Increasing Course Evaluation Participation

Submitted by Mary Kate Morgan

At the end of each semester, students get emailed continuously about completing course evaluation forms, which often go incomplete. As a student, I know there are many different reasons why this may happen, because I too, am sometimes guilty of not filling out the evaluations. For one, some students do not know the importance of these evaluations and do not believe that professors take time to read them and look at the results. Some students do not believe that evaluations are truly anonymous.  Another reason students may not be filling the evaluations out is the lack of time they have during the end of the year. Yes, the surveys may only take a few minutes, but if a student has five classes that could be over an hour that the student could have spent studying, writing, exercising, or more importantly sleeping. Also during this busy time of year, many students just simply forget.

So how should instructors encourage students to complete their evaluation surveys? The Center for Teaching and Learning at UC Berkeley (2018) has created 5 tips and explanations:
  1. Reserve time during class at the end of the semester for students to complete the survey. For me, this always demonstrated how important the evaluation is to the professor. This also allows the professor to help students find the survey in case the students are new, or the survey is located in different tabs located on a web page. My professors have stepped out of the classroom while students complete the evaluation so we did not feel intimidated and could answer honestly.
  2. Monitor the response rate to further prompt the students and provide additional encouragement. I recently had a professor email the class to let us know that only 30% had completed the evaluation and reminded us of the last day to complete it. This demonstrated that my professor really cared about the evaluation and valued our feedback.
  3. Inform students about the purpose of evaluations. Explain how universities use feedback for merit and promotion. Instructors should let students know how they have changed their courses based on student feedback. In my first year of graduate school, I heard several of my professors say “last year’s students informed of this, so I made some changes to the syllabus, let me know if you think the changes were a good idea or not.” This encouraged me to provide feedback because I felt confident that the professor would take my opinions and suggestions seriously.
  4. Make it an assignment on your syllabus. If bonus points are not an option, deducting points may be a better option to increase participation. I have also had professors excuse the last quiz or homework grade (not a high percentage of grade) if a set response rate is achieved.
  5. Provide other incentives for students: a) offer extra points to all students if a set response rate is achieved, b) use the honor system and give an incentive to students who affirm that they have completed the evaluation, or c) request a screenshot showing that the evaluation has been completed.
Family scientists recognize the importance of evaluations/surveys. It is important to use evaluations to revise courses based on students reported experiences. It is common in family science classes for professors to try new techniques, assignments, group projects, and ways of discussing topics in class, and getting feedback is important for perfecting the way a subject is taught. Once I learned how important evaluations are to professors and that they are actually valued, I made completing course evaluations a priority. Hearing examples of changes made to the class because of feedback provided by evaluations that benefited the class, i.e. less reading material, made me want to help the future students by providing my professors with feedback. If professors value and use the feedback provided from evaluations, but are not getting the results they want, trying one of the tips listed above may help.

For more information: Center for Teach and Learning at UC Berkeley (2018). How can instructors encourage students to complete course evaluations and provide informative responses? Retrieved from:

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Why/How I Round Student Grades

I just read an article in the Faculty Focus daily on the dilemma of rounding grades. This inspired me to write about the process that I use for making this determination in my courses.

First, it is important to discuss issues that some instructors have with rounding grades. Many feel that the total points that a student earns in the class should be the total points that a student will get in the class. Rounding grades therefore can provide an unfair advantage that students have not earned. Also, the idea that some students will get a higher grade based off of rounding anything that is higher than .05 seems unfair to those students who miss that mark by such small margins.

The article (found here) highlighted other issues that instructors face regarding the question of rounding grades. Initiatives to encourage college graduation in four years and students paying increased tuition to repeat courses can play a role in the decision to round grades. College is expensive and most students do not have unlimited funds or time to retake classes. Therefore the small margin between a C and a C- can make or break a college trajectory and delay graduation.

I will describe the process that I use to make the determination of whether or not to round a grade. I believe it is fair and addresses the issues described above. And the responsibility rests solely on the student, which makes it much easier for me.

My method is to use participation to determine the rounding of final grades. Each semester, I outline this process in the syllabus and discuss it with students throughout the semester. I provide the total possible points for completion of all assignments in the class and breakdown the number of points needed for each step on the +/- grading scale. Then I describe in detail the process for earning participation points.

