"Faculty should also know that professors who do mid-term evaluations can achieve higher end-of-term evaluations."

Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#313 Using Mid-Term Evaluations and other Sources of Student Feedback on Teaching


The following excerpt gives some excellent insights on the benefits, as well
as the cautions, of using mid-term student evaluations of teaching. It is
:A Practical Guide
to Improved Faculty Performance, and Promotion/Tenure Decisions, by PETER
SELDIN, Pace University, AND ASSOCIATES. Copyright ? 1999 by Anker
Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission


Rick Reis
UP NEXT: Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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pp. 60-64


Although the literature on the evaluation and improvement of teaching
stresses the importance of mid-term evaluation (Centra, 1993), too
many teaching evaluation systems are entirely preoccupied with
judgments. Most teaching centers can offer faculty various ways of
obtaining formative (improvement-oriented) feedback, either on their
own or with the help of the center. In addition to different kinds
of written mid-term forms, many of us offer the so-called SGID (Small
Group Instructional Diagnosis, Clark, 1979), a structured mid-term
interview of a class with the students divided into small groups,
which provides specific feedback on what the students like about a
course, what they feel needs improvement, and their ideas on how to
carry out the improvement. Although this method takes approximately
20 minutes of class time, it has the unique advantage of exposing
students to what their peers think of a course's strengths and
weaknesses. Any official teaching evaluation system should make sure
that faculty know about the availability and the desirability of
mid-term approaches. Yale is again a case in point; the Yale College
dean's letter regarding the summative evaluation system also mentions
that course improvement forms, intended for mid-term use, will be
sent to the faculty by the registrar along with their preliminary
class lists. Faculty should also know that professors who do
mid-term evaluations can achieve higher end-of-term evaluations
(Overall & Marsh, 1979; Cohen, 1980).

Although on my campus the SGID, the ME Peer Review, and faculty
self-designed questionnaires have proved the most popular types of
mid-term student evaluation, there are other models for obtaining
useful student feedback. At a National Science Foundation-funded
workshop for new (up to three years' experience) engineering faculty
hosted at Stanford in August 1998 by three colleagues and myself, we
found that these faculty responded positively to the suggestion of
teaching circles or quality control circles. As described by
Tiberius (1997), such circles involve the recruitment of student
volunteers from a class who agree to meet with the professor
regularly in order to convey feedback from themselves and their peers
on how the class is going. The fact that the student volunteers are
not representing simply their own reactions but are supposed to have
canvassed their peers means that students can engage in a level of
frankness to the faculty member that they may not feel comfortable or
secure about as individuals. We should also not underestimate the
benefit to the students of being such serious and influential
participants in the instructional process.

Let me emphasize, however, that the results of any alternate student
feedback system should remain formative and confidential. Otherwise,
alternative student feedback systems may suffer the same fate the
end-of-term evaluations have. As Centra (1993) points out, the
end-of-term ratings began as formative feedback; they became
summative when colleges and universities found themselves needing an
objective and quantifiable source of data on teaching that would help
them make sensitive and important personnel decisions.

Let me add one other final word of caution. Faculty who devise and
follow up on their own methods of obtaining student feedback should
be careful not to operate in a vacuum. Their sincere efforts to
strengthen their classes can backfire if they respond casually to
what they think they are hearing from their students. I have worked
with several faculty who had earlier done their own mid-term
questionnaires and had changed their courses significantly because of
what they had thought were important student suggestions. In the
end, however, they had invested serious amounts of time without
getting any more favorable student end-of-term evaluations. For
example, one junior faculty member had received complaints about
being disorganized. Because one student had suggested that he give
the class complete lecture notes, he invested literally hundreds of
hours in doing comprehensive and even elegant notes. The students
then complained that the class was boring because the professor was
closely following the lecture notes he had given them. His student
evaluations ended up no higher than when he had started out.

On the basis of my own experience, Boice's (1991) work on "quick
starters," and the work of many other experts (Stevens, 1987; Centra,
1993; Brinko & Menges, 1997; Tiberius, 1997; Menges 1999), I would
offer the following guidelines to faculty who decide to solicit
student feedback on their teaching:

* Specific, concrete, behaviorally oriented information is most useful
in trying to improve your teaching (Murray, 1984; Wilson, 1986; Geis,
1991; Menges, 1999). If the questions on your institution's student
evaluation forms do not provide this kind of information, you may
need to acquire it through other types of student feedback.

