of teaching there has been no progress in advancing students’ understanding of our field. If you have a small but accessible record of some key performances from several offerings of a course, you can review them for any trends. Maybe you see some consistent problems that you can address with more time, different materials, or additional practice. Maybe you see some improvement over time that was not apparent to you in the midst of teaching. Ultimately this is why we teach, to help students appreciate and understand our fields as we do. Keeping a small archive allows you to see how you are doing in a longer perspective, and to make examples visible to others. You can use this student consent form to get your students' permission to use their work in representations of your teaching.  

Whatever your field of research or creative activity, you keep archives of your work. You have examples of studio work, lab data, and notes from library visits or interviews; you capture the important products of your inquiry into your field in many ways. Given the amount of time you likely spend each semester on teaching (probably more than 200 hours total for two courses), it would be a shame to lose all the benefits of that work by not developing some record of what was accomplished. The syllabi, assignments, and student work are done anyway, so you should not simply throw them away. Reflecting on and writing out your observations to capture your insights at the moment of greatest understanding is a wise investment. It will help you grow as a teacher and achieve your goals, and ultimately those reflections can document your intellectual work as a teacher.

For more detailed information about how represent and write about evidence of student learning, see this guide , along with examples from a wide range of disciplines. 

Creating Course Portfolios

A course portfolio represents a teacher’s most effective practices. When teaching is approached as an act of data-driven practice, the course portfolio allows you to explore how effectively the goals of student learning are being achieved, from your point of view and from the perspective of student work. In this way, student and teacher practices inform and serve each other; this relationship is captured in the course portfolio.

The structure of a course portfolio explains course goals, how goals were implemented, how student performance was achieved, and the teacher’s reflection on what was achieved and what can be bettered in future offerings. A richer portfolio tracks a course’s evolution, showing what was learned and what skills improved over time. In contrast to other reviews, students’ voice and performance is evident through student work, not through student ratings. In order to publish student work in a course portfolio, you must have them consent to the representation of their work. You can have students fill out this document in order to grant that consent. Finally, instead of a generalized teaching statement, the reflections of the teacher are encompassed in an in-depth analysis of his or her teaching and future teaching goals (Bernstein 2006).

As members of an intellectual community, we’re happy when we can share our research. It’s valuable for colleagues to learn from our work and build on it, and we’re also proud to know we’ve accomplished something others find worthwhile. There may be a time when you feel that way about your teaching, as well, and KU has a way for you to share your accomplishments. CTE provides a number of faculty groups that share the products and insights of their teaching, and we work with faculty members to represent those in an online gallery. If you wish to share your work, we’ll help you create a course portfolio for our web site.

Evaluating Teaching at KU

Benchmarks Rubric

The measurement of any human activity is never perfect, whether it is teaching or research. According to KU policy (FSRR, Article VI, section 2) the evaluation of teaching at KU should draw on multiple sources of information and evidence about the intellectual aspects of teaching and student learning, including a candidate's own statement and course materials, peer evaluations, student evaluations, and other accepted methods of evaluation (e.g., external evaluations). The following guidelines offer a framework to help scaffold the measurement of teaching, with mutiple ways for teachers to show their work and demonstrate what they are learning from its results.

To evaluate teaching, we have to be able to articulate what constitutes teacher effectiveness and excellence. To help faculty, departments, and other stakeholders do that, we have created a rubric-based framwork called Benchmarks for Teaching Effectiveness, which identifies seven dimensions of teaching activities, including teaching courses as well as mentoring and advising and contributions to the broader curriculum and teaching community. You will find a copy of the rubric here. The framework is based on research on scholarly teaching and its review (e.g., Bernstein & Huber, 2006; Glassick, Huber, & Maeroff, 1997; Hutchings, 1996), to provide a comprehensive and robust view of teaching effectiveness.  Not all instructors will have the opportunity to engage in all of the activities listed below, but they should be recognized as part of teaching when they occur across the full duration of a teaching career.  You can find many tools related to the Benchmarks Framework and more information about how KU departments are using it as part of an NSF-funded, multi-institutional project called TEval on the Benchmarks for Teaching Effectiveness project page. 