Participation in my courses are earned in the following ways:
  • Students who actively participate during class discussions. This includes asking questions, responding to questions, engaging classmates, and volunteering for in-class activities.
  • Students who visit office hours (more than once) during the semester. This includes students who just drop by to say hello and those that have specific questions. Or those students who make an appointment outside of my identified office hours.
  • Students who talk with me before or after class. I typically arrive to class 10 minutes early to provide students an opportunity to meet with me if they can’t make office hours or have immediate concerns.
  • Students who engage using thoughtful questions or comments with guest speakers. These are students who make our class guests feel welcomed and important to the discussion.
My experience as an educator has taught me that student potential, passion, and ability is not always best demonstrated through traditional assessments. Exams, papers, homework, and presentations only tell a part of the story. Often the capacity to learn or the demonstration of that learning is not reflected by a final grade. Therefore, I find that my justification for rounding grades is an equitable method for students to earn the additional points that they may need.

Image credit: Casio calculator by Mc681. CC BB-SA 4.0

Using Interactive Videoconferencing in Family Science

submitted by Mary Kate Morgan

With the new and improved technology available today, it is no surprise that more and more careers once completed in person, are now exploring options via the Internet. Professionals and clients prefer more flexible delivery methods because of competing demands on their time. Therefore, family scientists should become familiar with and utilize such advances in technology in order to reach a wider audience. For example, interactive videoconferencing technology can be used for a variety of things: meetings, conferences, continuing education, courses, office hours, appointments, etc. While family scientists are very equipped to enter the professional world after graduating, few have had experience using interactive videoconferencing.

So how can family science programs better prepare their students for this? Law et al. (2018) conducted a research study on a family life education methods course that used experiential learning with interactive videoconferencing. The authors warn that before jumping into the subject of interactive videoconferencing, programs need to understand the concept of andragogy, the “art and science of adult learning” (Law et al., 2018, p. 35). Knowles (1984) suggested the following four principles of learning especially pertinent to adults:
• Adults must be active participants in their own instruction.
• Learning activities should be based on acquiring experience.
• Adults connect to information that has significance to their lives.
• Adult learning should be focused on problems and not content.

For this specific research study, the course and resulting workshops were delivered using interactive videoconferencing. Students spent the first half of the semester learning about family life education and preparing a session of a martial enrichment workshop. During the second half of the semester, students were given the opportunity to present their sessions with couples who were recruited from the community. The students reported that this course was “above other family science courses” and the students “felt that the opportunity to prepare and present a real workshop was ‘much more than just an assignment.” The students also commented on the fact that this course design “gave them the opportunity to apply their education to a real-life experience” and “gave them the opportunity to explore what a family life educator career would be like.”

Using interactive videoconferencing in family science courses can benefit students in a variety of ways. It allows geographically dispersed students the opportunity to have an in-class like experience without having to commute to campus. It also allows for experiential learning that goes beyond introduction to content. Finally, interactive videoconferencing provides students with opportunities to conduct classes and engage families similar to what they will see in their future professions. Using Law et al.’s (2018) research to incorporate experiential learning and interactive videoconferencing into a course is a great way to start as long as the class follows andragogy principles to ensure students get the optimum experience.

For more information read: Law, D., Fall, L., Arocho, R., Meyer, S., and Ross, K. (2018). Redesigning a family life education methods course using experiential learning and interactive videoconferencing. Family Science Review, 22(2),34-52.

Photo credit: Video conference 001 by Sarah Stewart CC BY 2.0

Providing Feedback to Students

One of the difficulties many instructors face is how to provide proper feedback to their students. While this will differ based on type of assignment, it is important for students to know why and how they received a grade.

I have found that many students are eager to read comments and suggestions from their instructors and have a vested interest in using feedback to improve their scores. Graduate students especially want to know the rationale behind their grades even if only one point is deducted.

What I, and many others have struggled with is deciding upon a method to use for providing feedback in the best way possible. We want to address concerns and suggest revisions in a manner that does not criticize the student or make them feel inadequate. Current student populations are very sensitive to critique and must be handled with thoughtfulness and care.

One tried and true method for providing feedback is to give examples in cases where correction is needed. For example, instead of saying “this is incorrect”, an instructor might suggest an alternative with “have you thought about…? or “consider using these instead.” This can help students consider other options to use in their work and not spend time focusing on what they have not done well.

During a recent class, a student discussed another method for providing feedback that she uses with children at a childcare center called the sandwich method. With this you enclose the suggestions or critique in between two positive statements. In using this method, an instructor might say, “Your paper is clear and concise. Consider adding more depth to support your argument. It will fit nicely with your excellent writing style and use of tone.”

