The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning implemented a new tool on Canvas last month to allow students to provide anonymous feedback to their professors midway through the academic term.

The tool, an optional survey intended to help instructors identify areas of improvement, was made available to students between Sept. 28 and this past Monday. But despite an email from Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun announcing the new feature, few students interviewed by the News had used the new tool. Of 17 students polled by the News, only one said they had submitted instructor midterm feedback on Canvas.

Chun said the University is not tracking how many students use the tool, which was designed to provide feedback solely to a course’s instructor. In his email, Chun noted that some courses may not offer the tool because the instructor had determined feedback was premature or for other reasons.

“Lots of people had already been [collecting midterm feedback] but the activation barrier to doing it is removed,” said Jennifer Frederick, executive director of the CTL. “The tool takes the work out of asking for feedback.”

The survey on Canvas asks for both positive and negative feedback on classroom learning environment and learning experience. Instructors also have the option to add two customized questions.

According to Chun, the midterm feedback tool emerged in response to a proposal for such a tool submitted by the Yale Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee in 2014 in addition to similar suggestions from the Yale College Council.

YCC President Saloni Rao ’20 called the Canvas tool a “really big win” for the YCC, as its implementation followed recommendations from a 2018 report on midterm feedback. The YCC report found that over 45 percent of humanities and language courses did not request student feedback at all, and nearly 40 percent of surveyed students wanted to provide instructor feedback on Canvas. A Canvas-based tool would reduce professors’ workload and help instructors improve their teaching practices earlier in the semester, according to the report.

Frederick said many faculty had already collected feedback during midterm season with their own surveys, and all courses on Canvas already had the option to give anonymous feedback throughout the semester. However, the new tool is only available for a brief period during midterm season, she added.

Mira Debs, executive director of the Education Studies program, said only one student in her EDST110 course submitted feedback through the Canvas tool.

Chemistry professor Patrick Holland said he solicited feedback in previous years with an online survey and has invited CTL staff to class to gauge student evaluations of the course. While Holland said he was excited about the new midterm feedback tool, he received only 17 responses from the 306 students in his CHEM161 class, which he said is “really disappointing and makes it unclear whether this is a representative sample.”

While administrators emphasized the benefits of gaining feedback halfway through a course, many students interviewed by the News said they were unaware of the new tool and did not use it.

Elizabeth Van Ha ’22 said that even though she was aware of the new feature she forgot to give her professors midterm feedback on Canvas. Still, she added that her teachers in high school used a similar method of soliciting feedback and found it helpful.

Michael Koelle, director of undergraduate studies for Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and a member of the Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee, said his two biology courses received “sparse” feedback from the new Canvas tool. He attributed the low turnout, in part, to his own failure to announce the feature to his classes. Still, Koelle said the feedback he received included “specific suggestions for improvements” to inform his teaching during the rest of the semester.

“The tool is new this semester for both faculty and students, and I think both groups need to figure out how the tool works and learn how to use it best,” Koelle wrote in an email to the News. “Next semester I will know how the tool works and will definitely make timely announcements encouraging students to use it.”

The CTL will survey faculty in the next few months on their experience with the feedback tool.

Alice Park  | alice.park@yale.edu