Exam Wrappers

An exam wrapper is a way for students to reflect on their experience on an exam. It is meant for learners to look again at the techniques they use to get ready for an exam, identify strategies they can use to prepare for later assessments, and consider how similar strategies might help them in their studies in and beyond your course.

Sometimes also called “exam debriefs,” these follow-up reflection activities are often called “exam wrappers” because they serve as a wrap-up for the work done on an exam. They’re also meant for students to further articulate context and relevance for what the exam covered—’wrapping’ some additional meaning around the work they’ve done.

Exam wrappers largely attempt to get at (and point students toward reflecting on) the following:

  • The amount of time and effort put into studying
  • Study habits used
  • Whether students engage with course objectives (especially to direct their studying)
  • Reasons students lose or believe they lose points (whether they missed foundational knowledge, made “silly mistakes,” environmental factors and distraction, etc.)
  • Possible interventions or adjustments

How you implement an exam wrapper is up to you. Some possible strategies include:

  • An exam wrapper counting for an improvement of one half letter grade (from BC to B, for example) on the exam.
  • Requiring students complete a wrapper to turn in alongside corrections for full or partial credit on missed questions.
  • Pairing an exam wrapper with instructor- or TA-led review sessions for later exams. Note: If you go this route, it’s still a good idea to have students complete the wrapper activity shortly after receiving feedback on the exam they’re reviewing so it and their study habits are fresh in their minds.
  • Offering the exam wrapper as ‘makeup’ work for one or more formative activities which led up to the exam.
  • Offering course-level extra credit.
  • Some combination of any or all of these!

As students complete the survey/worksheet, encourage them to think about their answers as they go. A few examples:

  • The question about techniques lists good techniques for studying. Could you adopt one or more of these?
  • There is a question about how you use the learning objectives in the course. You might not yet, but doing so is a good way to get to know why we are doing what we are in this course—including why exam questions are what they are.
  • You’re also asked why you think you lost points on the exam. For the more frequent reasons, what adjustments might you make to avoid these in the future? Do you need to study differently or maybe just slow down when taking the exam?

The last few questions in the examples provides below ask students to articulate responses to these sorts of reflections.

If you are interested in trying out an exam wrapper, we might recommend beginning with a basic Canvas Survey. We have a file you can download and import into a Canvas course to get you started.

If you’re looking for something a little more robust or want to do more with the data, you can take a look at an Example Exam Wrapper Assignment using Qualtrics here. If you’d like a copy of the survey used in this example, you can download this Exam_Wrapper QSF File (Click to Download) and import it into your Qualtrics account (click for instructions). (Note: you do not want to re-use the link in the sample assignment since you will not be able to access the data/results.) The same assignment is available here in Word document format (Click to Download) if you prefer. The Canvas Survey version above is also very similar.

Additional examples of exam wrappers for various disciplines can be found on Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center page on Exam Wrappers.

For further reading, see:

  • Badir, A. et al. 2018. “Exam Wrappers, Reflection, and Student Performance in Engineering Mechanics.” 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30462
  • Gizem Gezer-Templeton, et al. 2017. “Use of Exam Wrappers to Enhance Students’ Metacognitive Skills in a Large Introductory Food Science and Human Nutrition Course.” Research in Food Science Education 16(1): 28-36. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4329.12103
  • Pate, A. et al. 2019. “The use of exam wrappers to promote metacognition.” Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning 11(5): 492-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2019.02.008

Backward Design

What is backward design?

Backward design is a three-stage process for designing a course:

  1. Identify outcomes or the desired results of learning.
  2. Determine what counts as acceptable evidence of learning.
  3. Plan learning experiences or instruction that will lead students. to achieve your outcomes and provide evidence of learning.

Instructional designers call this process “backward” because one starts with the outcomes and works backward towards daily lessons. One strategy for arraying course experiences is called “scaffolding”—building on prior knowledge to reach new knowledge. A detailed overview of scaffolding can be found here.

This process is most closely associated with a book called Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2005). You can read a condensed version of the book if you like or watch the video below to learn more.

How does backward design relate to digital democracy?

