Student leaders urging midsemester evaluations

Administrators and students say the reviews could improve the classroom environment.

by Haley Hansen

University of Minnesota student leaders are urging faculty members to administer midsemester course evaluations starting next semester.

The Minnesota Student Association and the Student Senate voted last week to send a letter to department heads and college deans asking them to encourage their faculty members to use the evaluations.

Student Senate Chair Valkyrie Jensen said the groups aren’t asking for midsemester evaluations to be mandatory, but professors should utilize them because they can benefit faculty members and students.

By using student evaluations, students know that their professor is investing time into improving their teaching methods, she said, which helps the classroom environment overall.

The University currently has early-term assessments available to professors. But Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Ole Gram said it’s hard to gauge just how many faculty members use them.

He said there’s research that proves checking in with students in the middle of the semester is extremely effective in improving a class’s overall learning environment.

However, he said, implementing identical evaluations for every course wouldn’t necessarily be effective because then professors couldn’t customize them.

“I don’t think we can do a one-size-fits-all,” Gram said.

Midsemester evaluations are a common practice across higher education.

Patricia Aceves, director of Stony Brook University’s Faculty Center in Teaching, Learning and Technology, said the school used to send out midsemester evaluations online but stopped because students and faculty members felt they were being “over-surveyed.”

Faculty members can still use midsemester evaluations if they choose, she said. Aceves said the evaluations are valuable because they allow faculty to measure how students are doing in their classes.

“As a whole, faculty want to improve their courses. They want to improve student learning [and] the student experience,” she said.

The University of Pennsylvania has a similar setup to the University of Minnesota, where evaluation forms are available to faculty members if they choose to use them.

Bruce Lenthall, executive director of Pennsylvania’s Center for Teaching and Learning, said midsemester evaluations are important because they give students a chance to speak up about any problems they’re having or highlight what’s working well.

“It allows students a greater voice and a more nuanced voice,” he said.

And because the evaluations stay with those who administer them and aren’t sent to administrators, faculty members are more likely to ask about their classes’ faults or shortcomings, he said.

“It becomes extra important that these are used purely [as] feedback and not evaluative,” Lenthall said.

Minnesota Student Association President Joelle Stangler, who co-authored the letter, said she’s had a few professors implement the midsemester evaluations. After the evaluations, she said she noticed a difference in their teaching styles.

“It was a really great way to reflect on the semester,” she said. “It was a good check-in point.”