Dimensions of Teaching Activity

1. Goals, Content, and Alignment of Courses

Evaluation in this area should focus on what the instructor expects students to learn and why:

  • Are course goals well-articulated, relevant to students and clearly connected to program or curricular goals?
  • Is course content appropriately challenging or innovative and related to current issues in the field?
  • Are course topics well-integrated and of appropriate range and depth?
  • Are course materials of high quality and aligned with course goals?
  • Does course reflect diverse perspectives? Promote critical reflection on diverse perspectives?

A faculty member could provide various forms of evidence to indicate success in achieving these aims, such as:

  • List of courses taught and explanation of their importance and their role in the curriculum
  • Explanation of special service in particular courses, such as large lecture courses.
  • Annotated syllabus or course website (LMS), course goals from syllabus
  • Selection of course materials (readings and other resources).
  • Student feedback on the usefulness and relevance of course materials.

Faculty colleagues and or the department chair would evaluate the evidence provided by the faculty member to judge the degree to which they are attaining the aims cited above. 

2. Teaching Practices

Evaluation in this area should focus on the instructor's use of in- and out-of-class time: 

  • Are courses well-planned and integrated, reflecting commitment to providing meaningful assignments and assessments?
  • Does the instructor use inclusive and effective or innovative methods to support learning in all students?
  • Do in- and out-of-class activities provide opportunities for practice and feedback on important skills and concepts?
  • Do students show high levels of engagement?
  • Are assessments and assignments varied, allowing students to demonstrate knowledge through multiple approaches?

A faculty member could provide various forms of evidence to indicate success in achieving these aims, such as:

  • Syllabus or course schedule
  • Sample of course materials: example learning activities, assignments, etc. for new or existing courses.
  • Modules in LMS
  • Examples of feedback on student work
  • Examples of innovation in teaching including teaching practices, technology, etc.
  • Ratings and/or written comments from students.
  • Peer evaluation of classroom performance, interaction with students, and/or course materials.
  • Other materials that the faculty member believes indicate excellence in teaching.

Faculty colleagues and or the department chair would evaluate the evidence provided by the faculty member to judge the degree to which he or she was attaining the aims cited above.

3. Class climate

Evaluation in this area should focus on the sort of climate for learning the instructor creates:

  • Is the climate respectful, open and inclusive? Does it promote student-student and student-teacher dialogue? Does it foster motivation, self-efficacy and ownership of learning?
  • Does the instructor model inclusive language and behavior?
  • What are students’ views of their learning experience and their instructor’s accessibility?
  • How has the instructor sought student feedback and how has feedback informed teaching?

A faculty member could provide various forms of evidence to indicate success in achieving these aims, such as:

  • Syllabus and/or LMS site (e.g., diversity, accessibility, or climate statements, information about student support structures)
  • Accessibility of LMS site and other materials 
  • Lesson plans or sample activities
  • Ratings and/or written comments from students.
  • Instructor-gathered feedback from students and reflections on it
  • Peer evaluation of classroom performance, interaction with students, and/or course materials.
  • Other materials that the faculty member believes indicate excellence in teaching.

Faculty colleagues and/or the department chair would evaluate the evidence provided by the faculty member to judge the degree to which he/she was attaining the aims cited above.

4. Achievement of learning outcomes

Evaluation in this area should focus on the impact of the instructor's courses on learners

  • Are standards for evaluating learning clear and connected to program, curriculum or professional expectations?
  • What is the evidence of student learning? Does the instructor use it to inform teaching? Does the quality of learning support success in other contexts? 
  • Is the instructor aware of whether achievement is equitable? Are there efforts to make achievement equitable?

