I was back in college again and riding in a car with my parents. We were heading to one of my volleyball matches, but instead of the game being at our typical gymnasium, it was at a big arena in the downtown area of a big city. My parents pulled up to the arena, but couldn’t find a place to park anywhere. So, we drove around and drove around until finally finding street parking several blocks away. I wasn’t worried or stressed yet, in fact, I was eerily calm. I was also dressed in street clothes and only had my volleyball shoes in my hands. I briefly look at my watch and realize I only have 20 minutes until warm-ups begin and my parents are walking so slow, so I ditch them (respectfully). As I sprint to the arena and come to the dressing rooms, I see my teammates. They are entering the arena already dressed in their uniforms and ask me where my uniform is. I respond with utter shock and say, “I thought Coach was bringing all of our equipment…all I brought were my shoes.” I quickly realize, no I was supposed to bring all of my gear and quickly have a flood of thoughts rushing through my brain trying to figure out how I will get home to my equipment and back in time before the game.
That is when I wake up…sweating, rapid breathing, and feeling utterly terrible.
It’s my sixth-year teaching and somehow, I find myself feeling like my first year again.
A state of feeling behind, yet invigorated by the constant learning.
My recent dream probably needs no interpretation from a professional. I am feeling behind and just waiting for a ball to drop. In previous years, I have had all of my lectures mapped out and PowerPoints completed prior to the start of the semester. I could just go on autopilot and follow the plan. Of course, there were things that required some deviation, but for the most part I could just cruise. Not this year. This year, I decided to do a redesign. I decided to take a course I have been teaching the past six years and completely blow up the syllabus and start from scratch. I can’t describe to you the reason that spurred this complete redesign (I’m blaming it on my PhD classes and learning more about good teaching strategies), but nonetheless here I am. I’ve added activities to spur deeper learning, group quizzes to have learning checkpoints along the way, and I completely redid the flow of the course in regard to content. Each week, I’m one lecture away from not being ready for the next class period because every one of my previous PowerPoints no longer work. I think you can get a sense now why I may be dreaming what I am…
How will I know if all of this new work was worth it? How will I know if the activities, group quizzes, and new lectures actually are helping students learn?
I could wait until the end of the semester when I see the scores on the comprehensive final exam and receive my student feedback forms. But, why wait until then? At the end of the semester, it is too late to make adjustments. The time period between receiving the student feedback forms and their final grades and the next year teaching the same content is a long time…and I forget. What if the students knew of one or two small things that I could tweak that would help their learning and understanding better right now? What if I took the time to ask them?
My plan to assess this redesign – complete a Mid-Semester Interview about Teaching (MIT). A MIT is an evaluation tool that allows your students to communicate the strengths and weaknesses of the course in real-time. The MIT is best run by a colleague of yours instead of yourself, as students do not typically tell you exactly how they feel when their grade may be on the line. Asking a colleague to run it, allows anonymity on behalf of the students and when that is the case…they let loose. The MIT contains two simple questions:
What are the major strengths of this course? What is helping you learn?
What changes would you make in this course to assist you in learning?
Your colleague who has graciously decided to run your MIT will pose those questions to your students and then separate them into small groups where they will discuss for a few minutes. Students will then write their responses on the board. Once all the responses have been written, then your colleague will discuss all the responses as a group. This is the best part…peer norming. By discussing answers to both questions, students can hear how others feel about the issue and may back off on how important it is…or…they may just gain traction. Either way, the group discussion gives you a better sense of what the whole as a class really sees as strengths and weaknesses. After group discussion is complete, then your colleague compiles all the responses into a summary and then meets with you to discuss. This summary gives you some real-time feedback that you can implement even as early as the next class period.
And whoa…what a message that communicates to your students. They see that you really care about the course and their feedback…they feel validated and heard. This pays dividends in the future when say an activity doesn’t go as planned or if the schedule has to be rearranged. Students don’t always know what they need, but taking the time to listen to what they want creates an environment where they feel actively involved in the process instead of a passive participant. I don’t always make every change they have suggested, but I try to make all the ones I can. I am also sure to discuss with the students why or why I can’t make the changes suggested. All around this is a great evaluation tool to provide you with real-time feedback about how the trajectory of the course is going, so, if need be, you can change that trajectory in a positive direction before the semester runs out.
Would you like to do a MIT, but your school doesn’t have a formal program? No worries…feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to walk you through it.
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