Feed on

Early Semester Evaluations

Were you unable to attend last week’s workshop on early semester evaluations? It’s not too late to start thinking about early semester evaluations. This is a great way to get feedback from your students to help you improve your teaching, and it shows that you are invested in their learning.

One of the most popular forms of early semester evaluation is the Teacher Designed Feedback Form. This form contains questions that you design about specific strategies, methods, and activities in your class — these questions can be either open-ended or Likert style. These can be administered in class or electronically outside of class.

Here is an example of an early semester evaluation I gave in the Applied Math Methods course that I taught last fall. I had made a few changes to the course, and this gave me the opportunity to get student feedback on how these aspects of the course were going. It also gave me an idea on how the course was going overall.

Things to consider when reading the early semester evaluation results:

  1. Look for general trends in the responses. Disregard extreme outliers (both positive and negative)
  2. Discuss the results with your students. Address the general trends that you observed, and let your students know of any changes that will be made as a result of the feedback. If you choose not to make changes that were suggested, use this time to explain why. 

Check out the workshop page for more information related to early semester evaluations. 


The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Karen M. Kortz, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Physics, Community College of Rhode Island


An essential lifelong skill for students is to think about their learning, or be metacognitive about it. Although metacognition ties directly to student success, it is often not taught, and it is a skill that many college students lack. One of my goals is to purposefully structure my courses to help students focus on and be more aware of their own learning.

The three strategies I use most often to foster metacognition are:

  1. ConcepTests (or clicker questions)—These multiple-choice questions are asked during a break in lecture, students individually answer them (anonymously), they debate the answer with their peers, and they vote again. These questions allow students to find out how well they understand concepts as they are taught in class.
  2.  Online Quizzes—These multiple-choice quizzes test the students on concepts they learned in class, but are completed by students on their own time outside of class. Students can retake them up to three times, with a different selection of questions each time. Students can use them as a way to self-test if they understand the concepts, which is useful both immediately after class as well as a way to study for the exam.
  3. Exam Wrappers— I ask students after each exam to reflect on how they studied as well as how they could have studied smarter. This technique allows students to think about how their studying was effective and how they might want to study differently to be more successful on the next exam. I also give students time to give feedback to each other, so they can learn from others in the class as well.

I explain to the students that these techniques give them immediate feedback on how well they understand concepts, help them to realize that they are in charge of their learning, and determine what topics they need to spend more time on. Another strength of these methods is that they are easy for the instructor to implement. After the initial set up, none of these methods takes much time, and there is no manual grading.

A challenge to these techniques is the initial time commitment, which varies. Good ConcepTest questions are difficult to write, but there are some websites where instructors share questions, and you can reuse them in following semesters. Setting up and writing good online quizzes also takes time initially, but they can be reused (and some quiz questions can be used again on exams).

I have several indications that these techniques are effective with my students. When I ask students to reflect on how they studied, students report using many of the strategies I provided, such as reviewing quizzes and focusing their studying on where their weaknesses were. When I’ve had students who have taken a class in which I used the online quizzes then take a class where I have not yet developed them, they unanimously asked for the quizzes, even though they require more work from the student. Although some students complained about the time involved, they also saw how valuable the quizzes were to their learning. Finally, as measured by the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire survey instrument, students in my classes do not experience a decline in motivation and attitudes during the semester, as is commonly seen in other introductory classes, which is significant because research is increasingly showing the importance of student affective domain (motivation and attitudes) on their learning.


Pintrich, R. R., & DeGroot, E. V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance, Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 33-40.

Instructional Strategies

(Based on Carnegie Mellon’s Instructional Strategies webpage.)

