Students may be busy preparing for midterms, but this time of year is also an opportunity to take a pause by carrying out a midterm course evaluation. This isn’t a form of busywork: rather, it’s a way to find out what’s working—and what isn’t—before you reach the end of the semester (and before it’s too late to make any adjustments in your classroom).

Many instructors offer end-of-term evaluations, which can be put to good use next term. But it doesn’t help your current students. And, says Natalie Houston, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in The Chronicle of Higher Education, says if things aren’t going as well as you’d like in your classroom, “there’s still almost half a semester left, at least five or six weeks, maybe more depending on your institution’s calendar. That’s certainly time enough to make some changes, if you’re so inclined.”

While your door may be open to students throughout the term, not everyone is comfortable voicing their opinions in person. If you make a midterm course evaluation anonymous, this offers students a low-stakes opportunity to voice those opinions. But this isn’t just a way for students to vent. It’s meant to provide constructive feedback that can help instructors focus in on what’s working and what may need adjustment (such as whether students need more guidance on certain assignments.)

Students could also use this to address issues related to classroom dynamics, according to The Teaching Center. These include “issues that arise when other students are not fully participating in group work or are disrupting class by arriving late, talking to their peers, or surfing the Internet on their laptops.”

How to design your midterm evaluation

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all midterm course evaluation, but it typically takes the form of a survey or questionnaire. It often includes Likert statements (where students provide a quantitative rating on a scale) in combination with open-ended questions. It doesn’t have to be long, even just a few questions will suffice. Keeping the evaluation short and concise means students will be more likely to complete it—and it won’t add a burdensome amount of work to your already busy schedule.

Focus on one or two aspects, such as course structure or content delivery. There are plenty of ready-made evaluation tools available with sample questions, but make sure to customize those questions so they’re relevant to your course, your students and even your teaching practices. Only assess what you’re willing or able to change. There are some factors beyond your control, such as the time or location of the class.

Designing the right questions is key. Again, this isn’t meant to be a forum where students can vent about their likes and dislikes: it’s about providing them with a low-stakes method of communication to make their learning experience productive and positive.

How to administer your midterm evaluation

While you can hand out paper-based evaluations, using a digital evaluation tool that students can respond to on their personal mobile device makes the process easier for both students and instructors. To ensure students complete the evaluation, provide time in class (even up to 20 minutes) rather than asking them to complete it outside of class time.

Explain to students why the evaluation is important and how it will benefit them. Ask for constructive feedback, with examples if possible. And if it’s anonymous, stress that. It’s typically best to administer the evaluation at the start of class, so students aren’t influenced by one particular day.

How to respond to evaluation results

As with any form of evaluation, there may be negative feedback. Try to keep it in perspective and not take it too personally: rather than focusing on a single negative comment, for example, look for themes across the range of evaluations to get a broader perspective. Consider categorizing data from Likert statements in a spreadsheet format to see trends and anomalies. For open-ended questions, compile comments relating to themes and look for commonalities.

This process can show you where to make tweaks or adjustments in your classroom (or point out what’s working well and doesn’t need tweaking). In some cases, it may be a matter of communicating more clearly the purpose of an assignment; in other cases, it may mean adjusting readings or teaching methodologies.

Choose one or two themes from the evaluation to discuss with students in your next class. This shows students you are, indeed, taking their comments seriously. If something can’t be changed, explain why. It’s always worth revisiting these results at the end of term, in conjunction with end-of-term evaluations, to see if any adjustments you made earlier had the desired effect.

Remember that this process isn’t meant to be about students’ likes and dislikes. “Cued by our language, students can become aware of a distinction—that we’re not asking what they like, but what is helping them learn,” says Gillian Parrish, who teaches at Washington University, in an article for Faculty Focus. And this, ultimately, can provide insights that help instructors, but also “ground students in their own learning processes.”

Top Hat’s end-to-end learning platform offers a Mid-Semester Course Evaluation Survey to help professors gauge student opinions of their course so far. Book a 1-on-1 walkthrough to explore this feature!