Academic Director’s November Update – Midterm Reflection

Midterm season is a perfect time to assess and reflect on your courses and teaching methods. Gathering student feedback and acting on this data can lead to positive course adjustments and foster trust with students, even when not all feedback can be implemented.

The middle of the semester is midterm exam season where students demonstrate their acquired knowledge. This is also the perfect time to evaluate your teaching methods and how each one of your courses is progressing. Midterm reflections may informally measure student feedback and provide data to make minor adjustments in course delivery. The CTL offers a workshop on how to perform a midterm reflection. 

Gathering data from students to make these decisions can be quite easy. In smaller classes, conversations before or after class or in office hours may provide helpful feedback. In larger classes, consider using a survey to collect data. For every course, I have an anonymous Canvas survey that is open throughout the semester with three simple questions: 

  1. What is working well in the course? 
  1. How can the course be improved? 
  1. Any other feedback about your course experience? 

It’s important to stress to students that their feedback is welcomed and will be acted upon. Even with potentially low response rates, the impact of a few small suggestions can be substantial. Students might identify errors in course materials that need correction or provide feedback on enhancing the accessibility and engagement of the course materials. Additionally, anonymous feedback can provide valuable insights into assignments, exams, and deadlines, assisting in enhancing student performance, addressing their challenges, while maintaining a focus on essential learning objectives. 

By actively collecting and responding to student feedback, instructors can make positive changes in their courses. Emphasizing that feedback from students is acknowledged and valuable can encourage further feedback, foster additional communication, and build trust with students. Even when the feedback is not possible to implement, openly discussing your decision-making is valuable. Students are more likely to offer positive feedback in year-end evaluations when they have seen you adapt the course based on their input. 

For example, in my database course with 230 students, the first midterm exam was an open-book, computer exam. Although students generally prefer open-book exams, my historic course data demonstrates that due to issues in preparation and time management, students generally perform about 5-8% better on a closed-book, paper exam. After the first midterm exam was graded and the average was lower than the historic average with paper exams, we discussed as a class reasons why the exam was challenging (mostly time management and preparation) and the historic data on exam performance. Then I held an informal vote on their exam preference for the second midterm exam. The outcome was that 80% still preferred the open-book exam. Regardless of the outcome and any potential modifications, this discussion empowered students, facilitated meaningful conversations on exam preparation, and redirected the focus toward enhancing future preparation rather than fixating on the  lower midterm performance. 

I highly recommend dedicating time during the midterm season to engage in course reflections, allowing for improvements that enhance the student learning experience. 

Ramon Lawrence 

CTL Academic Director 

Credit: Written and edited in collaboration with ChatGPT.