By asking students for feedback early or midway through a course, you provide yourself with the opportunity to learn what is working and not working in a class, and to make informed mid-course changes. Early feedback also provides you with an opportunity to have an open conversation with students about what can and cannot change about a class, improving transparency and revisiting the goals of the class and why it is run the way it is. Finally, by asking students to reflect on whether they are learning the things they need or want to learn, you are encouraging students to recognize the extent to which they, too, are responsible for what happens in the classroom.
We recommend the following protocol for collecting, processing, and responding to early feedback:
Determine what kind of feedback would helpful to you and your teaching staff. While students may not be experts on teaching, per se, they are well-positioned to tell you about their experiences trying to learn the material in your course. In general, the key areas that speak to a student’s experience of a course are:
- How the course is structured and organized;
- How well the readings and assignments relate to the course goals;
- The workload and amount of effort required;
- The timeliness and usefulness of feedback students receive on their work;
- Their experience of the course climate.
- Frame the process for students. Students should understand that you are checking in on their experience of the course thus far, that you value their feedback, and that you will use it as you plan the rest of the semester. They should also be reassured that their feedback will remain anonymous.
- Collect it. While some of the techniques we suggest for collecting Ongoing Feedback (e.g. minute papers at the end of class) can be used to collect early or midterm feedback, you may want to make use of a more thorough feedback form. Faculty course heads can sign up their course to participate in mid-semester feedback using Harvard’s course evaluation system; see the Office of Undergraduate Education’s website for more information. Additionally, Harvard offers instructors a number of online options, like the "ungraded quizzes" pre-loaded into your Canvas site, Qualtrics, or Google Forms. You might also consider using paper forms in-class. At the top of this page you will find a handful of sample forms which you should feel free to customize for your own purposes.
- Process it. Whether you sit down with a member of Bok's senior staff, a Pedagogy Fellow, a mentor, or a peer, we recommend that you share your feedback with someone whom you trust to keep it in perspective. It is easy to fixate on one outlier comment, particularly a negative one. In their book Thanks for the Feedback, Doug Stone and Sheila Heen highlight three "triggers" that may keep us from learning from a piece of feedback: (1) truth ("this feedback is simply wrong"), (2) relationship ("whether or not it's true, I can't hear this feedback from you"), and (3) identity ("I'm not that kind of person"). An interlocutor can help you see past these triggers and discover patterns that your emotional response to the feedback can obscure.
- Respond. Just as you owe it to your students to give them feedback on their graded work, you owe it to them to acknowledge their feedback on your teaching. It may very well be the case that you cannot address every one of the concerns that students raise. Teaching Fellows in particular often find themselves unable to moderate reading loads which seem excessive to students. That's fine—what is important is that you think through how you might at least explain to students how and why the class is structured as it is, and that you have heard and appreciate their perspective. You may want to go so far as to share the responses with them, even showing them a graph of the distribution of responses in the event that the class seems divided on the utility of a particular activity or assignment. (It might even prove to be a valuable opportunity to stimulate their metacognition, as they appreciate for the first time why another student found an exercise useful.)
- Stick to your plan. Perhaps this goes without saying, but if you've promised students that you will change some aspect of your teaching in response to their feedback, make sure that you follow through! Better yet, co-opt your students into this process: tell them that you hope they'll hold you to account if they notice that something that might help their learning is going missing. By involving them in the design and delivery of your teaching, you'll help them become more aware of their own habits as students, and get more meaningful summative feedback at the end of the term.