How can we use class time effectively to promote student learning? In addition to lectures, there are many other instructional strategies that can help facilitate class room learning as well.
(Click the links below for more information on each instructional strategy)
  • Lectures: Traditional lectures are one of the most common instructional strategies that are utilized in the classroom. It is important to plan the structure of your lecture ahead of time to maximize effectiveness and increase student learning.  The following tips can help planning a lecture:
  1. Start with an introduction, outline, agenda or visual representation of the lecture.
  2. Include signposts and transitions.
  3. Employ a variety of examples.
  4. Include periodic summaries.
  5. Bring the lecture to a close.
  • Discussions: Discussions can be a great tool to allow students to formulate and defend arguments, consider and evaluate other points of view, and encourage interactions between peers.  To have a successful discussion, start by communicating the goals of your discussion with the students, and make a strategy to accomplish these goals. Choosing good questions is also very important. Some important types of questions to consider are :
  1.  Exploratory questions: probe facts and basic knowledge
  2. Challenge questions: interrogate assumptions, conclusions or interpretations
  3. Relational questions: ask for comparisons of themes, ideas, or issues
  4. Diagnostic questions: probe motives or causes
  5. Action questions: call for a conclusion or action
  6. Cause-and-effect questions: ask for causal relationships between ideas, actions, or events
  7. Extension questions: expand the discussion
  8. Hypothetical questions: pose a change in the facts or issues
  9. Priority questions: seek to identify the most important issue(s)
  10. Summary questions: elicit synthesis
  • Labs/Studios: Whether you are teaching a class in the arts or sciences, using class time for hands on activities can provide a powerful learning experience for students. When planning a lab, consider the following tips:
  1. Determine and share learning objectives
  2. Provide safety instruction
  3. Do a dry run
  4. Situate particular exercises
  5. Distribute attention and provide feedback
  6. Use questions to encourage critical thinking
  7. Stress the importance of clear communication
  8. Bring closure

The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Judith Longfield, Ph.D, Georgia Southern University


One of the best ways to promote deep learning is through the use of collaborative learning. To plan for collaborative learning, ask yourself: How can I structure the learning tasks? What kinds of groups should I form? How will I grade collaboration? Ensure that students are actively engaged by creating a relevant task—one that helps you achieve course learning outcomes, is authentic to your discipline, and is matched to students’ skills and abilities. It’s also important to promote interdependency, with each student responsible to and dependent on others to succeed. And of course, you need to think through and plan each phase of the task in advance, including a plan for forming groups. The type of groups you use will vary according to your goal, the activity and how long students will remain together. Informal groups are formed quickly, randomly and work together for brief periods. Formal groups are formed to achieve a multifaceted goal such as writing a report or giving a presentation, and stay together until the task is completed.

When planning for evaluation, you need to consider individual accountability and positive group interdependence. Ask yourself: What should be evaluated? How? Who should be involved in evaluating learning and assigning grades? Before you become overwhelmed at the thought of grading everything, remember that not every activity needs to be graded. However, every assignment should be collected. Instead of the more traditional ABC used for formal assignments, consider giving a grade of “R” for informal assignments. “R” stands for Received, Reviewed and Recorded. In some cases, “R” grades might have a set point value, while in others “Rs” could be used to determine whether or not to raise a student’s grade if s/he is on the borderline.

No matter how well thought-out, your collaborative learning task may not go as smoothing as you planned. Students may misinterpret instructions and unanticipated challenges can create roadblocks. Don’t give up. Keep careful notes so you can make changes next time. Like many aspects of effective teaching, planning for collaborative learning is on-going and reiterative. To learn more, check out Barkley, Cross and Major’s book, Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. To see how collaborative learning works in one professor’s classroom, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0Vcf-p3–w (6:53).

Prior Knowledge Check

The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Dr. Michelle Jackson Manager, English Language Institute, Professional & Public Programs at The University of Texas.


Favorite Teaching Quote: “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” – Thomas Carruthers

Contributed Activity: On the first day of class, I like to ask students to write a 1-page response to the following question: “What do you know about (Insert your field here)?” I do this for multiple reasons:

  • It activates prior knowledge, requiring students to pull from their experiences and see how they might apply those experiences to class material (Pressley et al., 1992).
  • It demonstrates that I value what they may already know about the field.
  • It puts the responsibility on the students and illustrates that this class will require active participation.