* Don't go it alone unless you have already established a successful
record for interpreting and acting upon your student feedback.
Instead, consult a peer, your teaching and learning center, your
teaching assistant(s), or a group of interested students. Check with
them before you invest large chunks of your time in significant
changes to your course.

* Take the tinkering approach (Stevens, 1987). Make small, modest
changes and don't abandon a change the first time it doesn't seem
successful. Tinker with it, making little adjustments, and see if it
can be made successful after all.

* Although one student's suggestion can seem especially insightful or
interesting, be aware of investing too much significance in any
single opinion. Concentrate on the issues that seem problematic for
large number of students or for a subset of students with particular
needs. Try especially hard not to take it to heart if only one or
two students are particularly critical. Every teacher has such
students at some time or other, and the reasons for their discontent
may lie more with them than with you. The one exception is if only
one or two students are brave enough to tell you that you are making
racist or gender-discriminatory remarks. This kind of feedback must
always be taken seriously.

* Start conversations with your colleagues about how they handle
difficult situations that you're struggling with. You don't have to
confess that something is a problem for you; just ask them, for
example, how they know whether or not students are following them or
whatever else you suspect may be hard for you. Although most faculty
don't seem to begin conversations on teaching very often, most of
them seem happy to engage in one once it's begun.

* Consult the sizable, and very readable, literature on teaching. Your
Teaching and learning center staff or any number of introductory
books on teaching (three of my favorites are Davis, 1993; Lowman,
1995; and McKeachie, 1999) can help you think more broadly about your
teaching situation and the options open to you.


Boice, r. (1991). Quick starters: New faculty who succeed. In M.
Theall & J. Franklin (Eds.) Effective practices for improving
teaching. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, No. 48. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brinko, K.T. (1991). The interactions of teaching improvement. In
teaching. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, No. 48. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brinko, K.T. & Menges, R.J. (Eds.). (1997). Practically speaking: A
sourcebook for instructional consultants in higher education,
Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Centra, J.A. (1993). Reflective faculty evaluation: Enhancing
teaching and determining faculty effectiveness. San Francisco, CA:

Clark, D.J., & Bekey, J. (1979). Use of small groups in instructional
evaluation. POD Quarterly, 1, 87-8=95.

Davis, B.G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Geis, G.L. (1991). The moment of truth: Feeding back information
about teaching. In M. Theall & J. Franklin (Eds.), Effective
practices for improving teaching. New Directions for Teaching and
Learning. No. 48. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lowman, J. (1995). mastering the techniques of teaching (2nd ed.).
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mckeachie, W.J. (1979). Student ratings of faculty: A reprise.
Academe, October, 384-397.

Menges, R.J. (1999). Appraising and improving your teaching: Using
students, peers, experts, and classroom research. In W.J. McKeachie,
Teaching Tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and
university teachers (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Murray H. (1984). The impact of formative and summative evaluation of
teaching in North American universities. Assessment and Evaluation in
Higher Education, 9 (2), 117-132.

Overall, J. U., IV, & March, H.W. (1979). Midterm feedback from
students: its relationship to instructional improvement and students:
Cognitive and affective outcomes. Journal of Eductional Psychology,
71, 856-865.

Stevens, E.A. (1987). The process of change in college teaching.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University.

Tiberius, R. (1997). Small group methods for collecting information
from students. In K.T. Brinko & R.J. Menges (Eds.), Practically
speaking: A sourcebook for instructional consultants in higher
education. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Wilson, R.C. (1986). Improving faculty teaching: Effective use of
student evaluations and consultants. Journal of Higher Education, 57
(2), 196-211.

Wilson, r. (1998), January 16). New research casts doubt on value of
student evaluations of professors. The Chronicle of Higher
Education, A12-14.

MICHELE MARINCOVICH is assistant vice provost and director of the
Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University. She is a
past president of the Professional and Organizational Development
(POD) Network in Higher Education and a frequent presenter in the US
and abroad. Her most recent publications include Disciplinary
Differences in Teaching and Learning (1995, co-edited with Nira
Havita) and The professional Development of Graduate Teaching
Assistants (1998, co-edited with Jack Prostko and Federic Strout).