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Sophomore English major Tiera Day tries to study for her upcoming week at the Retriever Learning Center on Sunday night.

Effective early evaluation

One of UMBC’s standard policies is the teacher evaluations, less affectionately known as the “blue sheets.” These are used as an indication of success of a certain teacher and their teaching process. However, these evaluations are done at the end of semester, often on the last day of classes.

At that point, it is too late. If there is a practice that was unhelpful for students, or if there was a practice that would have been more helpful for students, it cannot be implemented at that point. It benefits the next group who will take that class at best, but not those who have been impacted by what they’re writing down. The very students who are suggesting improvements and changes will never see those improvements.

Students are merely writing these recommendations to pass it on for future classes. To further compound this very visible problem, every individual class is different, and these future classes are filled with students who may or may not agree with those suggested changes.

Midterm evaluations provide a forum where students can express their appreciation or frustration with certain practices and class policies. Not only does it give students an outlet to vent, it also allows professors to hear students’ concerns, and even change practices based on those concerns. Every group of students is different, and so tailoring class practices to a specific group of students, as much as a professor is able, is a more effective method of conveying information to these students.

However, this practice is not currently mandatory at UMBC, nor should it be. Telling teachers that they must implement a certain practice is almost certainly a recipe for disaster. What works in one classroom and with one group of students won’t always work in another.

UMBC’s faculty development center offers such a tool, where they do all the work, called CATAlyst. This survey has two questions that students answer in groups: What do you think is effective, and what do you think should be changed, about this course? The faculty development center then analyzes the data for the professor, showing trends and offering suggestions for improvement.

In October, the faculty development center surveyed 18 different courses for 13 different professors, as a tool to develop more efficient and useful teaching practices. Many professors and lecturers are taking advantage of such assistance to improve teaching method.

For those teachers who do not go the official route, implementing a self-created survey through a tool like Survey Monkey, or a paper questionnaire, would satisfy the same need. Ryan Bloom, an English professor, said, “For me, mid-semester feedback is a great way to gauge how things are going from a student’s perspective. As teachers, we often have a different sense of what is and is not working in the classroom than students have.”

Bloom said that feedback such as, “printing articles sucks,” clued him in to decrease the amount of printing necessary for the class to make students happier. Despite the trivial nature of this feedback, it allows practices to become suited to a student’s needs, showing the teacher cares about the well-being of the students.

Professors can change lecture content, review content and practices or even lecture styles based on student’s feedback. Having this feedback collected mid-semester allows students to request changes for that class, that semester.

Professors and lecturers should all consider employing mid-semester self-evaluations as a teaching practice. It is helpful not only as a venting outlet for students, but also as a method for improving teaching methods based on student feedback.