Although the student evaluations we regularly use have great value, I personally have gotten even more benefit from formative evaluations. I started using formative evaluations over 20 years ago and I have done them in almost every class every semester since. The overwhelming majority of what I have learned about teaching I have learned from student responses to formative evaluations.
Formative evaluations can be done in a variety of ways and at several different moments in a class. I have generally done formative evaluations late in the semester and then implemented suggestions for the next year's course. I know others who do periodic formative evaluations throughout a semester and use them to adjust the course as they are moving through it. Still others do a mid-term formative evaluation followed by a defriefing conversation with students. In this conversation which recommended changes can be made mid-stream and which will need more time for implementation.
Initially I used very general questions. What has been most effective in this course so far? What has been least effective? What could be changed in this course to improve your learning? I was always careful to let students know that the purpose of the evaluation was to improve the course and that I was consulting them because they were experts in what it felt like to be learning the course material (as opposed to what it felt like to know it). I wanted to be sure that I didn't get popularity responses.
The suggestions I got from students were so clever and creative that I began to talk more openly about the new elements I had put in the class, about the grading system, about the text book, about new activities, etc. I found that the more detail I provided about my planning and purposes, the more informative their responses were.
Not everyone, however, has classes where this kind of conversational evaluation will work well. Another possibility for formative evaluation is a self-evaluation. In order to make that possible, the Center for Teaching and Learning has purchased several blank videocassettes. If you want to do a self-evaluation, call Media Services and ask them to videotape your class. They will bring in the equipment and set it up. I suggest letting them do this three or four times in a row. Record over the first one or two sessions and only look at the third or fourth session (when you and the students are more natural around the camera). In order to help you as you watch the videotape of your class, a form is available to help guide self-reflection. I have placed the form in the CTL folder in the Shared Faculty Folder on Socrates. Blank tapes will be at Media Services. Let them know you want a CTL tape when you ask them to bring the video recorder.