The structure of your course speaks volumes to students. When learning outcomes, activities, and assessments work together, students know what to do and how their work contributes to their overall success in the course. At a time when face-to-face communication is at a premium, the structure of the course stands stands in for the check-ins at the beginning of class, where the instructor orients students to how the activities of the day contribute to the overall goals of the course. When the course itself makes transparent connections between outcomes, activities, and assessments you and your students do not have to lumber off to a web conference to discuss these matters. Moreover, students who are not able to attend a web conference are not left out.

How can backward design help me?

Backward design ensures that your outcomes, activities, and assessments work together. As William Strunk, Jr. said of writing: “sentences should contain no unnecessary words… for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts” (Elements of Style, Rule 17.) So too should a course contain no unnecessary work. Backward design helps you determine which elements of your course to keep (those that help students meet the course outcomes as measured by the assessments) and which elements may be edited out (those which do not help your students show mastery of the course outcomes).

Alignment

Diagram showing a "triangle" of intended outcomes, teaching and learning activities, and assessment.

Backward design implies a linear method (albeit in reverse) where one starts with outcomes works backward to assessment and then back again to daily learning activities. In an ideal world, that would be true. But in reality it is more useful to think of backward design as a process that instructors can enter at any of the three points and then use the other two to triangulate their course design.

For example, you may have a really great group project that you think will make a great assessment. To ensure the project fits in your course you will want to attach learning outcomes to it and plan daily activities that will lead your students toward being successful on the final project. This group project is every bit as aligned as one which started with the outcomes and proceeded backward to the assessment (group project) and back again to the daily activities. The key idea is that all three sides of the triangle should work together.

Applying Backward Design

Backward design may be useful for updating your course in multiple ways.

First, you will want to see that your assessments provide evidence that your students have mastered your learning outcomes.

Second, as you consider the various ways students may access your class (face-to-face, online, synchronous online, etc.) you will want to see if your daily activities are aligned equally well in each learning environment. For example, if you do a think-pair-share in a face-to-face lecture so that students can practice key concepts, you will want to do a similar activity in the online environment, such as a journal activity where students explain key concepts in their own terms. The activities don’t have to be the same but they should provide an equivalent experience that is equally well aligned with assessments and learning outcomes.

Finally, backward design serves as a way to check if something is worth doing (does it align?) and a method for incorporating new elements that you can’t resist doing (how can it be made to align with the outcomes, assessments, and learning activities?).

A sign pointing one way to "awesome" and the other to "less awesome"

Collecting Mid-Semester Feedback from Your Students

Have you been wondering if the ways you’re engaging your students in the first half of the semester have been effective from the student perspective? Collecting feedback from your students is a great way to find out! To do this we have a few models that may provide useful insight into how you can help students meet the course learning outcomes.  

Why might you wish to collect feedback now? 

This semester is unique, so you may find that what you’ve done in the past isn’t hitting its mark—gathering feedback at mid-semester allows instructors to: 

  • make sure that course lessons connected with students 
  • find out where students need support 
  • discover the impact of instructional changes you’ve made this semester before summative course evaluations 
  • uncover changes that you may yet want to make for this semester 
  • avoid surprises in end-of-semester evaluations 

What are some of the best practices for collecting feedback from students, mid-semester? 

How should I ask students for this kind of feedback? 

We have a few models and sample surveys you can download and import into your Canvas courses. Surveys in Canvas are a special kind of “quiz” that has unique options available. If you’re unsure how to import Canvas resources into your class, see these instructions. For information on how to retrieve survey results in Canvas, see this resource. 

Feedback focus groups 

CATL is currently refining a process that allows for instructors to benefit from feedback generated through a small group discussionThis process involves a neutral third party, a CATL staff member, conducting a form of a focus group with students. This would likely take 15-20 minutes. The feedback from the students is then synthesized and communicated to the instructor. 

Process adapted from Northeastern University’s Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research 

The steps in this process are: 

  1. The instructor and CATL staff member meet virtually to discuss goals and agree on questions for the session. 
  2. The consultant visits the class or a group of students from the class virtually. The instructor introduces the CATL staff member and explains that they have asked them to gather feedback, then leaves the virtual meeting. 
  3. Students are asked to compile responses to one question. For large classes, students are divided into small groups. The groups then report out while the CATL staff member records responses. This process is repeated for each question. 
  4. The CATL staff member synthesizes the feedback and reports back to the instructor. Themay discuss how the data can inform teaching practices at this point. 