Expanding on the sandwich idea, the article below suggests a more specific and effective method for providing feedback to students. Click here to read about “The Almond Joy of Providing Feedback to Students.”

Photo credit: Editing a paper by Nic McPhee CC BY SA 2.0

Collaborative Learning in Research Methods Courses

Submitted by Trinity Freeman

As a graduate student in Human Development and Family Science (HDFS), I am challenged with the opportunity and responsibility of moving from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge.  In this shift, it is important that I learn how to effectively and accurately create new knowledge to contribute to my field.  In order to do so, I need to be proficient in the processes, methods, and ethics that surround research.  These skills are introduced and fostered in undergraduate and graduate level research methods courses.  As a student, I have found that research methods classes can be quite challenging.  There are so many steps to consider when critically analyzing or creating a study, that it can often be overwhelming.  It leaves us to question what is the best way to teach this information so students feel comfortable with the specific concepts of research, while also capturing the vastness and importance of these topics in our field.

In order to address this issue, an instructor at a public university in the western US introduced a new way of teaching twenty-five undergraduate students about the research process.  Students were to create their own research proposals in small collaborative groups.   Each group, consisting of four to five students, was given the opportunity to formulate their own research question and create a proposal to be presented at the end of the semester.  Before working on the proposal itself, the instructor lectured on topics such as the research process, APA writing styles, ethics, etc.  The students were also exposed to a presentation by a librarian who instructed on how to find literature using the library’s database.  In addition, the students were given a variety of homework assignments and readings to increase their knowledge of the research process and to effectively construct their proposals.

After the culmination of the project, students completed a survey to reflect on how the collaborative research proposal contributed to their understanding of research methods and how the faculty support influenced their satisfaction with the project.  Students were also asked to report on the group dynamics and whether it influenced satisfaction with the proposal experience.  The instructor found that overall the majority of students expressed greater understanding of the research proposal process and felt they could construct another proposal in the future.  The students also expressed that the availability and willingness of the instructor to work with them on these proposals was very important in the writing process.  Lastly, the majority of students had positive experiences in their collaborative groups.  Those students who did not report positive experiences (20%), stated that unbalanced group dynamics or lack of personal connection to their topic were barriers.

As a first-year graduate student enrolled in a research methods course, I have had the opportunity to work in a collaborative small group with three other students to create our own research proposal.  In many ways, I can relate to the experiences of these undergraduate students.  Here are a few advantages and disadvantages, from my perspective, of this collaborative learning method.


  • Delegation – As similarly expressed by students in this article, a research proposal is a long and somewhat daunting task.  I was appreciative of the fact that I was not doing this alone.  We were able to split tasks to manage our time better and complete work more efficiently.
  • Understanding the process – It is much easier for me to understand how research is conducted by actually doing it and not just reading or talking about it.  Working in collaborative groups made it possible for us to put into action the concepts we have learned in class.
  • Pool of ideas – Working with others allows for more in depth and meaningful brainstorming.  We were able to come up with very innovative ideas by talking with one another and using the knowledge of each group member.


  • Selecting a research topic – Each member of my collaborative learning group had a unique research interest, which made it a bit challenging to hone in on one research topic.  It may be beneficial for the instructor to group students based on their research interests.
  • Scheduling – Writing a research proposal takes a substantial amount of time. Scheduling for group members to meet outside of class can be difficult and complicate the process.  Additional time is class is needed for group work.
  • Shared responsibility – Even though working together as a team helped quite a bit with time management, because we had our own tasks, there were some parts of the research process that I was not as involved in.  Therefore, I was not evenly exposed to all aspects of the proposal process.  Instructors could possibly allow individual submission of ‘mini’ assignments that coincide with each part, so that every student gets an opportunity to conduct a full research proposal.

Although concepts in research methods classes can be tricky to grasp, I as well as the students in this study, have found that collaborative learning can be effective in teaching students these concepts and provides a deeper understanding of the research process.

For more information:

Walsh, B.A., & Weiser, D. A. (2015). Teaching undergraduate research in human development and family studies: Piloting a collaborative method. Family Science Review, 20(1), 32-47.

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Graduate Student Majors in Family Science

Submitted by Mary Kate Morgan

After reading the blog post, What Can I Do With This Major?, I began to think about why I chose the career path I have, and who advised me about the steps to get to this career. Majoring in family science can be intimidating if you do not know exactly what you want to do when you graduate.  But with the guidance, guest speakers, and in depth overview of specific careers in the family science field like Dr. Baugh provided in her course, students can get a better idea of what they can do with the major.  Dr. Baugh’s post about the course she designed to help students learn more about the career paths in family science caused me to reflect on how I made my decision to further my education, and I became interested in seeing if there were any courses or programs to help graduate students.

