The student surveys at the end of the semester are too late to help you fine-tune your teaching that term, but you can solicit feedback from students early enough to make midcourse corrections.
HOW TO ASK: You can set up an online survey through Blackboard or Survey Monkey. You could pass out a paper form. You could even ask students to tear out a sheet of paper and answer a few questions. Make clear to students that you are asking them for feedback because you care about their perspectives.
WHEN TO ASK: Ask students for feedback once or twice, at a point when you have the time to analyze the results and quickly let students know what you have learned (and what you might change, or not).
WHAT TO ASK: Ask the questions you want answered from a student perspective. One colleague at USF simply asks students to write a plus sign at the top of a notebok page and a delta sign in the middle and tell her what works well and what needs changing. Other colleagues have a number of questions about presentations, discussions, readings, and so forth. Ask few questions if you want in-depth answers on each. Ask more questions if you do not need long answers, but we recommend having at least one open-ended question. Make clear to students whether the information is anonymous (e.g., state explicitly if a Blackboard survey will tell you which students participated and what the responses were, but not which response was provided by which student).
ANALYZING THE RESULTS: You can quickly sort answers into functional categories—What you should and can change this term, what you could change in another term, and what common concern needs to be discussed though you will not change it.
REPORTING BACK TO STUDENTS: As early as possible after the survey, you should report back to students with the results. You can report distributions on quantitative questions; you can report
themes from open-ended items. But you should always thank the students for their participation and tell them what you can change this semester, what might change in a later semester, and (ALWAYS!) what common requests cannot be accommodated and why not. And, finally, repeat your appreciation that they provided feedback in the middle of the semester.
My thanks to Diane Williams of the Center for 21st Century Teaching Excellence for providing feedback on a draft.