Near the end of the semester, I return these papers to the students, and have them respond to what they wrote previously. Students are usually surprised by their initial writings and by their ability to respond with what they have learned. This activity shows how much a student’s conceptualization of a field can change in just 15 weeks. It also reminds me of the quotation above—and how quickly I become unnecessary, if I do my job well.

Good luck & happy teaching!


Pressley, M., Wood, E., Woloshyn, V., Martin, V., King, A., and Menke, D. (1992). Encouraging mindful use of prior knowledge: Attempting to construct explanatory answers facilitates learning. Educational Psychologist 27(1), 91-109.

The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Valerie Lopes, PhD Professor, Centre for Academic Excellence Seneca College and  adapted from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University Online Document Course Design Tip Sheet – available at: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/CourseDesign.html


In preparing to teach a course, it is helpful to first consider:

1. What is the purpose of this course – What is it that the students will be able to know/think/do as a result of taking this course?

What do you hope to teach the students? What is the single most important thing you hope they will leave the course knowing or being able to do? Why are you teaching it? (This is not about what facts you want them to know at the end, but about what your larger or deeper objectives are for the course.) What are the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely) Learning outcomes of this course?

2. What are your students’ capacities and expectations and needs?

Who are your students? What do they know already, as they enter the course? How will you know what they know? What levels of sophistication can you expect? How much can you expect them to do? What courses have they taken? How much do they need to know at this level? What prior knowledge is essential in order for students to be successful in this course?

3. What assessments will you use to determine whether or not the students have achieved the learning outcomes?

What will you use as evidence that the students have learned what you intend for them to learn? How will theses assessments guide the teaching and learning activities and resources? How will you use assessments to help students to learn? Do you have formative as well as summative assignments?

Once the answers to the questions above are clearly established, then there are a host of other questions to consider:

  • How will you design the weekly sessions and lessons? How are you going to tie the course together? What is the story line for this course? What are the logical links between sessions? And what are the main topics and sub-topics? How will you enable the students to follow the course’s progression from week to week? Can you create a concept map for the course?
  • How are you going to get to the broader, underlying conceptual issues, as opposed to simply covering the material? Given the underlying purpose or concept or level of the course, what material should be emphasized and what can be cut?
  • What “active” teaching methods are you going to use – e.g., lectures, discussions, role plays, demonstrations – and in what proportions? What activities other than the readings and class discussions might be appropriate? How will you stimulate students to think about the material before class? How will you encourage/require students to prepare? How will you get students to actively engage in reading, listening to lectures or viewing videos that are used to deliver course content? What learning strategies will you use?
  • How will you evaluate your students? How will you know what they do and do not understand? How will you know if they have learned anything, and if so, what they have learned? How will you know which students are A students, which are B, C, and D students? What about students who fail?
  • How will you give feedback to the students? How will you grade and comment on their written and oral work? What opportunities will students have to use feedback to improve their work?
  • How flexible are you going to be in meeting students’ different backgrounds, interests and needs? Are you willing/able to change any aspects of the course in the middle of the semester if that seems appropriate? Are you willing to entertain different approaches to the material?
  • How will you get feedback from the students? How will you know if the course is working for them?

Having answered the questions above – how are you going to let the students know the overall plan for the course, including the class guidelines, suggested readings, assignment requirements and deadlines, tests and final exams dates, weekly schedules and all other pertinent information?

Lots of questions – but once they are all answered – you will be able to tell the story of your course and show how all the pieces are connected.

Review Sessions

As we begin the last full week of classes, it is important to think about how we want our classes to end. Review sessions can help students study for the final exam, and also reduce their exam anxiety.

The following tips for planning a review session come from the “The Last Day of Class” section of Barbara Gross Davis’ Tools for Teaching.

