In the middle of each semester, some professors and teaching assistants turn to their students for insight on how to improve their classes.
Across the nation, a growing number of professors have been asking their students for feedback, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
At Penn, departments such as Romance Languages require professors to seek evaluations midway through the semester, according to Kathryn McMahon, the director of language programs.
These evaluations have been used for around 15 to 20 years, McMahon wrote in an email, adding that most professors use written evaluations over online forms, which have had lower response rates.
The department’s goal is to “gather input from the students during the course of the semester, as well as communicate to them how they are doing,” McMahon wrote.
In other departments, mid-semester reviews are optional. Yet some professors choose to get feedback from students.
Philosophy doctoral student Shereen Chang, who teaches “Justice, Law and Morality,” said she chose to administer evaluations for her recitations even though they were not required.
Reading the evaluations, she said, helped her gain a better feel for the students’ different learning styles.
“Evaluations are a good way to get feedback,” Chang said.
College senior Ross Kelley, who works as a TA for “Introduction to Macroeconomics,” said he has “used the feedback forms a lot” and has “already started to incorporate some of the suggestions,” such as informing students when new materials have been posted to Blackboard and trying to speak a little slower.
Kelley plans to incorporate other suggestions in his classes for next semester, such as engaging students more.
In a seminar called “Community Economic Development,” Urban Studies professor Andrew Lamas uses “one-on-one and small group meetings with students” to help “form an intellectual community in and outside of our classroom,” he wrote in an email.
Lamas draws from these meetings to design his syllabus, choose readings and decide what projects the students will undertake.
“Increased participation and shared control results in increased motivation, better performance, and higher productivity,” Lamas wrote.
“I do not think of my students as having impoverished brains into which I am making capital deposits,” he added. “Rather, I think of them as intelligent, curious, and capable of generating insightful, creative, and useful contributions.”
Students in other classes have also found the mid-semester evaluations helpful.
College sophomore Rama Hamarneh wrote in her “Introduction to Sociology” mid-semester review that she wasn’t able to attend her TA’s office hours.
Taking in the feedback, her TA immediately changed his office hours to better accommodate Hamarneh and other students.
Although she found the written evaluations helpful, Hamarneh said she would have preferred to complete them online, since the hand-written reviews seemed tedious.
However, some students found their instructors unresponsive to feedback.
“My TA for Chem is awful. He is disinterested and rude,” said a College sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous in order to avoid alienating her TA.
“I gave him a super bad evaluation,” she said, adding that she wrote in her evaluation that he should not be a TA again.
Although she has stopped attending recitation regularly, she heard that he has not improved since receiving the feedback.
“There is a risk in asking students to write evaluations and then not incorporating their suggestions, or at least discussing their suggestions in class,” doctoral student and Center for Teaching and Learning graduate fellow Daniel DiMassa wrote in an email. “A teacher wouldn’t want the evaluation to seem like a sham or a gimmick.”
However, when used correctly, mid-semester reviews “in contrast to end-of-semester course evaluations, really give students a chance to shape their courses by offering constructive feedback,” DiMassa added.Comments powered by Disqus
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