Instructor Perspective: Simon Bates, Physics

This blog post was written by an instructor who has participated in MEoTs. Feel free to leave any comments in response. To share your own experiences as an instructor or student, submit an entry of your own!

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The course I’ve been teaching is Physics 101: Energy and Waves, a large intro Physics course of 8 sections across the W1, W2 and summer semesters. I teach a section of about 250 students in W2. All the students in the course are non-majors, taking it for a variety of reasons.

Why did you decide to conduct MEoTs in this course?

I’ve been doing these evaluations in my courses for a number of years. I strongly believe they are a great way to gather feedback from students at a time when you can respond to it during the course delivery (not right at the end when it is too late) and also to give feedback back to the class by using it as an opportunity for discussion about why I do certain things the way I do in organizing or delivering the course.

What I describe here is a particular way I chose to undertake the evaluation: why after many years I moved away from short paper-based midterm evaluations. Smartphones.

What positive impacts do conducting MEoTs have in your course, and what is one best practice that you would suggest all of your colleagues keep in mind when conducting MEoTs?

I used an freely-available online tool ( that I had seen: there are probably others too, but I liked this one because it displays extremely well on mobile devices with limited screen sizes. It was also an easy process to create a mixture of open-ended, multiple choice and other question types, and then publish the survey. Through the online system, you can access aggregated data for responses and download all data (useful for looking through free text comments).

I was always aware of the time that I would need to set aside to get students to think about and write answers on paper to the 3 or 4 questions I used to use in my midterm evaluations and with a large class it can take quite a bit of time to go through responses (though you have a good sample of the possible responses once you’ve read about 50 in my experience).

When I asked students to fill in the Typeform survey, I was asking them 8 questions, a mixture of open response and MCQ items. I asked students to use whatever devices (phone, tablet or laptop) they had with them, and also said I would keep the survey open for the next 24 hours if people had no devices to hand. Engagement was high and everyone was done in 4-5 minutes.

I was staggered when I reviewed the submissions after class: 200 students had submitted 8000 words of feedback on free response questions in 4 minutes. This was hugely rich and useful data to take back into the class to have a conversation around. This was simply a very natural way for these students to communicate, and they were willing to do so quickly and at length. I went back to my pile of paper responses from last year and estimated the amount of feedback they wrote in about the same amount of time last year: about half what this year’s students submitted through their devices. Over 3/4 of all responses this year were from smartphones (more data that the online system gives you!)

What is the biggest challenge or most negative part of conducting MEoTs in your course, and what advice would you give to colleagues experiencing similar challenges?

Smartphones are powerful tools to aid learning and communication, in and out of class. They are also compelling digital distractions (ever checked your phone during a tedious meeting…..?) and using them for midterm evaluations (or for other in class activities for that matter) brings this tension between distraction and benefit to the fore. Once again, a clear discussion of expectations can help here.

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