The Department of Family Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, created a program with similar goals as Dr. Baugh’s course. The department took the objective of the course a bit further for graduate level students by developing a Preparing Future Faculty and Family Professionals program (PFFFP) “to enrich the graduate education and professional development of its doctoral students” (Koblinsky, Kuvalanka, & McClintock- Comea, 2006, p. 30). This department first developed this program in 2003 by modeling it after the national Preparing Future Faculty program, and after evaluating the first year of this program the Family Studies Department expanded the program to address the interests of PhD students who were seeking both academic and nonacademic careers (Koblinsky, Kuvalanka, & McClintock- Comea, 2006). The University of Maryland set up five major goals for this program that include goals such as “to inform PhD students about the work required in faculty positions at diverse academic institutions”, “to educate students about the responsibilities and demands of nonacademic careers in family science”, and “to prepare students to secure positions in the types of institutions and agencies where they want to work” (Koblinsky, Kuvalanka, & McClintock- Comea, 2006, p. 30). The article also highlights how the program implemented inclusive pedagogical practices. The PFFFP makes sure to give the students the chance to experience the “traditional triad of faculty responsibilities”- teaching, research, and service (p. 31).

While the PFFFP program focuses a lot on preparing graduate students for faculty positions, it also introduces students to nonacademic career paths by examining family science careers in government, nonprofit agencies, and the private sector (Koblinsky, Kuvalanka, & McClintock- Comea, 2006). The program has come up with steps for the students to take in order to develop a plan to continue their professional development and address identified gaps. In table 2 of this article the five goals that were previously discussed are explained in more detail with corresponding method/delivery, faculty/student feedback, and recommendations which is a great resource for those interesting in revising their graduate programs.

This article provided research, goals, and reasons for why the PFFFP program worked for this family science program, and I feel this resource could be a guide to other programs that find their graduate students questioning “what’s next?” after graduation.

For more information read:

Koblinsky, S. A., Kuvalanka, K. A., & McClintock-Comeaux, M. (2006). Preparing future faculty and family professionals. Family Relations, 55(1), 29-43.

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Build Collaborative Teaching Relationships With ‘Teaching Squares’

Each year in a quest to increase my teaching effectiveness, I consult with various resources to find new ways to connect with students.  Conversations with colleagues and mentors, articles from practice journals, and other blog posts have provided many new techniques to incorporate into my classroom.  One such idea was found in an article published on the Faculty Focus website (which you should follow if you don’t already).

The author describes a process where faculty create ‘teaching squares’ and use interdisciplinary relationships to improve their teaching.  Four faculty members from different disciplines visit each others classrooms within a given time period.  After all observations have been completed, they meet to discuss what they learned and share insights on teaching.  While this exchange may seem scary and an open invitation to criticism, the author insists that these conversations remain judgment free while providing opportunities to share new ideas and techniques.

To read more about this method click here:  Teaching Squares

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The Development of a Virtual Poster Session as a Class Assignment

Submitted by Charlene VanLeeuwen

A couple of years ago I was teaching one of my favorite courses to teach…a current issues course.  It never gets old because the students and I re-create it each time it is offered selecting topics that they are keenly interested in learning about. This most recent time we were facing some scheduling challenges and we decided to go with a hybrid or blended delivery format.  This presented the perfect opportunity to try out an idea that had been sitting on the back burner for some time…. a version of the Curiosity Projects that I learned about from one of my colleagues in Psychology, Stacey MacKinnon.

The Family Science and Kinesiology students in this course, Current Issues in Children’s Health and Development, used much of the structure for a Curiosity Project to develop a conference style poster on a topic of their interest related to children’s health and development. As this was a hybrid course, students used a virtual platform to share their posters with classmates and a broader audience within the department. Use of posters is well-documented in higher education literature as an effective teaching and learning strategy. What was less clear was whether moving to digital forms of presentation and interaction about the research conducted in developing the poster was effective in promoting student learning and communication.