A faculty member could provide various forms of evidence to indicate success in achieving these aims, such as:

  • Rubrics and samples of student work demonstrating student learning.
  • Summaries/analysis of performance on rubrics or other indicators of student achievement
  • "Item analysis" of exam questions that are connected to learning goals (i.e., on which items did students generally excel? On which items was performance more variable or weak?)
  • Student perceptions of their own learning

Faculty colleagues and/or the department chair would evaluate the evidence provided by the faculty member to judge the degree to which he/she was attaining the aims cited above.

5. Reflection and Iterative Growth

Evaluation in this area should focus on how the instructor's teaching has changed over time

  • How and why have the instructor’s teaching, and the student learning experience, changed over time? 
  • How have adjustments been informed by reflection on student learning evidence, within or across semesters? By feedback from students and/or peers? By other factors (e.g., contextual) prompting adaptation?
  • Are student achievement or other outcomes improving over time?

A faculty member could provide various forms of evidence to indicate success in achieving these aims, such as:

  • Syllabi highlighting changes over time
  • Sample assignments or examples of student work that highlght changes in the course
  • Trend data showing changes student achievement on measures of learning (e.g., assignment or exam performance, improvements in a rubric dimension)
  • Changes in student and/or peer feedback over time
  • Student comments indicating changes in teaching, faculty observation supporting innovation based on workshops.

Faculty colleagues and/or the department chair would evaluate the evidence provided by the faculty member to judge the degree to which he/she was attaining the aims cited above.

6. Mentoring and Advising

Focus on how effectively the instructor has worked individually with undergraduate or graduate students (define as appropriate for department and role), such as:

  • Academic or career advising of undergraduate or graduate students
  • Mentoring students or directing research projects
  • Mentoring or supervising students in clinical settings or internships.
  • Serving on graduate committees
  • Working with student groups.
  • Mentoring and supervising GTAs/GRAs.

A faculty member could provide various forms of evidence to indicate success in achieving these aims, such as:

  • Lists of those mentored and supervised in various roles (undergraduate, graduate, post-docs; research, teaching, clinical work).
  • Unit records of GTAs/GRAs’ performance, comments from other students learning from graduate students, comments from community partners or clients.
  • Examples of student work completed under teacher’s supervision, along with descriptions of venues for presentation and any recognition.
  • Letters from students, reflecting on mentoring activities and effectiveness and indicating how the mentoring has influenced student work and success.
  • Faculty colleagues’ comments on mentoring activities; e.g., service on MA or MS/PhD committees.
  • Examples of any regional or national critical review or recognition of student work.
  • Time to degree, success in obtaining employment or other placement.
  • Lists of student groups supported, identifying unit or university level, along with student comments, awards or achievement by the group.

Faculty colleagues and/or the department chair would evaluate the evidence provided by the faculty member to judge the degree to which he/she was attaining the aims cited above.

7. Involvement of Teaching Service, Scholarship, or Community

Evaluation in this area should focus on the instructor's contributions to the broader teaching community, both on and off campus:

  • Teaching related presentations at KU or elsewhere.
  • Attending or organizing teaching institutes.
  • Serving as a guest teacher at other institutions, for outside associations, or in the community.
  • Developing course materials, such as textbooks or websites.
  • Applying for and receiving grants in support of teaching or publishing articles related to teaching.
  • Participating in outreach to local schools (K–12) or other forums.
  • Mentoring new faculty members in their role as a teacher.
  • Coordinating courses within a program, or developing a new course.
  • Supporting teaching at the unit level by developing new materials for general use; creating infrastructure for labs, studios, or field work; seeking grant support for teaching; recruiting students.

