Feed on

You spent winter break painstakingly selecting readings and learning materials and constructing assignments that will engage your new students and teach them to truly value, and perhaps even learn to love something about, your subject matter. Now, a few weeks into the semester, someone has yawned, someone has tweeted during a lesson, perhaps many of the students have failed a quiz or did not do as well on the first essay as you would have liked. Often we can feel a bit powerless when courses don’t go as well as we had imagined. The most important thing to remember is that even the most seasoned professors run into similar problems and that class dynamics are rarely perfect and depend upon multiple factors including the specific skill level and initial interest of students in the class. In other words, this doesn’t mean you have failed at teaching. Actually, it means you have exhibited one of the attributes of a good teacher: the ability to recognize that something is not working as well as it could be and the desire to address this issue.

Remember, you are not alone. You have colleagues, department heads and other university or college services that you can reach out to. Most importantly, however, you have your students. They are the best people to ask about the particular issues in a class because they share this environment with you at least once a week. If they are struggling in the course, they will likely be able to give you a good indication of why. Even if you feel like a course is going well, it is a good idea to see what the students are thinking so that you are all on the same page.


Build in Time Specifically for Feedback

Feedback is only helpful if you truly build in the time to enable students to adequately respond. Trying to cram in student feedback into the last few minutes of a course might turn out to be counterproductive. I would suggest setting aside at least 10 minutes at the end of a class for student feedback. 10 minutes might seem like a long hiatus from precious content time but evaluating your students’ understanding of the material and taking time to figure out how this specific group of students best learns will ultimately strengthen your ability to teach them the material. If you really feel that taking time out of class is not possible, then it would be best to implement an online feedback option.


When to Elicit Feedback

It certainly is not overkill to ask for student feedback after every class, as this can be a great way to gauge a student’s learning progress. It really depends on what you are trying to evaluate. In general, the best times to ask for feedback are:

  • After teaching a particularly difficult lesson of introducing a complex idea.
  • At the end of a specific multi-class topic or module to assess students’ understanding of key concepts and ideas before moving onto the next topic.
  • After returning an assignment, especially if it contains feedback from you. (I have found this method to be extremely helpful. I give a lot of written feedback on essays and want each of them to reflect on my comments instead of just noting the grade and shoving the paper into the abyss of their folder or backpack. Building in time in class for them to read through my comments and then write a response back to me ensures me that they have engaged with my feedback and are also thinking deeply about their writing process. This type of feedback can be done for any assignment type).


Build in Specific Questions when Asking for Feedback

In the past, I have asked students to just reflect on the course in general. Though that method was sometimes useful to gather my students’ thoughts, I found it more helpful to provide specific questions, especially if there was something in particular that I wanted them to address. The questions can still be open-ended but should have a focus. 2-3 questions should be fine.


Possible Feedback Methods

Eliciting feedback is sometimes a large demand on the professor’s time. For example, if you have over 100 students a semester, it will be extremely difficult to read an evaluation from each student, especially if you collect evaluations from students frequently. Below are ways that you can consolidate student feedback to make it more manageable (you can also combine methods if you wish):

  • Individual Feedback- Ask each student to provide feedback and collect responses from each of them (time-intensive, only do this if you have the time to genuinely read them all).
  • Group Feedback- Place students in small groups and have them discuss their opinions together. Then, instruct one of the students to write down what was discussed and collect one sheet from each group.
  • Oral Feedback- Have the students write down information either individually or in groups and share their responses with you orally. This method will likely take more time. I suggest having students write down their responses first so that they have time to formulate their answers first and don’t feel put on the spot.
  • Poll Everywhere- Simply go to polleverywhere.com, create an account and set up a poll. You can input specific questions and students can text answers to a designated number. Their responses will show up anonymously on the computer screen immediately after they text their answers. This method will also likely take more time than the written methods.
  • Google Forms- A good online tool for gathering feedback if you don’t feel that you have time in class for it. Asking students to rate the usefulness of specific behaviors or assignments can be a good way to quickly get digestible information.


What to Do with the Feedback?

Feedback can provide you with a valuable picture of the learning progress and learning styles of individual students as well as a group of students. Yet it is also critical that you follow up with your students during class. The most important thing for you to communicate to them is that you are reading their responses and that the feedback is not just busy work. Students hate busy work. The following are methods I have tried or seen other teachers do:

  • Hand back their feedback to them with a check on top, demonstrating to them that you have read and valued their responses. You should also follow one of the below options in addition to handing the feedback back to them.
  • Integrate comments into your next lesson and point out any changes you may have made due to student feedback. This verbalization of student feedback and the effects it has on your teaching methods shows students that their voices truly matter and that they are at the center of your pedagogy.
  • Post a single online that responds to some of the most important issues raised in the feedback.


Kaneb Center Resources

The Kaneb Center has resources and examples for those interested in an early-semester evaluation. You can access these resources by e-mailing the Kaneb Center at kaneb@nd.edu.


Further Reading:

  • From ELA Today: https://ateqjournal.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/structures-and-practices-for-eliciting-student-feedback-2/ This document includes helpful methods and resources for eliciting student feedback geared at the secondary school level. High school teaching methods can often be invaluable in college classrooms.
  • Information on eliciting student feedback from Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning: https://www.brown.edu/about/administration/sheridan-center/teaching-learning/feedback-teaching/getting-timely-feedback

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