Consultation with the e-learning instructional designers revealed that this had not been done before at our university. As a result, I wanted to document the process and evaluate the effectiveness of this learning strategy to inform further adaptation of this Curiosity Project. After the course was wrapped up, students were invited to share their perspectives on the assignment through an online survey. The findings were also used to provide the student perspective about this learning activity in a post for the Pockets of Innovation blog. The Cross Canada Pockets of Innovation showcase a broad range of examples of best practices in online learning from faculty and instructors in post-secondary education from across Canada. For more details on implementing a similar assignment, see:

Cross Canada Pockets of Innovation:  ​

Curiosity Project article



What Can I Do With This Major?

“What can I do with this major?  What job do I get?” are questions that many of us have heard throughout the years from our students.  Majoring in family science can be both a gift and a curse for undergraduates.  The gift is there are so many opportunities for careers under the family science umbrella that job prospects are limitless.  The curse is that some of our students get confused and even discouraged when faced with all these options.  Many have a difficult time finding their way and deciding what they want to do when they graduate.

My colleagues and I, determined to help our students find their way, created a course aimed specifically at the search for a career in family science.  Our Exploring Professions and Practices in Family Science course takes students on a journey through the domains of family practice.  This course exposes students to concrete examples of the types of jobs they will be prepared to get upon completion of their degree.  Course readings and lectures cover specific jobs, their requirements, salaries, and opportunities for advancement.  Invited guest speakers provide practical advice and networking opportunities that many students start to explore before they graduate.

We decided that our students would benefit from a course that exposes them to the four primary domains of family practice: family life education, mental health counseling/marriage and family therapy, family case management/planning, and early childhood careers.  Within each domain, students are exposed to specific jobs, professional practices, and ethical issues.  They are also asked to examine their level of interest in each domain to help provide clarity as they move throughout the course.

Students are excited about the course and have reported:

  • This course provides students with endless opportunities and resources to prepare them for their future careers. It is an excellent course to take for students who are not yet sure of what they want to do with this major.
  • This course is great for people who are looking for some guidance on where they want college to lead them.
  • The strengths of this course were exploring the different career paths within this major and field. It was nice to know that I do have options and many to choose from and I’m able to move from one to another. Taking what I learned from one job and applying it to the next.

So far, the only constructive criticism we have received about this course is that it should be offered earlier in their college career!

Many students enroll in a family science major and know exactly what they want to do when they graduate.  Whether it is child life, marriage and family therapy, social work, or law school we have a good number of students who have a clear understanding of why they chose this major.  This course was created for those students who have not yet reached that point. Students who are passionate about families or have always wanted to work with children, but they are not sure how or in what capacity to do so.

For more information on the foundation of this course, please read: Myers-Wall, J. A., Ballard, S. M., Darling, C. A., & Myers-Bowman, K. S. (2011). Reconceptualizing the domain and boundaries of family life education. Family Relations, 60, 357-372.


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Online Family Life Education Preparation?!

A recent conversation in my graduate parent education course is the catalyst for this post.  We were discussing the delivery of parent education intervention using online methods and technology.  During the course of the discussion, many students reported their desire to learn more about the ‘how to’ of online family life education programs. As a department, I think we do an excellent job of teaching both undergraduate and graduate students how to select appropriate programs based on populations needs and strengths.   We also spend a good amount of time focused on the evaluation of these efforts either throughout the process or at the end.  As a result of this recent conversation, it is apparent that we could do a better job in providing students with more hand-on opportunities to actually do online education.

We make the assumption that this tech-savvy generation of students is able to maneuver online with ease because web-based content has been a consistent influence throughout their lives.  Many of our current students have had access to computers, smartphones, and the internet since childhood.  They are abreast of websites and applications that can solve almost any problem.  But the truth is that most of their online knowledge is limited to either information finding and/or social media usage.

Instruction on the delivery of online family life education is an appropriate area of focus that family science programs should provide.  One comprehensive resource to aid in this is Hughes, Bowefs, Mitchell, Curtiss, and Ebata’s (2012) article which outlines effective delivery, implementation, and evaluation of online content.  The author suggest strategies in:

  • Problem analysis – assessing the need to be addressed with the online program
  • Program content – providing materials that are theory-driven, research based, and culturally appropriate
  • Instructional design – matching the activities to the preferences of the population
  • Program implementation – suggestions for recruitment and retention of participants
  • Program evaluation – evaluate effectiveness and quality of program

Since the initial conversation in my graduate course, I have referred students to this publication.  I also plan to use it as a guide to providing more opportunities for students to create online content either in class or as part of a larger assignment.

For more information see: Hughes, R., Bowers, J. R., Mitchell, E. T., Curtiss, S., & Ebata, A. T. (2012).  Developing online family life prevention and education programs. Family Relations, 61, 711-727.