Mid-term Evaluation

A lot has happened this summer while I have been completely absent from this blog. I’ll give some updates about everything as I ease back into the semester, and I’m starting today with a project I’ll be working on this semester, which grows out of a mid-term evaluation process that I have developed. My intention is do a small SoTL (scholarship of teaching and learning) project this fall on my midterm evaluation process.

Right now, I’m working on the literature review. Right away, I hit something both obvious and interesting. I started reading a paper about course evaluations and the opening words were about the purpose of course evaluations. The claim was that the purpose of course evaluations was, essentially, the improvement of teaching. They provide feedback to instructors that the instructors can use to improve their teaching, and they provide information to supervisors that can be used to insure that the right teachers are assigned to the right courses. Of course, that got me thinking about my purpose in doing midterm course evaluations. I think that improvement in teaching is certainly part of it, but I wouldn’t call it my primary goal. Here’s what I’ve come up with for my goals in doing midterm evaluations:

  • To develop insight into how students are perceiving and relating to the course and me as the instructor
  • To provide me with time to change aspects of the course that need improvement before final evaluation at the end of the semester — to improve the course and my teaching in “real time”
  • To give students a mechanism for taking charge of their education, and to have them practice using that power through impacting the course
  • To enhance the level of safety and improve relationships in the course

I also got a useful new perspective. Why would we do this improvement in teaching? Presumably to improve student learning and outcomes, but student evaluation instruments don’t tend to focus on learning or on student outcomes! This semester, in the class I am going to be doing this evaluation project in, I am also going to have the students do two reports on their achievement of the course objectives. Essentially, these are a self-evaluations, and I would love to find a way to connect these self-evaluations with the midterm evaluation of instruction.


2 thoughts on “Mid-term Evaluation

  1. bretbenesh says:

    It seems like it is tough to argue that these evaluations are used to improve teaching. I think that you are correct about them being useful to determine how students are perceiving the course (which IS important, since I would imagine that—all things being equal—students who like the course would learn more than students who hate the course).

    But it seems like evaluations might actually backfire in terms of improving teaching. In many places, students object to teachers doing things that are different. In these cases, the evaluations would make a teacher who is using a different-but-more-effective pedagogy LESS likely to continue using it.

    I hope you come up with a good alternative.

  2. faroop says:

    Hey Bret! Thanks for the comment…

    Maybe it’s tough to argue that they are REALLY used for teaching, but of course that’s what administrative unit pretend is going on. And they may be right in the sense that they can weed out instructors (esp adjuncts) with terrible evals, thus arguably improving average teaching in a department.

    I agree that we have a big problem in this dual use of evals. If they are really for teachers to improve, then they shouldn’t also be used so heavily in contracts and promotion — for exactly the reasons you point out. Also, if they are really for me to improve, wouldn’t we be having more discussion of HOW to use teaching evaluations (not to mentions discussions with students of how to write useful evaluations).

    And I wonder if you are right that students who like a course would learn more than students who hate a course — it seems like a no-brainer, but those always make me suspicious. I bet somebody has researched it!

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