The benefits of this process include: 

  • The feedback is being gathered by a neutral third party, which may encourage honesty among students. 
  • The consultant can help you shape the questions asked of students and interpret results. 

If you’re interested in piloting feedback focus groups, or would like more information about designing or implementing mid-semester evaluations, please email CATL@uwgb.edu. 

Helping students self-reflect 

Mid-semester is also a time in which you can help your students critically self-reflect on their own actions for their performance at this point in the course. Here are some questions to help frame the ways you’d like students to think metacognitively about their choices throughout the semester: 

  • What do students have the ability to change going forward in the course?  
  • Where might students improve their time management? 
  • Might there be a place for peer-to-peer feedback that could help build community and increase personal responsibility? 
  • What types of assessments might students need to better prepare in order to be successful in the course?  

Borrowed strategies 

What are some strategies you can provide to students to help them get back on track? Self-reflection, metacognitive exercises, and exam debriefings are a few of the strategies that other teaching and learning centers have created resources around: 

For any of these methods, you could create an assignment that doesn’t count towards the final grade or could be an opportunity for extra credit. Here’s how to set up extra credit in a Canvas course. 

We Want to Hear from You

How have you collected feedback from students at mid-semester? Do you have some advice to share about how to increase student engagement with the process? What has been effective when you do make changes? Have you found students are responsive to those changes you are able to implement? 

For those of you who’ve done self-reflective work with students—have you found certain techniques (like those below) particularly effective? Are there others we’re missing? We’re sure of it—please share! Feel free to drop a public comment below or email us at CATL@uwgb.edu.

Peer Review of Teaching

Introduction
Preliminary Meeting
Review of Materials
Classroom Observation
Follow-Up Meeting

What is peer review?

Peer review is often identified with peer observations. But the review encompasses more than just a classroom visit. Rather, it is a more holistic review of instructional practice which takes into account the goals and values of the instructor under review as well as teaching artifacts, such as a syllabus, student work, and course artifacts in the learning management system (Canvas). The ultimate goal of a peer review is to get a broad view of an instructor in an attempt to help them become the teacher they want to be (rather than the type of instructor the reviewer is).

Why peer review?

What is good for research is good for teaching

Peer review of research helps us remain vital parts of the academic communities we inhabit. So too does peer review of teaching help us stay up-to-date on best practices in teaching.

Encourages teaching to be a community endeavor

Peer review allows us to open our teaching to colleagues who can nurture our improvement. Also, the instructor under review will spark ideas in the reviewer as much as the other way around.

Allows for greater experimentation and less reliance on student evaluations

Student evaluations can be useful, but when used as the lone measure of teaching effectiveness they can lead to less creative teaching as instructors become worried about potential negative impacts of trying out new ideas or teaching methods. (Pat Hutchings, (1996). Building a New Culture of Teaching & Learning. About Campus, 1(5), 4–8. https://doi.org/10.1002/abc.6190010502

Goal

There are two intertwined goals for the pre-observation meeting: to establish a collegial rapport between the observer and the instructor and to ensure both people have a clear idea of what to expect during the classroom observation.

Questions to consider together

(Questions as a PDF form)

  • What is the content and structure of the class you will be teaching?
  • Describe the students in this class. Is there anything the observer should know about them?
  • What have students been asked to do in preparation for this class?
  • What is the goal of the lesson? What should students learn or be able to do as a result of instruction?
  • How will the instructor achieve these goals?
  • What teaching methods/teaching aids will the instructor use?
  • What did the instructor teach in previous lessons? How does this lesson fit into the course as a whole?
  • Will this class be a typical example of instruction? If not, how will it differ?
  • What should the reviewer focus on during the observation? 
  • Is there anything else the reviewer should be aware of prior to the observation?
  • Where is the class; when should the reviewer arrive; where should the reviewer sit?

Goal

The purpose of this portion is to gain the student perspective on the lesson. Reviewing course materials will help the observer understand the materials that the students will have to make sense of the lesson under observation and can help the observer determine the degree to which students were prepared for the lesson and why the lesson succeeded or where the instructor could have prepared the learners for instruction.