A faculty member could provide various forms of evidence to indicate success in achieving these aims, such as:

  • List of seminars attended or conducted on teaching; include description of new approaches learned from workshops or description of how ideas have been incorporated into teaching (annotated syllabus or other notes).
  • Examples of collaboration with faculty at KU or elsewhere or with other KU offices (KU Libraries, Writing Center, Learning Communities, etc.) to support teaching.
  • Publication(s), conference presentations or other research on teaching.
  • Awards or nominations for research, teaching, or service related to improving teaching.
  • Conference programs from presentations, letters, or other evaluations of quality of presentations; samples of presentation notes or published proceedings; programs from institutes or letters evaluating participation or impact.
  • List of service on department or University teaching committees or presentations at KU Summit or the Center for Teaching Excellence.
  • Letters attesting to impact of guest presentations in classes; formal evaluations if available.
  • Books, web addresses, or other materials generated, along with any letters attesting to the impact or quality of the materials.
  • Products developed for schools, feedback from organizers of presentations, statements from professional society or honors or awards for contributions.
  • List of administrative or coordination activities, along with new materials developed and commentary from colleagues and students involved.
  • Observations and comments by students, colleagues, chair, dean on unit level contributions.
  • External funding of proposals/awards related to teaching, reviews of proposals.
  • Lists of faculty colleagues mentored on teaching, with examples of feedback given or comments from colleagues about the impact of the shared work.

Faculty colleagues and/or the department chair would evaluate the evidence provided by the faculty member to judge the degree to which he/she was attaining the aims cited above. 

Writing Teaching Statements

One critical source of information for the evaluation of teaching at KU is material that the instructor being evaluated puts together to document and represent their teaching. The Instructor Statement, or Self-Reflection, is the centerpiece of an instructor's documentation of their teaching. The statement(s) should go beyond philosophy of teaching. Use it to explain what and how you teach, giving specific examples to illustrate why you use the approaches you do and (very importantly) how you know whether those approaches are effective (i.e., the intellectual work involved in teaching). The Benchmarks dimensions and rubric can structure these reflective statements. In short, the reflective statement will center on these sorts of questions: 

What are your goals for student learning in your course(s) and why? What approaches do you use to help students achieve these goals? How do you know that students are achieving them? How have your teaching experiences shaped your ongoing goals and practices as a teacher?”

You can see that this set of questions asks about the kind of consideration of your teaching that’s been highlighted on this page. If you’ve been taking time each semester to think back on a course, you’ll have this part already done. It’s most important to show the growth of a course, rather than document every aspect of every course. By capturing the essence of how a course has changed over multiple offerings, you provide your colleagues with a good representation of your thinking, planning, and growing as a teacher.

The Benchmarks Framework page provides more detailed prompts and tools to guide self-reflective statements (a self-reflection narrative guide and a short-form for self-reflection), along with suggestions for supporting documentation. This guidance is adaptable for P&T, multi-term, or annual reviews.  

For an example of this kind of writing, please see this sample teaching statement (pdf)

Developing Peer Observations

When most people hear the term “peer review of teaching,” they often think of someone visiting a class and writing a report on whether the lecture was clear and whether students were paying attention (or asleep). Our view at KU is that there’s much more to teaching than holding people’s attention while talking non-stop. As this website has suggested, there’s much to designing class time, assignments, feedback, and practice that can make a course more successful. In many cases, there will be time spent with students in which the teacher appears to be doing nothing but listening and occasionally commenting. There’s an apocryphal story about a department chair making the obligatory classroom visit to a young faculty member, and he was surprised to see students working together, sometimes sharing with other groups or with the whole class, and interacting individually with the professor. After 20 minutes he said to the professor, “It’s OK, I’ll come back sometime when you’re teaching.”

Peer review of teaching should include a detailed analysis of the professor’s plan for learning, including material selection, targeted goals for students, methods of measuring learning, indicators of success in learning, and use of time with students during scheduled classes, studios and labs. To get at these elements, a high quality peer review should include a conversation between the reviewer and course instructor, organized around a set of course materials. The peer review may also include observation of one or more class periods, with a conversation before and after the observation. Although these steps may sound like they take more time than just attending a colleague's class, most faculty who participate in a peer review dialogue find it to be far more informative and valuable because it reveals the instructor's thinking (i..e, the intellectual work) behind assignments, lesson plans, communications, and other aspects of the course. Many peer reviewers find that they learn something themselves through the process. The language in the Benchmarks Rubric can facilitate the reviewer's written summary of their observations.  

