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Faculty Development Center

Gathering Feedback From Students

Do you ever wonder what your students learn in your class during those times between required coursework such as exams or papers? Or what your students are thinking about your course or your teaching? If you do, the easiest solution is to ask them. There are a number of ways to gather feedback from students during the course and before the end of the semester evaluations.

Midterm CATALyst Process

The Classroom Assessment for Teaching And Learning, or CATALyst Process, helps faculty gather student feedback about a course while it is still in progress. That way, instructors have the opportunity to intervene, if necessary, to address any smaller issues before they become end-of-semester problems. The CATALyst is a completely voluntary, formative and confidential process.

What is the CATALyst Process?

To be effective, the CATALyst should be conducted at midterm, sometime between the 5th and 9th week of the semester. That way, there is still enough time for instructors to make changes if they wish. Here is how it works:

  • The instructor requests a CATALyst, and an FDC consultant contacts the instructor to answer questions and arrange for a class meeting and follow-up consultation.
  • On the chosen day, the FDC consultant arrives at the beginning of class. The instructor should plan to introduce the consultant before leaving the room.
  • Over the next 20 minutes or so, the students, led by the FDC consultant, work in small groups to answer questions about what is working well in the class and what, if anything, could be improved.
  • When the assessment is over, the instructor returns to finish teaching class.
  • The consultant analyzes the data and completes a report for the instructor. Then they meet in a post-CATALyst consultation to discuss the students’ feedback and ways to address any issues that may have arisen.

A midterm classroom assessment can catalyze…

  • New ways of thinking about a course based on real evidence of student perceptions
  • Improved rapport with students who appreciate being asked for their opinions
  • Reflection on teaching through discussion of student feedback with an experienced teaching consultant
  • Changes in students’ perspectives of their role in the classroom through peer-to-peer discussion
The CATALyst process is entirely confidential, for both you and your students. To find out more, contact Linda Hodges

Other Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS)
Some quick and easy strategies for gathering feedback on your students’ learning on a regular basis include a sampling of classroom assessment techniques.

--Ask students to write a “one minute paper” at the end of class in which they summarize the main point of that session, or answer a specific question from the class, or pose a question about some idea they still don’t understand. This latter version is sometimes called the “muddiest point.”

--Require students to write a one-sentence summary of a key idea at the end of class, or at both the beginning and end of class to see how their understanding changes. The same approach can be used by asking them to define a key term.

--Have students prepare a list of pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages to an idea, approach, method or decision. Or ask them to connect specific ideas to general principles, or general concepts to specific problems from a list. Both of these strategies test your students’ abilities to apply ideas they’re learning along the way in your class and allow you to determine their progress before the high stakes assessments in your course.

Gathering Feedback on the Class
You may also be interested in finding out how students are experiencing your course before your end-of-semester evaluations. You may choose to collect feedback via CATALyst as above or you can collect mid-term feedback using a survey. These surveys usually consist of a short list of questions, often open-ended, that focus on how students are learning in your class, not on their impressions of your performance. This focus helps in two ways. Not only do students think more about the substantive part of the class rather just what they find entertaining, they may also realize the role they have in their own learning. For example, some common questions to ask students on mid-term feedback forms are:

--Do you typically know what you are expected to do to prepare for and participate in this class? If not, please explain why not.

--What aspects of this course and your instructor's teaching help you learn best?

--What specific advice would you give to help your instructor improve your learning in this course?

--What steps could you take to improve your own learning in this course?

The last question is important because it reinforces the idea that your students, too, need to take responsibility for their learning.

The final step in gathering mid-term feedback is to talk with your students about what you learned. Which of their suggestions can you incorporate into the class now? Which ones are not appropriate to incorporate and why? Showing students that you care about and are responsive to their perceived needs can be a powerful motivator for them. And in the process you receive feedback that can help you make mid-term changes to create a more positive class environment for student learning.

For more information about CATS, please see and the following book, a classic pedagogical resource, which is available in the FDC library:

Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by T. Angelo and P. Cross, 1993, Jossey-Bass.