Last week I got a CTools notification that I’ve received countless times over the past few semesters: A reminder to complete my course evaluations. The only strange thing is that I have never got that e-mail just six weeks into a semester. What is even more shocking is that while some LSA professors provide a venue for feedback mid-semester, most LSA professors only offer the opportunity through the required end-of-term online evaluations. College of Engineering students are offered the opportunity to complete mid term evaluations for every class they take. LSA students should have the same opportunity to critique our world-class faculty and staff. And all faculty and staff should use midterm evaluations to better cater their instruction and work to the students they are teaching.

Unlike end-of-term evaluations, which can only create improvements for future students, instructors benefit from midterm feedback because they can augment their teaching, if necessary, for students who are currently taking the course. This immediate response can help students learn better and allow professors to adopt a style that best accommodates specific semesters and sections of students. Feedback also allows students to indicate an interest in a relevant political topic, a small change to lecture slides or other suggestions that might not warrant a meeting with a professor.

Additionally, while I suspect many instructors are approachable and receptive to criticism from students, the barriers against complaining and the perceived risk of communicating dissatisfaction with a course is high for undergraduates. Online course evaluations, facilitated feedback sessions provided by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching or other methods of evaluating classes is needed to ensure genuine, reliable criticism. Without the formalities of an anonymous interface and routine request for feedback, soliciting teaching advice is ineffective and likely incomplete. Using institutional evaluations of teaching provides a level of comfort for students to take action about their courses.

As I mentioned in a column two weeks ago, LSA rocks. I think most people would agree professors are largely responsible for making their experience in LSA a positive one. That said, there is always room for improvement, and constructive criticism half way through each semester can only make things better. Short of requiring midterm online course evaluations for all courses, LSA could provide incentives to faculty to conduct midterm evaluations. Departments and the college already take end-of-semester course evaluations very seriously and use them in making decisions about tenure, among other things. It might be appropriate to allow instructors the chance to add to their record of evaluations through the data collected from mid-semester evaluations. This may already be the case, and if so, faculty and staff should be even more motivated to take advantage of the opportunity to poll students about their classes.

Given that course evaluations and feedback surveys are cheap to provide, easy to create and don’t take a great deal of time for students to complete, there isn’t be a reason not to mandate midterm evaluations in LSA. More evaluations can only improve our learning experience at the University, and more interaction in this way will continue to propel the University to be recognized as an outstanding institution. We don’t need to over do it and have a survey after each class period, but given how easy it is to provide a venue for grievances online around the seventh week of a course, there really is no reason not to utilize some evaluation resource at least twice a term for each class.

Of course, an increase in course evaluations is a two-way street, as it only helps faculty and staff if we students take the few minutes needed to give feedback, when it is requested. Many students fill out course evaluations at the end of each term, but a handful still fail to do so. It’s our responsibility to complain when given the chance or alternatively indicate our appreciation of professors who do a great job.

I hope all LSA faculty and staff will take just a small part of their next lecture to distribute surveys, point students to a CTools evaluation or have CLRT conduct a Midterm Student Feedback Session. Even if professors, lecturers and GSI’s use the exact same CTools questionnaire they’ll use at the end of the term, it would allow them to address student needs on a term-by-term basis and make their excellent instruction even better.

Jeff Wojcik is the LSA Academic Relations Officer. He can be reached at jawojcik@umich.edu.

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