Guidelines for evaluation of teaching at KU include a section for peer review that’s drawn from reading and discussing a portfolio of course materials. Check out the portfolio checklist below for items to include.

  • Annotated syllabus describing course content.
  • Short description of reasons for decisions about content and goals.
  • Elaboration of instructional design.
  • Examples of assignments and of student work on those assignments.
  • Reflection on students’ achievements and plans for future course offerings.
  • Essential items are the syllabus, examples of assignments and student work on those assignments, and your reflections on students’ learning and plans for future course offerings.

Additional Resources. As part of the Benchmarks Framework, we have developed three guides or protocols to scaffold peer review of teaching:

More information about these resources and more can be found here.  

Using Student Feedback

An overview of research into student surveys of teaching

Researchers into student surveys of teaching have come to widely varied conclusions about the validity of the surveys, the insights they provide, and the biases they do or do not contain. One of the few points researchers agree on is that student surveys should be only one measure of teaching effectiveness.

Student ratings provide an important but limited view of a course and fail to capture many of the evidence-based strategies that improve student learning (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2020). They generally do a good job of measuring student perceptions and satisfaction but “do not measure directly how much or how well a class of students has learned or any other aspect of achievement” (Abrami, d’Apollonia, and Rosenfield, 2007, p. 394). They also do not “match or measure the full range of academic functions nor ever-increasing obligations of faculty” (Wallace, Lewis, and Allen, 2019, p. 9). Nor do they reflect the innovative approaches that instructors have taken to improve student learning, especially during extraordinary circumstances like the Covid-19 pandemic.

KU’s own policies reflect the need for multiple sources of evidence about an instructor’s teaching. Even so, the use of multiple measures is widely ignored, leading to a loss of trust in the evaluation system (Austin, Sorcinelli and McDaniels, 2007). That became readily apparent early in the pandemic as faculty demanded that student survey results be excluded from personnel files, arguing that students would not account for the unusual circumstances brought on by the pandemic or understand the significant work involved in shifting to remote teaching. Those concerns underscore the need to follow university policy and broaden the approach used to evaluate teaching.  

The research literature also makes clear that student surveys of teaching should be grounded in a shared understanding of good teaching. They rarely are. Students, faculty and administrators often have differing views, and criteria vary widely across and within schools, departments and disciplines (Abrami, d’Apollonia, and Rosenfield, 2007). KU has no single definition at the university level, although questions on student surveys send a message about what should be valued.

This overview of literature highlights key areas of agreement, disagreement and concern about student surveys of teaching. It draws from a wide range of literature and is intended to provide an overview of the scholarly thinking about student surveys. It is far from comprehensive, and it is not intended to argue against the use of student surveys of teaching. The student voice is a crucial component in the evaluation of teaching. An earlier version of this literature review provided context and guidance for the Task Force on Student Surveys of Teaching in 2020-21, and is now intended to provide context to the changes that were made in KU’s standard survey starting in Spring 2021.

How to use evidence from KU's student survey of teaching

KU's current student survey of teaching was developed by a university task force in 2020-2021 and used for the first time in Spring 2021. The redesigned survey is intended to capture student perspectives on a course and its instructors, while reducing bias as much as possible. This document on Interpreting Results from the Student Survey of Teaching explains the structure of the new survey and offers suggestions for using data from it. The suggestions and examples can guide instructors in using the feedback to reflect on and improve their teaching and integrate student responses into a narrative about their teaching. The guidance can also help supervisors, evaluation committees and peer reviewers see how to use the student feedback as one source of evidence for gauging an instructor's teaching effectiveness. A separate guide focuses on ways to use aggregate data from student surveys

The results of the redesigned student survey of teaching can be integrated into the Benchmarks for Teaching Effectiveness Framework, which CTE developed to help instructors and institutions gather, interpret and use evidence of teaching effectiveness. The document above includes information about how the survey items align with the Benchmarks dimensions. Here are two additional evaluation tools that map the new survey items, along with other sources of information, onto the Benchmarks rubric dimensions:

  • An Evidence Matrix, which lists the sources of information, including the specific groups of items from the current KU Student Survey of Teaching, about each dimension of the Benchmarks Rubric.
  • An Evaluator Form, a fillable form for evaluators to use relevant sources of evidence to provide feedback about and score each of the Benchmarks dimensions.