  • Explain how the review session will be conducted – Go over the logistics of the review session, whether or not it is mandatory, and the goals of the session.
  • Conduct the Review yourself – To avoid miscommunications about how to properly prepare for the final, the instructor of the course is encouraged to lead the review session rather than the TA or grader.
  • Ask your students about scheduling the review – Research has shown that reviews session are most effective after the last lecture when students have had a chance to study the material on their own. However, it is important to consider other student conflicts (work, family, other coursework, etc.) when scheduling a review session outside of the normal meeting time.
  • Create a relaxed, informal atmosphere for the review – Give students positive feedback, and remind them that they are capable of mastering the material.

Check out Tools for Teaching for more information on conducting a review session and providing closure at the end of a class.


Davis, Barbara Gross. “The Last Day of Class.” Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director, Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, University of West Florida.


Faculty are experts in their disciplines. The cognitive skills that comprise expertise can also create barriers to instruction. Experts internalize disciplinary cognitive skills and procedures through extensive practice and repetition to the point where they can execute these skills without deliberate thought. The automation of these skills (developing skilled disciplinary habits of thought) enables experts to devote their attention to areas that are difficult. However, this automation can also make it more difficult for experts to clearly articulate and explain how they carry out skilled behaviors. A solution that appears to simply “pop into the head” of an expert may actually be based on a complex series of cognitive steps that play out rapidly in the mind of the expert. When explaining the solution to a novice, the expert might omit one or more intermediary steps.

From a student’s perspective, experts solve problems through processes that seem mysterious and hidden. Students might not know all the intermediate steps hidden below the surface of the fluid performance of an expert. The “curse of expertise” sometimes prevents experts from accurately anticipating the obstacles that impair the learning of novices (Hinds, 1999). The detailed steps experts follow when they solve a problem become less obvious after years of practice enable experts to execute these steps automatically. Experts tend to represent and describe their knowledge in abstract language that interferes with clear communication with novices (Hinds, Patterson, & Pfeffer, 2001; Nickerson, 1999). The challenge facing experts who teach is to articulate their implicit knowledge so that it is explicit and accessible to students.

Researchers at Indiana University have been exploring ways to make implicit expert knowledge explicit through a process called Decoding the Disciplines. They identify three types of bottlenecks or obstacles to learning:

  • Procedural bottlenecks occur when successful completion of a task requires multiple steps. Students may not have identified and/or mastered all of the steps required to complete the task (e.g., the steps involved in formulating a hypothesis, identifying competing hypotheses, and determining which variables must be manipulated, which variables must be controlled, and which variables must be measured to design an experiment).
  • Epistemological bottlenecks occur when students do not understand how knowledge is constructed within a discipline (e.g., the nature of what “counts” as evidence to support an argument).
  • Emotional bottlenecks occur when students have emotional responses to the discipline or subject matter that hinders learning (e.g., when students feel that their religious beliefs are threatened if they study or accept the concept of evolution in biology).

The Decoding the Disciplines process helps expert faculty identify conceptual bottlenecks and discover strategies to help make implicit expert strategies explicit and devise learning activities that will help students develop these skills. The process involves the following steps:

  1. Identify a bottleneck concept
  2. Define the processes students must learn to overcome the bottleneck
  3. Identify ways to model these processes
  4. Create activities and assignments that give students practice with these processes and feedback on their performance
  5. Identify strategies to maintain student motivation while learning these processes
  6. Assess student progress in acquiring these processes
  7. Share effective strategies with others in our discipline

Interested faculty can learn more about Decoding the Disciplines and read about specific disciplinary examples by visiting the Decoding the Disciplines web site:



Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., Pace, D., & Shopkow, L. (2008). The History Learning Project: A department “decodes” its students. The Journal of American History, 94, 1211-1224. doi: 10.2307/25095328

Hinds, P. J. (1999). The curse of expertise: The effects of expertise and debiasing methods on predictions of novice performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 5, 205-221. doi: 10.1037/1076-898X.5.2.205

Hinds, P. J., Patterson, M., & Pfeffer, J. (2001). Bothered by abstraction: The effect of expertise on knowledge transfer and subsequent novice performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 1232-1243. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.86.6.1232

Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2004). Decoding the disciplines: A model for helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2004, 1-12. doi: 10.1002/tl.142

Nickerson, R. S. (1999). How we know – and sometimes misjudge – what others know: Imputing one’s own knowledge to others. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 737-759. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.125.6.737


The Power of Tests to Teach

The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Todd Zakrajsek, PhD Executive Director, Academy of Educators, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Conventional wisdom is that new information is acquired while studying and then the extent to which the material has been successfully learned is assessed through testing. Typically, most individuals consider examinations neutral with respect to the actual learning process. Researchers are now reporting that tests themselves may be an important part of long-term retention of new information (Karpicke & Roediger, 2007). In one such experiment subjects learned new material by reading blocks of information. In one condition subjects read the test material four times and then took a quiz over the material five minutes following the last reading session. In a second condition, subjects read the block of material three times, took a practice quiz (no feedback) and then five minutes later took a different quiz over the material. In the final condition subjects read the material only one time and then took three different practice quizzes (no feedback on any of the quizzes) and five minutes after the last practice quiz took a quiz over the material. As expected, for these three conditions the more time spent studying demonstrated higher quiz scores. Surprisingly, however, was the performance on quizzes one week later. At that later time there was a significant reversal of three groups. Those who had repeated practice quizzes performed significantly better than the group who had more repeated study opportunities. Perhaps most interesting is that there was a very small (relatively speaking) decrease in performance over time for the group who had multiple testing opportunities (particularly as they received no feedback on the practice tests).
Several additional studies have confirmed the importance of repeated recall in solidifying information in long-term memory. Implications include the value of in-class practice quizzes in class, group discussions (additional recall), and students quizzing one another.

(If you would like additional information about this phenomenon please contact: todd_zakrajsek@med.unc.edu.)


Karpicke, J.D., & Roediger, H.L. (2007). Repeated retrieval during learning is the key to long-term retention. Journal of Memory and Language, 57, 151-162.


The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Belinda Richardson and Debi Griffin, Bellarmine University.


In order to retain student attention and facilitate learning, consider integrating a variety of activities into a lecture-based course. Start by finding natural breaks in the content material and break up the lecture into shorter segments. In between the shorter lectures, add activities that require the students to review and apply their new learning and interact with each other. Mix it up by incorporating different activities each week. The change of pace, interaction, and variety can help to enliven the classroom atmosphere and encourage deeper learning for every student. Some activities to consider are listed below.

Skeleton notes – Create a handout with key points of the lecture on the left margin, leaving space for students to fill in notes during lecture. Pair up or group students to compare notes and fill in gaps.

Press Conference – Ask students to work in teams to write and organize questions, and then interview the instructor in a simulated press conference.

Clusters – Break reading material into sections and have each individual or group read an assigned section, becoming an “expert” on that section. Each individual or group then teaches the others about the specific material that they learned.

Select the Best Response – Students are presented with a question or scenario and then asked to consider which one of three responses best answers it. This can be used to recall and apply information presented in lecture.

Correct the Error – This can be used in math or lab courses. The instructor creates an intentional error based on important lecture material. Students then work to correct the error.

Support a Statement – The Instructor provides a statement for which students must locate support in lecture notes or textbooks and give data to support the statement.

Re-order Steps – The instructor presents a series of steps in a mixed order and the students are asked to sequence the items correctly.

Short Video Clip – A short, relevant video clip can be useful for introducing a new topic, punctuating the main point, or providing a springboard for class discussion.

One Minute Paper – Near the end of the class period, ask students to write for one minute on the main 1-2 points of the class. This assignment allows you to gauge student comprehension and gives students an incentive to absorb and comprehend course material.

Student-created Visuals – Ask students to work in small groups to create visual study aids such as flow charts, graphs, diagrams, artwork, maps, or photography. A variation on this activity could produce student-created study guides prior to each major exam.


« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Copyright © 2010 | Kaneb Center for Teaching & Learning | kaneb@nd.edu | 574-631-9146
Get Adobe Flash player