Milton W. Wendland (J.D., Ph.D.) is a professor of instruction in the Department of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at the University of South Florida, where he specializes in equitable and inclusive online education. He regularly teaches Queer Film & Television; LGBTQ+ Cultures; Gender Sexuality & the Law; Intro to Women’s & Gender Studies; and related courses in online formats.
Let’s face it. The start of the semester is exciting and new, but by the time midsemester rolls around all of us are feeling the weight of busy schedules and long to-do lists. Instructors experience what seems like endless grading and more student conferences as final projects start to develop. Students may feel the pressure of a full schedule of classes while balancing work and family. Are there ways we can continue moving our students toward meeting course learning objectives and yet also ease some of the pressure we all feel at this time of the semester? Yes, there are! These are just a few of the strategies I have used in my courses with success.
Gimme a Break! As educators we want to be sure we’re helping our students learn, but at the same time it’s important to remember that sometimes midsemester we all need a little break—faculty from the piles of grading, students from the long to-do lists of assignments. Research suggests that focusing too hard for too long on learning endeavors can actually decrease both knowledge attainment1 and desire to continue learning,2 and it’s an easy step to extrapolate this from needing a break during a multi-hour work session to the break we all crave during the semester. To revitalize student motivation and potentially cut back on your own grading burden, consider some of these strategies:
- Pare back an assignment. Could that 1,500-word essay be cut to 750 words?
- Offer alternative assignment formats. Could students meet your learning goals by completing an infographic rather than a test?
- Reward effort. Offer students who’ve achieved a certain number of points in the course by a certain date the option to skip a quiz or other small assignment.
- Surprise students by canceling a quiz or small assignment. This is especially easy in an LMS, where you can require that students move through module materials in order—meaning that students will have engaged learning materials before learning the quiz is canceled.
Change It Up! Timely individualized feedback guides students’ learning and helps students feel seen, especially in large or online courses. But sometimes other forms of feedback are both efficient and helpful. Try these options:
- Provide group or all-class feedback on some assignments. Individual feedback on certain assignments is imperative, but it is okay to provide all-class or small-group feedback on some assignments, saving valuable faculty time so long as that feedback does what quality feedback should do:3 help students see specific strengths and weaknesses of the submissions, offer students guidance for reviewing and reflecting on their submissions, and inspire future learning.4
- Provide video or audio feedback. We can often record a few comments more quickly than we can type them, and it allows students to feel like faculty are speaking directly to them.
- Use cut-and-paste wording for common feedback. Students often face the same challenges or the same successes with a single assignment. A few pre-drafted sentences of feedback can easily be used in responding to multiple students’ submissions.
Avoid Late-Semester Drama! The end of the semester is already a busy time. Here are some actions we can take now to help reduce that end-of-semester melee.
- Reach out now to students who might be faltering in their class performance and grades, reminding them that midsemester is a good time to get back on track and sharing campus resources to support them.
- Offer an amnesty period, a period about two-thirds of the way through the semester when students may choose one missing assignment to submit or, if they’ve submitted all assignments, one assignment to skip.
- Do a midsemester check-in with students. This can be done via an anonymous course survey using questions that allow students to respond to action-oriented questions like “What could the instructor change to better support your learning in this course?” and “What could you do differently to improve your learning in our course?”
More information about these and other ways to reinvigorate yourself, your students, and your course are available through your campus teaching excellence office or by following teaching and learning blogs like this one.
1 Association for Psychological Science. (2007, September 3.) “Back To School: Cramming Doesn’t Work in the Long Term.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070829122934.htm.
2 Immordino-Yang, M. H., Christodoulou, J. A., & Singh, V. (2012.) “Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(4), 352–364.
3 Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007.) “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.
4 Mamoon-Al-Bashir, M., Kabir, M., & Rahman, I. (2016.) “The Value and Effectiveness of Feedback in Improving Students’ Learning and Professionalizing Teaching in Higher Education.” Journal of Education and Practice, 7(16), 38–41.