CIPs Teaching Tips – Fall 2012 #8 “Here I am, stuck in the middle with you”

A college course is very much a relationship between the professor and his or her students. Round about midterm, the relationship usually has begun to settle into a pattern. Sometimes not everyone involved is happy with that pattern, and as in many relationships, not everyone communicates well about how they think the relationship is doing. Midterm can be your last chance for improving the professor-student relationship in your courses. One effective way to do this is to ask students to anonymously provide feedback that will help you to create an effective learning environment. What you ask them to tell you and how your respond to what they disclose are the two most important parts of this process.

What you ask them: Note cards can be used (if handwriting won’t be recognizable based on the structure of your class) to solicit the answer to one question on the back and another on the front. Ask them what works best about the class and what they find most challenging or missing.

A list of questions – with spaces for handwriting or sent electronically to be printed and handed in anonymously, enables you to ask for more feedback. Be careful though, too many prompts can cause students to: view the form as “work” rather than as an opportunity to provide feedback or to begin to lose steam toward the end of the survey. Here are a few sample questions to get you thinking about what you might want to ask:

  1. When do you experience clear communication in this class – in other words, when do you feel fairly certain that you know what is expected of you or what will happen next? When is this not the case?
  2. Do you feel engaged in this course – in other words, what gets you interested in what’s happening in the class? What would help you to feel more engaged?
  3. Do you think that what you are learning in this class is valuable? – Why or why not?

How you respond:  Review the responses with your class. Summarize them topically rather than reading each one. Speak first to what’s working for many students; point out how this will be continued. Speak to any changes suggested that you can make or tweak towards. Be sure to mention any requests that are not possible and explain why – reasons might include pedagogy, intended outcomes, student responsibilities, or practical restrictions. Emphasize how a learning relationship requires engagement and effort on both sides. Students should feel heard; realize that you want to create a positive and productive learning environment with them; and understand you are the one in charge of the classroom.

Here’s to an excellent second half of the semester,



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