Mid-semester survey: Simple but scary?

NC State faculty members have recently received an email from the university’s Office of Faculty Development promoting the use of an anonymous mid-semester student survey to find out “what’s working, what’s not”. See: http://ofd.ncsu.edu/mid-semester-evaluations/  A faculty member from New Mexico State University describes the process as “simple but scary” (Furth, 2000).

surveyReflecting on student feedback, you as the instructor, have a golden opportunity to make minor modifications in your course or to clarify issues that may be confusing to students. Making slight adjustments now can lead to more favorable end-of course survey results. A brief 3-question survey, as suggested by the Office of Faculty Development, might serve your needs perfectly.

If you’re looking for a little more in-depth feedback, I can work with you to create and customize an online survey specific to your course. Obviously, the primary goal for teaching faculty is to provide an effective learning experience for all students, and one measure of an instructor’s teaching effectiveness continues to be results from end-of-course student surveys. However, research has shown that surveys in use by most universities do not actually measure factors that necessarily correlate with higher levels of learning (Achtemeier, Morris & Finnegan, 2003).

The questions

The University of Georgia system conducted an extensive study  that identified certain best practices for  effective online courses, and they pointed to 11 questions that were deemed as factors in gauging the effectiveness of online teaching and learning (Achtemeier, Morris & Finnigan, 2003). In a review of end-of-course surveys from 13 different institutions they found that none of the surveys actually addressed all of the identified best practices.  Based on a review of Principles of Effective Teaching in the Online Classroom (Weiss, Knowlton & Speck. Eds. 2000) the University of Georgia researchers suggest that the following 11 questions focus on factors that are key indicators of effective online courses:

  1.  Were the course goals, learning objectives and outcomes made clear to you at the beginning of the course?
  2.  Did you have the necessary technological equipment and skills required for this course?
  3.  Was there adequate technical support if you encountered difficulties?
  4.  Was the format and page design of the online course easy to use?
  5.  Were there sufficient instructions given for you to complete all assignments?
  6.  Did you feel hindered in your online course experience any way? Please describe.
  7.  Were standards for evaluation of assignments made clear?
  8.  Did you receive prompt feedback on your completed assignments?
  9.  Did you participate in online conversations with your instructor during the course?
  10.  Did you participate in online conversations with your classmates during the course?
  11.  What learning activities most influenced your learning in this course?

You can preview a DRAFT of an online survey based on these questions. Using NC State’s Survey Builder tool, it’s possible to allow only a single response from each student currently enrolled in your course and at the same time keep the survey results anonymous. I can work with you to customize a survey for your use  and make results available only for you.

And the rest is up to you.

Dr. Furth (2000) recommends that once you’ve gathered your feedback, you should relax, get your ego under control and carefully consider the results. He regards the mid-semester survey as part of a continuous-improvement-process for his teaching and shares his analysis strategies and the results he received over a three-year period.


Achtemeier, S., Morris, L., & Finnegan, C. (2003). Considerations for developing evaluations on online courses. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 7(1).

Furth, P. (2000). A simple but scary mid-semester evaluation instrument. Presentation at 2000 ASEE/Gulf-Southwest Section Annual Conference, Las Cruces, NM.

Weiss, R.E., Knowlton, D.S., & Speck, B. W. (Eds.). (2000). Principles of Effective Teaching in the Online Classroom, New Directions for Teaching and Learning,(84).


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