What to do

The observer should gain access to the Canvas/D2L site for the course; the syllabus; and any other materials the instructor used to frame the lesson for the students (emails, announcements, etc). If the observer is familiar with the content are, they may also wish to have access to the readings that students have done in preparation for the lesson.

Reviewing the materials

The reviewer should consider:

  • What would a student think the goal of the lesson is?
  • How would a student fit this lesson together with the class as a whole?
  • How should the students have prepared themselves for instruction?
    • Were there formative knowledge checks or ways to practice the lesson material ahead of time?
    • What types of academic support did the students have at their disposal (access to tutoring, writing center, etc.)
  • How did the instructor frame the lesson material and put it into context for students (in Canvas site, syllabus, or other communications)?

Download a Syllabus Review Form

Goal

The of the classroom observation is to gather evidence on the degree to which the instructor met the goals that they set for themselves. The goal is not for the observer to project their teaching style on the instructor, but rather to provide a mirror for the instructor that reflects the how well the instructor is the type of teacher they want to be. 

There are multiple kinds of forms below. Please select the one that is the most germane to the type of class and will best help the observer take the notes they need.

Goal

The aim of the final session is for the observer and the instructor to discuss how the lesson went and for the observer to provide the instructor with formative feedback on the degree to which the instructor met the goals they set for the lesson.

Guide

Here is a guide (PDF) on some open-ended questions that can guide the post-review conversation.

Getting Feedback from your Students

Collecting feedback from students at mid-semester is a great way to get practical and actionable insights on how your course is going so that you can help students reach your course’s objectives.

Why collect feedback?

Gathering feedback allows instructors to:

  • make sure that course lessons connect with students
  • find out where students need support
  • discover the impact of instructional changes from a previous semester
  • uncover changes they may yet want to make for this semester
  • avoid surprises in end-of-semester evaluations
  • figure out why this year’s class is different than last year’s class

Guidance on how to get feedback

As part of the Center’s TeAch Tuesday Series, Kris Vespia (Associate Professor of Psychology) offers advice on how to conduct mid-semester evaluations in your course:

Ways to collect feedback

Short survey

Paper form

You may wish to distribute a short survey (Download an example (PDF) survey here) which asks students to discuss their own preparation for class in addition to their experience with the instructor and with the course material.

Electronic survey to put in Canvas

You may also download an electronic survey (Download an example electronic survey* here) that you can upload directly into your Canvas course.

*The file linked here is an IMSCC file compatible with Canvas. Instructions for how to add it to your course can be found here.

Start-Stop-Continue

  • What is your hindering your learning that your instructor should stop doing?
  • What should your instructor start doing to improve your learning?
  • What is helpful to your learning that your instructor should continue doing?

Open-ended questions

Examples:

  • What in this class so far has helped your learning the most?
  • What in this class so far has hindered your learning?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve this course?

Plus / Delta

An example Plus Delta form (PDF)

  • Record Plus (something they liked)
  • Record Delta (something they’d like to change)

Small Group Analysis

Adapted from Northeastern University’s Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research (available here)

In-person focus groups with your students conducted by a consultant.

Small Group Analysis (SGA) involves the instructor leaving class for a portion of one class period (usually about 20 minutes) while a consultant conducts a form of a focus group with students. The feedback from the students is then synthesized and communicated to the instructor. (At Northeastern, you can arrange for a consultant from CATL to conduct a session.)

The steps in this process are:

  1. The instructor and consultant meet to discuss goals and agree on questions for the session.
  2. The consultant visits the class. The instructor introduces the consultant and explains that they have asked them to gather feedback, then leaves.
  3. Students are divided into small groups and are asked to compile responses to one question. The groups then report out while the consultant records responses. This process is repeated for each question.
  4. Consultant synthesizes the feedback and reports back to the instructor. The consultant and instructor may discuss how the data can inform teaching practices.

The benefits of using an SGA include:

  • The feedback is being gathered by a neutral third party, which may encourage honesty among students.
  • The consultant can help you shape the questions asked of students and interpret results.

Looking for more guidance?

To request consultation on implementing one of these strategies, email CATL.

Online survey tools

Use online survey tools like Qualtrics  or Canvas survey to get feedback