Feed on

A month into the semester, you may have some ideas about what is working — and what is not — in the classroom. Your students have some ideas too. Now is the key time to elicit feedback from your students about what they find most and least helpful in the classroom.

Students are more motivated to give thoughtful feedback if you talk to them beforehand about the reasons for doing so. Be sure to frame your request for feedback as an opportunity to better understand their learning experience in your course.

Gathering student feedback is useful for multiple reasons:
1. If there are problems, you can course-correct. Figure out what isn’t working now so that the rest of the class goes more smoothly.
2. Even if the class seems to be going superbly well, there are always ways to tweak it to make it a more seamless learning experience for your students.
3. Unofficial evaluations allow you to get feedback, even criticism, without worrying about official CIFs from the university.
4. Asking students for feedback empowers them and gives them a voice in the process.

You can construct the questions on your unofficial student evaluations to reflect what you most want to learn from your students.

Some ideas:
1. Have your students rate five or six elements of the class: how much they feel they get out of the lectures, discussions, readings, small group activities, and so on.
2. Keep/drop/add: One thing that works, one thing that doesn’t, one thing that they’d like to see more of.
3. Ask if any of the concepts have been confusing thus far. Sometimes you can get lulled into thinking everything you’ve taught has been crystal clear, particularly if a few students are vocal, or if most seem to generally nod along when you explain a concept. Especially if your first (or second) exam is coming up, it’s worth checking to see if things are really getting through as you’d like them to.

Finally, getting course feedback — even if it has no impact on your official course evaluations — can be overwhelming. Look for trends, not individual opinions; look for average comments, not extremes. Don’t feel you have to make every change suggested, or revise your teaching methods for every single critique. Focus on a few, small, actionable changes that will improve the class without drowning you in extra work.

Once you’ve read through your students’ feedback and decided how to respond, discuss the results with your students. Tell them what you’ll change; if there’s any adjustment they wanted, but you’ve decided against, address it and give your reasoning. Your students will appreciate both your flexibility and transparency!

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