Gathering midterm student feedback

Gathering midterm student feedback about a course can help an instructor gain a clearer sense of student perceptions, and thus improve engagement and learning in the final weeks of a semester. Acting on midterm feedback can also improve student satisfaction in a course (Snooks, Neeley and Revere, 2007) and increase participation in end-of-term teaching surveys (Young, et al., 2019). Overall and Marsh (1979, p. 863) argue that a midterm survey helps create “a climate more conducive to cognitive growth.”

There is little research on how best to approach midterm feedback, but the scholarship that does exist suggests brief questions that allow students to point out strengths and weaknesses of a class. This can be done in a number of ways, including in-class written feedback, an online survey, a directed discussion with students, and reflection assignments that students complete as part of their coursework. Brevity is important because instructors must receive and review the feedback relatively quickly if they hope to make changes in final weeks of a course (Bullock, 23).

What midterm feedback is not

Anyone gathering midterm course feedback should keep in mind that such feedback is formative, not summative. That is, it should not be used to rate or rank instructors. Student feedback gathered at midterm (or at other times during the semester) allows an instructor to gauge student perceptions while a course is in progress and to revise problematic areas before the end of a semester. Using it to evaluate overall instructor performance would be premature and unfair. Morley (2014) found that the reliability of students’ judgments about the quality of instruction were particularly weak. Students were better able to identify strengths and weaknesses in teaching, Morley said, arguing that student survey results are best used for formative evaluations.

Relatedly, though, an instructor’s willingness to gather midterm feedback suggests a dedication to effective teaching and a desire to improve – assuming the instructor uses the feedback to make changes to a course or engage in discussions with students. This approach can be part of an effective long-term strategy for continual improvement of teaching and student engagement. One reason students fail to complete end-of-semester surveys is that they don’t see a personal benefit, and many doubt that their responses have any effect on a course. So seeing an instructor act on feedback early in a course can motivate students later when they are asked to complete a final course survey.

What to ask students

Brevity will help ensure that more students participate in midterm feedback. It will also help an instructor focus on only a few areas that can be reasonably addressed. The questions to students should focus on approaches that have helped students learn and those that could be improved. For instance:

  • What about the course has been most effective in helping you learn?
  • What could be improved?
  • What other changes do you suggest?

There are certainly other questions that might be asked, but ones like the three listed above can provide actionable feedback and give the instructor a sense of whether a class is going well.

How to gather feedback

An instructor might choose one of several approaches to gather feedback depending on the size and format of a class. No matter the approach, gaining midterm feedback is best done either in class or as part of a reflection assignment. That will ensure broader participation.

