Mid-Semester Evaluations: The Whys & Hows

Steve Volk, October 10, 2017
(Note: This is a slightly edited version of an article that was published on Oct. 7, 2013.)

Unidentified Women’s College (Boston Public Library) – Flickr Creative Commons

Mid-semester evaluations are not required, but precisely because they are formative in nature and relate to an on-going course, they can provide valuable information that allows us to make small changes to a course to improve student learning. These formative evaluations can also warn us of things we’re doing that might actually get in the way of student learning. And, finally, they afford another opportunity to discuss our pedagogical objectives and learning goals with our students.

Here are some suggestions: 


Probably the best time to hand out mid-semester evaluations is during the week (or two) before break. The last class before break is usually not a good time (students might have already left for break in mind, body or both). It is also nice to have the break to read over the responses and come to the first class after break prepared to discuss the evaluations with your students. Continue reading

Set for SETS? Student Evaluations of Teaching

Steve Volk, November 28, 2016

Among the relatively few rules that govern what we do in the classroom and how we do it  is the requirement that all teaching faculty hand out evaluation forms “near the end of each semester” (College) or “before the end of each semester” (Conservatory).  In the unstructured, devil-may-care past, each department (and each individual in the department) was pretty much free to design its own evaluation form, at least in the College, and I’ll just stick to Arts & Science here since the Conservatory has its own rules. That somewhat chaotic system, which made cross-departmental comparisons difficult since different attributes were measured and recorded on different scales ranging 3-point to a six-point scale, was put to rest some years ago. The current forms are designed around a standard one-to-five scale in six broad areas which the research has shown to produce (the most) valid and reliable results: 1) course organization and clarity, 2) instructor enthusiasm, 3) teacher-student interaction, rapport, and approachability, 4) workload and course difficulty, 5) assessments: exams, papers, grading fairness, and feedback, and 6) self-rated learning. We have standard rules about how they are to be distributed, collected, and returned to the faculty.

That said, there remains a lot of controversy about the value of such an exercise, not just among those who would argue that students shouldn’t be evaluating faculty at all (by my guess, a relatively small number) to those who think that the forms don’t actually tell us much about our teaching, to those who think that they don’t tell us anything about student learning – which is something we actually should be measuring – to those who argue that the research clearly demonstrates that SETs are significantly biased against many different subcategories of faculty:  women (female faculty in physics in particular), faculty of color, Asian faculty, international faculty who speak “accented” English, faculty who teach quantitative methods courses, and  “less physically attractive” faculty. Continue reading