January-March 2024Vol.XXXVI No. 3

Supporting Student Learning

Raechel N. Soicher

“The bottom line is that our teaching can not only engage with our students, but by doing so, we can improve the effectiveness of our teaching.” – Richard de Neufville, Jan-April 2023 issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter

In the last year, every issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter (FNL) has included at least one article (if not more) addressing student learning and engagement. Often, these articles lament the lack of student engagement or call on faculty to transform their teaching to better support students. Students themselves have sent letters to the FNL, sharing their perspectives on student engagement and course structure. To support faculty and instructors as they grapple with how to best engage and support their students’ learning, the Teaching + Learning Lab (TLL) is offering a new service, the Midcourse Formative Review (MFR).

The MFR is “a consultation method developed to collect midsemester feedback from students using structured small and large group conversations (Diamond, 2004)” (Hurney et al., 2023, p. 3). At the request of an instructor, a consultant – in this case, a TLL team member – will conduct small focus group discussions with students in their class. In these focus groups, students discuss the following questions:

  1. What helps your learning in this course?
  2. What hinders your learning in this course?
  3. What suggestions do you have to improve your learning in this course?
  4. What are you doing that helps or hinders your learning in this course?
  5. What could you be doing to improve your learning in this course?

After helping students to write down, verbalize, and discuss their reactions, the consultant synthesizes the student feedback and shares the feedback with the instructor. Lastly, the consultant also provides guidance on how to make immediate course corrections and communicate about these changes with students.

In her commentary in the May/June 2023 issue of the FNL, Lauren Carethers noted “If . . . student engagement is a real issue, why not take the time to interview and engage with the students involved . . .?” The MFR provides a direct process for answering this question, one that is formative in nature and completely confidential.

Why participate in the MFR?

  • Conducting the MFR helps faculty and instructors to align their teaching with MIT’s core values of student centered-ness, community, inclusion, collaboration, and innovation.
  • The results of the MFR help faculty to identify common barriers to students’ learning and gain knowledge of alternative instructional techniques to meet their goals (Diamond, 2004).
  • The MFR process asks students to metacognitively reflect on their own behaviors and how these affect their experience in the course.
  • The MFR strengthens the relationship between instructors and their students by enhancing communication and transparency.
  • The feedback from the MFR is incredibly detailed, providing more context than traditional end-of-semester teaching evaluations.

How does the MFR differ from standard teaching evaluations?

  • The MFR “digs into course assessments and policies, while also exploring time [students] spent in class and out of class, and ways the students prepare or don’t prepare for class.” (Hurney et al., 2023, p. 5).
  • The discussion between consultant and instructor has been shown to lead to better student ratings of teaching (Finelli et al., 2008; Kulik, 2001; Piccinin, 1999).
  • Participating in the MFR improves students’ motivation for the course in which it was conducted (Clark & Redmond, 1982).

The MFR is a confidential, formative feedback experience that creates opportunities for innovation and transformation of teaching that are beneficial to both instructors and students. If you’d like to learn more about the MFR, please contact the Teaching + Learning Lab (tll@mit.edu). We look forward to hearing from you!


Carethers, L. (2023). Commentary on “Never Mind the Firehose, You Can’t Even Lead Them to Water”. MIT Faculty Newsletter, XXXV(4), 14. https://fnl.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/fnl354.pdf

Clark D.J. & Redmond, M.V. (1982). Small group instructional diagnosis: Final report [ED217954]. ERIC. https://fles.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED217954.pdf

de Neufville, R. (2023). Dealing with the lack of student engagement in lectures. MIT Faculty Newsletter, XXXV(3), 1, 4-5. https://fnl.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/fnl353.pdf

Diamond, M. R. (2004). The usefulness of structured mid-term feedback as a catalyst for change in higher education classes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 5(3), 217–231. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787404046845

Finelli, C. J., Ott, M., Gottfried, A. C., Hershock, C., O’Neal, C., & Kaplan, M. (2008). Utilizing instructional consultations to enhance the teaching performance of engineering faculty. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(4), 397–411. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2168-9830.2008.tb00989.x

Hurney, C. A., Rener, C. M., & Troisi, J. D. (2023). Midcourse correction for the college classroom: Putting small group instructional diagnosis to work. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003446026

Kulik, J.A. (2001). Student ratings: Validity, utility, and controversy. In M. Theall, P.C. Abrami, and L.A. Mets (Eds.) New Directions for Teaching and Learning (pp. 9-25). Jossey-Bass.

Piccinin, S. (1999). How individual consultation affects teaching. In C.G. Knapper & S. Piccinin (Eds.), Taking small group learning online: Best practices for team-based learning (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 70, pp. 71-83). Jossey-Bass.