  • In-class written feedback. This is the easiest and quickest way to gather feedback from students. In smaller classes, an instructor could put questions on the board or onscreen and ask students to write their responses on a sheet of paper or notecard. They could do the same with an electronic document they submit to the instructor.
  • Directed discussion. This could be done by the instructor, a colleague, a GTA or someone outside the department. Some instructors worry that students won’t provide honest feedback unless they have anonymity. That may be true in some cases, but if an instructor has a good relationship with a class and is open about the need for honest feedback (without penalty to students), most students will respond.
  • Instructor-led discussion. This approach has several benefits: the instructor gets feedback immediately; students can speak to specific aspects of a class that both they and the instructor have been involved in; the instructor can ask follow-up questions; and the instructor can provide immediate feedback to students about their suggestions. This approach can also help build trust, benefiting the students and the instructor later in the semester.
  • Discussion led by someone outside the class. Some instructors feel more comfortable with this approach, especially if there is tension in a class or if instructors feel that students won’t provide forthright feedback to them directly. To implement it, an instructor blocks off time in class for a visitor, who talks with students and asks general questions about the class. The visitor then either compiles a report for the instructor or talks with the instructor about what students said. Snooks et al. (2004) argue that a peer-led discussion with students broadens instructors’ perspectives of a curriculum, gives students opportunities to hear viewpoints of peers about a course, helps students articulate their thoughts about learning, and helps break down barriers that often exist between courses taught in isolation. This approach also allows for more substantial responses than students might provide in written feedback.
  • Digital survey. Again, brevity is important. The instructor should encourage students to be honest and constructive, explaining what the survey is for and how the information will be used. The survey might be administered through Canvas, Qualtrics or Microsoft Forms, or through a polling app like Slido or Poll Everywhere. In a larger class, an instructor might use iClicker responses to get a general sense of student perceptions. Whatever form is used, the instructor should give students time in class to complete the survey. That will ensure the broadest possible participation.
  • Written feedback as part of an assignment. Including a self-assessment and a course assessment as part of an assignment has several benefits. Perhaps most importantly, it can signal to students that success in a class is a shared responsibility. Some scholars have criticized student surveys of teaching because survey questions often suggest that the instructor is solely responsible for the success or failure of a course. This can perpetuate a consumeristic mindset among students. A written reflection helps make students partners in learning. It also helps them work on metacognition (by reflecting on how they learn) and helps instructors learn more about students. Ultimately, it also gives instructors detailed feedback on a class.

Example of feedback as part of an assignment

Here’s an example from Doug Ward (journalism and mass communications), who starts by having students set learning goals early in the semester. He talks with students about course learning goals in the first week, explaining that individuals come to the class with different backgrounds and different aspirations. Reflecting on their goals and their learning can help them better understand what they need to accomplish in the class but also what they need to accomplish later on in college and in their careers. Students reflect on their learning goals at midterm and at the end of the semester. Combined, the three assignments (setting goals and reflecting at midterm and at the end of a course) usually count for 10% of the course grade. Students get full credit for each reflection unless it is clear they put in little or no effort. Here’s an excerpt from a syllabus explaining the work to students:

Learning goals

Create your learning goals in a separate electronic journal entry. Your learning goals should contain a reflection on why you are taking the course and what you hope to gain from it. Here’s a format you can follow to help you get started. This isn’t a required format. Rather, it is intended to give you a sense of some things that lead to good learning goals. (Ward delays this until the end of the second week to give students time to get a feel for the class and to think about what they want to accomplish.)

  • Start with your interests. What facets of the major are you most interested in? What would you like to learn more about?
  • Discuss your strengths and weaknesses in relation to those goals. What areas are you most comfortable with? What areas do you need work in and why?
  • Consider what you would like to learn from this class. How might this class help you bolster your strengths and shore up your weaknesses? What class topics are you most interested in? What topics would you like to pursue beyond those listed?
  • Create a rough plan. How will achieve your learning goals? How will your individual project fit into that? How will you prepare yourself to learn? 
Midterm reflection

This is due in the week before spring break (or fall break). Revisit the learning goals you set at the beginning of class. Then reflect on your goals, your work in the class, and the structure of the class. Here’s a general format, but you are free to add anything you think is important.

  • Are your original learning goals still valid? Do you need to revise any of them? Why or why not?
  • Explain how you worked toward those goals.Where have you succeeded?  Where could you have done better?
  • What aspects of the course have been most helpful in your learning?
  • What aspects of the course could be improved in the final weeks of the semester?
Final reflection

In your final entry, evaluate yourself and the course. You can use material from your midterm reflection (if it still fits), but you should go beyond that reflection as you think about your work in the class during the semester. Here’s a general format, but again you are free to add anything you think is important:

  • Did you achieve the learning goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the semester? Why or why not?
  • How did you work toward those goals?
  • Where did you succeed?  Where could you have done better? Why?
  • What aspects of the course have been most helpful in your learning?
  • What aspects of the course could be improved in future semesters?
  • What’s one piece of advice you would give someone who plans to take this course in the future?

