University of Minnesota
Office of Human Resources

Early Term Assessment of Teaching

Do you want a safe, simple way to improve your course? An early term assessment of teaching/learning (between Weeks 3 and 8) is one of the most recommended formative approaches to improve the educational environment for your students. Recent research by McGowan & Osguthorpe (2011) demonstrated that when faculty conduct early term assessments and make pedagogical adjustments, students perceive positive improvements in their learning as shown in teacher evaluations at the end of the semester.

Four options are provided for university instructors, and only one should be used for a given course. The purpose of each option is described below, and instructors can preview each option to determine the most appropriate one for their course.

Option Purpose View Document
Option 1: Broad Teacher Functions Provide a broad perspective on teaching with results directly connected to an existing help manual and the current six SRT core items Link to pdf
Option 2: Student Learning Gain direct information about conditions that affect student learning from a learner-centered perspective Link to pdf
Option 3: Instructor Performance Gain direct information on the organization, clarity of instruction, and workload of the course Link to pdf
Option 4: Professional Consultation from the Center for Teaching and Learning Receive insights into student learning and course delivery through a one-to-one confidential consultation Link to pdf

Paper Administration
Options 2 and 3 can be conducted in class by downloading the paper form, copying, distributing in class, and collecting the information. If you have a large class, consider a reduced sample rather than the full class. Have an empty envelope available to assure anonymity of the responses.

Option 4 involves a focus group conversation between the CTL consultant and the students at the end of class. A one-to-one consultation between the instructor and the consultant follows within a few days of administration.

Optimizing the Results of an Early Term Assessment
  1. For in-class administration, set aside at least five minutes at the end of class to allow students to be fully engaged in the feedback process. For online administration outside of class, provide a limited time period (e.g., one day) for students to submit responses.
  2. Read all responses, focusing your perspective on the majority of statements as opposed to inordinate attention on individual statements that may carry emotional appeal. Create some themes can best describe responses with a similar focus.
  3. Talk with students at the next class meeting for 5-10 minutes, thanking them for their feedback and summarizing the themes you found in the data.
  4. For any feedback that implicated instructional change, discuss the changes that you are prepared to make and reasons why some student suggestions may not be appropriate (e.g., eliminating the final exam).
  5. Make those changes visible to students in an amended course syllabus and/or through specific behaviors (e.g., providing more clear expectations about upcoming assignments or grading processes)

To summarize: The value of an early term assessment starts with gaining access to information on student perceptions but ultimately rests on changes to the learning environment. Most students are generally eager to give feedback to instructors on the quality of their learning (McGowan & Osguthorpe, 2011). Handled appropriately, early term assessments are a simple but effective way to not only help your students achieve their learning goals but also to improve formal end-of-course evaluations.

McGowan, W., & Osguthorpe, R. (2011). Student and faculty perceptions of effects of midcourse evaluation. In Miller, J. & Groccia, J. (Eds), To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational Development, 29, 160-172.