Formative feedback to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses as well as improvement opportunities, while they are still learning, is more valuable than a final grade. The same holds true for instructors. Student feedback during the course is more valuable than evaluations long after it has ended. Many ways exist to get immediate feedback. Before setting up feedback tools, some general principles must be reviewed.
- Request feedback you can act upon. Do not open up discussion of your core ideas, organizing principles or whatever you consider essential to the academic integrity of a course.
- Be as concrete and as specific as you can be about the requested feedback. (e.g., "How many pages/hours/chapters per week of outside reading do you think are reasonable?" is better than "Are the readings too much?" And "What kind of feedback on your papers is helpful to you?" is better than "Is the feedback useful?")
- Act upon suggestions in the very next class, if possible. Tell the class you are taking their suggestions.
- Explain why you cannot carry out a seemingly simple suggestion; for example, it is against university rules or has other negative ramifications.
- Avoid voting on issues. The losing minority tends to feel aggrieved. If faced with comparable options, random chance is better than voting.
Improve Evaluation Return Rates
While online course evaluations seem easier, response rates have declined. Gathering feedback from instructors with 70-plus percent return rates, the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence at Penn State put together survey tips.
The authors of the survey note that holding back grades unless students complete evaluations puts the instructor at risk of a worse evaluation. In conversations with students, the authors reported that they "all said that if they believed a faculty member thought the students' views were important, they made the effort to complete the ratings. They all said that if they felt the faculty member did not care, they did not participate."
The Blackboard course website is one way to get feedback. On the Control Panel, under Assessment, select Survey Manager. Then, click Add Survey. This can be used to create survey questions and responses. The survey can then be added as an assignment. Once students have taken the survey, results are tabulated anonymously. They can be reviewed by going to the Control Panel, clicking on Gradebook, then clicking on Course Survey. Below are some online surveys that might inspire questions for your survey.
- The Classroom Assessment Techniques website from the The University of Michigan's Center for Research in Learning and Teaching suggests questions and various techniques to ask these questions.
- The attitude surveys described by FLAG (which stands for Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide) offer other question possibilities.
- Student Assessment of Learning Gains offers a free course-evaluation tool that allows l instructors to gather learning-focused feedback.
- Survey Monkey is yet another tool for creating and assessing surveys. A commercial site, the basic service subscription is free.
Low-tech feedback can be immediate and useful, for example, the one-minute paper. At the end of class, ask the students to anonymously answer one or both of the following questions; then have them drop their paper on the way out. (Naturally you can make up your own questions.)
- What is the biggest unanswered question they leave class with?
- What was the main point of today's class?
A quick read will tell what was learned and what is puzzling. It is important to start the very next class with responses to some or all comments. That way students realize you are taking them seriously.
An informal brainstorming session can collect feedback. About three weeks into the semester set aside 15 minutes at the end of a class. Ask students to respond to three questions:.
- What is the instructor doing that helps you learn?
- What is the instructor doing that hinders your learning?
- What suggestions can you give for overcoming the issues raised in 2?
Leave the room during the discussion and have someone else moderate. The moderator or another person can take notes and provide you with a report. You have these options for choosing a moderator:
a) ask the class to select a student moderator.
b) ask a department colleague or graduate student.
c) ask UCITE if someone is available.
CWRU’s College and University Classroom Environment Inventory has 48 questions that collect feedback about classroom environment. You can use it in its entirety or select questions of most interest.