Gathering more-frequent feedback

Many instructors use exam wrappers, assignment reflections, and frequent surveys during a semester to gather feedback.

  • Exam wrappers. This is an extra sheet that accompanies an exam. It often asks student such questions as how they studied for the exam, how much time they spent preparing for the exam, and how confident they are about doing well on the exam. This approach can help instructors gather feedback about student study habits, allowing them to help students prepare more effectively for future exams. It also helps students recognize how much they have (or haven’t) prepared for an exam.
  • Assignment reflections. Like exam wrappers, assignment reflections often ask students to think about how they went about preparing and creating an assignment. Laura Kirk in theatre and dance uses a modified version of this approach, asking students to reflect weekly on their work and on learning goals in her classes. She usually has five short questions and gives students the option of leaving video feedback through Canvas. This approach has the added benefit of allowing her to get to know students better. She provides feedback on each response, redirecting students if needed or helping them catch up on concepts they may have missed.
  • Frequent surveys. Ravi Shanmugam in business has had considerable success with this approach. He gives students time in class to fill out a brief survey about such things as engagement in the class, use of course material, and effectiveness of class activities. He has also experimented with an approach of asking smaller groups of students to provide more substantial feedback, rotating this among all students during a semester. The frequent student feedback has allowed him to tweak elements of a class or to revisit material students were unsure of.

Make time to talk with students

Whatever approach you take for gathering feedback during a semester, it is essential to talk to students about their comments and to explain what you took away from them. Do you plan to make changes? If so, what? Did students suggest changes you don’t plan to make? If so, why? That sort of transparency allows them to see that you have taken their suggestions seriously and to better understand why a class is structured in a particular way or how the approaches an instructor uses may ultimately improve their learning. If you fail to talk to students about their feedback, you run the risk of alienating them or reinforcing misperceptions they may have.

One of the biggest problems with end-of-semester student surveys of teaching is that students don’t think they make any difference. They never see the results of the surveys and never see changes an instructor might make in future versions of a course. Gathering midterm feedback can actually improve participation in end-of-semester surveys because it helps students feel more invested in the class (Young, Joines, Standish and Gallagher, 2019). Again, though, that depends on how the instructor uses that feedback and how transparent the instructor is with students.

References

Bullock, C. D. (2003). Online Collection of Midterm Student Feedback. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2003(96), 95-102. 

Morley, D. (2014). Assessing the Reliability of Student Evaluations of Teaching: Choosing the Right Coefficient. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 39(2), 127-139.

Overall, J.U., and Marsh, H.W., 1979. Midterm Feedback from Students: Its Relationship to Instructional Improvement and Students’ Cognitive and Affective Outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology 71(6): 856-865.

Snooks, M.K., Neeley, N.E., and Revere, L. (2007). Midterm Student Feedback: Results of a Pilot Study. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching 18(3): 55-73.

Snooks, M. K., Neeley, S. E., & Williamson, K. M. (2004). 7: From SGID and GIFT to BBQ: Streamlining Midterm Student Evaluations to Improve Teaching and Learning. To Improve the Academy, 22(1), 110-124.

Wu, L. S. (1993). Effects of student ratings feedback in improving college teaching. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. Ann Arbor.

Young, K., Joines, J., Standish, T., and Gallagher, V. (2019). Student evaluations of teaching: the impact of faculty procedures on response rates. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 44(1): 37-49.


The Celebration of Teaching

Save the Date: The Celebration of Teaching is Back!

Friday, May 6, 3 – 5 pm Mark your calendars for CTE's annual poster session and reception on Stop Day in the Ballroom of the Kansas Union. A short program will begin at 3:30 pm. Contact Judy Eddy for more information.

Celebration of Teaching archive photo


 

See how CTE has been helping KU faculty adapt and innovate their teaching.

Visit the Flex Teaching sitewhich provides help for creating flexible courses that can shift between in-person and online.