January 22, 2021

Happy new semester CNS Instructors,

I always find the beginning of a semester a bit trying.  This semester is my first one back to teaching a large enrollment content course after my sabbatical and during the pandemic.  So far, only a few technical glitches that I think I have sorted out.  I must practice growth mindset on myself, as well.  I hope you all had an awesome holidays break with family and friends in your bubble.

For this week’s teaching tip, I share a Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning article on conducting a mid-semester check-in.  Student input on your course provides feedback on specific aspects of your course.  In addition, asking for feedback affects your students’ perceptions of themselves as learners and learning itself, and also provides an opportunity for metacognition on learning and teaching.

Conducting a Mid-Semester Check-In

What do you want to learn more about?

In designing the questions to ask students, consider the aspects of student and learning experiences that you’re curious about and the type of information you hope to gather. It may be helpful to revisit the course goals and the teaching strategies you have implemented to determine what student input might be most informative. Also, consider questions that encourage students to be specific and self-reflective in their responses (see Rando, 2001 and Tanner, 2012 for discussion and examples).

Yale’s Poorvu Center suggests the following four open-ended questions as a core for a mid-semester check-in (full article):

  • What is working well for you in this class? What are you struggling with?
  • What is helping you learn? What is not working?
  • What could the instructor change to improve your learning experience in this class?
  • What could you do differently to improve your learning experience in this class?

Likert-scale questions indicating agreement of disagreement with various statements (1-5 with 5 = Strongly Agree and 1 = Strongly Disagree) can also be useful. General examples include:

  • I am engaged in this class.
  • I am learning from the ________. (Fill in the blank with a learning modality: lectures, textbook, online modules, etc.)
  • I understand what I need to do to do well in this class.
  • When I need it, I am able to get help in understanding the material.
  • I am worried about my performance in this course.

Instructors may also want to specifically collect information about technology issues or other difficulties specific to in-class activities or remote instruction.

  • Technology issues have made my engagement with the class more challenging.
  • I can engage remotely and work with minimal distraction.

 You can collect this information through a Canvas course survey, on paper or in small group discussions.

Examining and Sharing the Responses

In addition to collecting and evaluating the responses yourself, sharing your findings with students is also an important part of the process. In reporting results back to students, we signal that their ideas were carefully considered and emphasize that their time and thoughtful feedback is appreciated and valued. Additionally, it can highlight variation in learning experiences and perceptions among their peers.

For more details and references see https://teaching.berkeley.edu/news/spotlight-teaching-and-learning-mid-semester-check.

Have a great rest of your Friday and the first weekend of the spring 2021 semester.

Cheers, Paul

Paul Laybourn (he/him/his)

Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Director, W2R S-STEM Program
Director, NoCo B2B Program
Director, REU Site in Molecular Biosciences