Monday, 8 June 2015

Student Feedback

With the end of our semester upon us, this is the time when lecturers hope that students are filling in the appraisals for papers and teaching. I have been dropping reminders to students to contribute their suggestions via the anonymous appraisals online.  Within the online papers I have taught this semester, students are also concluding online forums with a wrap up and feedback-focused discussion. This is a time to take stock and ask questions like:
  • What have you learned this semester?
  • What will you do to build upon this learning?
  • Which aspects of our paper helped you to learn?
  • What would you like to see changed in future?
The ‘what should we keep and what should we change’ pairing is the most useful formative tool for course design!

Enabling students to submit their suggestions anonymously is a safeguard for students, it balances the power differential, and is standard procedure. However, anonymity is also prone to abuse as students who have received poor marks retaliate in kind. Often the results of paper appraisals are skewed so that most of the respondents answer affirmatively, with outliers who report they were ‘never’ satisfied with the course. These divergent viewpoints can be interesting and valid, but it is not possible to explore them further when the source is anonymous. When lecturers receive a negative comment, we can’t always ask about the circumstances, reasons or for more details about how to improve. It is even more frustrating when students don’t complete the online appraisals, and response rates are very often low.

To balance these concerns, it is wise to invite student feedback in a range of ways, for example via Moodle forums and exit slips.

Moodle forums – the first year MMP students are currently noting advice that they would give to newbies joining the degree. This will be very useful to pass on to the new class of 2016, and will likely suggest areas where students feel least confident and need most support. Importantly, we have asked the students to use the opportunity to thank a peer who has helped or taught them in some way in their first semester of tertiary study.

In the Communication Technologies and Lifelong Learning option paper students are reflecting on their learning through the POPLN challenge and again suggesting how others might make a start with POPLN if they are entirely new to the notion of learning through social media. Again, these suggestions will assist in refining the orientation and introductory phase of POPLN in future iterations of the course. I am grateful for the student suggestions, and also like to know which readings seem dated, which are most powerful, which tasks are particularly engaging and which discussions have resonated with students. This is not just about ‘what did you like/enjoy?’ although student satisfaction is a factor. Rather, I want to know about the elements of the paper that promoted learning, challenged students to move outside of their comfort zones, revealed new ways of thinking and generated wider exploration. I also want to know how to best support students without rescuing them from the learning potential.

Within all of this of course there are constraints on our work – in terms of Time (always the biggie, hence the capital T), and also regulations and expectations of tertiary study at various levels. Discussing course feedback openly with students is helpful all round as it means students can table their suggestions, and we can be receptive while also questioning to clarify the essence of problems/concerns, negotiating adjustments (I can’t do that but how about this?) and explain transparently if/why certain changes are not possible.

A bonus of the discussion forum as a means of eliciting student feedback is that the students are required to contribute. It would be very difficult to require students to complete an anonymous online appraisal.

Is it fair to require students to give feedback?
Yes, especially in the case of teacher education students for whom provision of constructive and timely feedback is a professional necessity.
I’d like teacher education students to consider when providing feedback to lecturers and courses:
  • How would I feel as a teacher receiving this feedback?
  • What action does my feedback suggest?

Feedback should not be used to punish. When your lecturer marked your assignment, it is highly unlikely that s/he set out to hurt and offend you. Is your feedback given in the spirit of improving teaching and learning?
If you have a concern and would like to see a change implemented, offer specific suggestions about how this might be accomplished. For example, a comment like “This class is boring and the teaching sucks” would be hurtful and wouldn’t suggest how the paper or pedagogy could be enhanced.
On the other hand, a comment like “There are too many readings to keep up with each week and it would be good to have a choice of reading and to focus on those post-2010” could generate some real adjustments and updates.

On campus, a number of colleagues use an exit slip as a means of collecting student feedback after f2f sessions, particularly lectures and workshops. Again, students are asked:
  • What did you learn?
  • (Sometimes, what surprised you?)
  • What are you still wondering about?

The latter generates questions that can be addressed at tutorials and this is a good way of surfacing areas of concern and student interest.

In each of the above cases, the appraisals, discussion forums and exit slips function as a barometer of student thinking and dispositions. These are some of the ways we invite student voice, note student experience and listen to students.

What do we do with the feedback?
  1. Dismiss – if it is insulting, vague, impractical or poorly reasoned.
  2. Implement – if it is clear, specific and practical, as well as pedagogically progressive and supportive of quality learning.
  3. Compromise – if there is some merit to the concern raised or the suggestion, within constraints imposed by institutional directives. 

If you are a student, please complete your appraisals – give your lecturers some direction to inform their teaching and course development.

If you are a tertiary teacher, how do you invite and respond to student feedback?

1 comment:

  1. I have quite enjoyed this paper and the first 2 assignments were quite invigorating and informative to me in a practical sense and quite helpful in regard to my current setting in an International School. I really struggled with Assignment 3 - however the Moodle discussions around the parts of the assignment were good. I found my thinking around what a paradigm is in relation to research to be confused and muddled - I still don't know if I quite have this right, in terms of what I have put into my assignment 3. This, even though I read the posts and did lots of reading.
    The feedback from Dianne, Noeline and Nigel was always good - it was timely and helped me to gain more a 'layman's' understanding. However, some of the concepts still puzzle me, even though I've finished the paper.
    I do have much clearer ideas about how to do research - and as a teacher, this is invaluable (particularly working through the ideas around Action Research).
    I did feel that the number of readings to do was too much - as with many of the other students in this paper, I am full-time working and I would often feel snowed under with the amount of readings that had to be completed each week. (But the yellow book of Required Paper readings was very helpful!)
    I did quite enjoy the 'debate' we did around Humphrey's 'Tearoom trade' research article - probably because I got a 'virtual chocolate fish' from Noeline for some rebuttal I did. I thought that approach was a great way of really digging down into the ethics of research using that particular article.
    Thanks to all of you for your assistance and feedback throughout!