Feedback for Teaching

This resource has been prepared by the Teaching Centre at the University of Lethbridge to help provide direction for Instructional Staff to gather quality feedback on their teaching for the purpose of self-reflection and growth. These resources have been written and assembled from a broad range of sources and where appropriate references to the original materials have been included. The majority of this resource is designed to assist Instructional Staff in gathering quality feedback on their teaching for the purpose of helping them to grow professionally as instructors. While this information can also be used for inclusion on yearly PAR reports and STP submissions to support growth and development concerning teaching efficacy, it is not intended to be used as any form of external evaluation of teaching.

We acknowledge that looking critically at how one performs in the classroom can be a scary proposition for many of our Instructional Staff. The majority of our staff who teach do not have backgrounds in teaching and learning strategies or theories but instead are professional researchers, scientists, business people and artists. This resource is designed to provide a variety of places to start gathering feedback on teaching efficacy in ways that work for each individual. There is no magic bullet or “one-size fits all” when it comes to professional growth and development in teaching.

The Teaching Centre currently has two Teaching Development Coordinators, who are available to discuss these (and other) options with you. They are also available to work with you to help implement these strategies in your teaching. Contact us today for a one-on-one consultation.

Overview

Often the perception is that the only method for gathering feedback on teaching is through the end of semester course evaluation process. In fact, there are a wide variety of ways for instructional staff to collect information on their teaching practice. In this resource we have divided a variety of methods into the following categories:

 

Self Reflection

The starting point for improving teaching is often to engage in an objective self-reflective process. It is important to spend time engaging in self-reflection before engaging input from other sources like students and peers to self-identify areas in which you feel you would like feedback. The fundamental difference between casual or informal self-reflection and formal self-reflection is the documentation that accompanies a formal process. This documentation not only provides a record for you to go back through and review but also provides evidence of the process for use when you engage peers for discussion. A vital part of the process is also to formulate responsive measures to address areas of interest as a result of the process. These responses and their efficacy should also be documented.

The process of reflective journaling is used extensively in pre-service teacher education programs for very good reason - it gets teachers into the habit of continually examining, reflecting on and improving their teaching practice (from planning to delivery). This process is not designed to emphasize the deficiencies in one's teaching, but rather to help identify their strengths and help capitalize on those while selecting areas that an individual would like to grow in.

Just about any format can be used for reflective journaling (from a traditional journal with regular entries to something more formal with a consistent format). The format is much less critical than the types of information that chosen for writing. Some key areas to consider when journaling are:

  • context - day, date, class, class size…
  • planning - preparation prior to class (key concepts, presentation material, supporting resources, readings…)
  • delivery - strategies (lecture, interactive lecture with questioning, large group work, small group work…)
  • assessment - how will you assess the students’ understanding of what you covered?
  • comments - comments and observations on how it all went. Did your planning and delivery match the content? How did the students’ receive the material and method of delivery? How was the pacing (too fast, too slow)? What worked really well? What didn’t seem to work the way you expected it to?
  • recommendations - how would you change this class (if at all) for future delivery? Was there something that you observed in this class that is applicable to other classes/courses that you teach (positive or negative)? It is important to keep your recommendations focused to a few areas (2-3 positive things to continue to use and grow and 1-2 negative things that you would like to improve) so you can set attainable goals and realize observable results in a short amount of time.The ultimate goal is not only a record of thoughtful reflection on what is being done in the classroom from day-to-day, but also a list of planning and delivery methods that work well for both teacher and students on a consistent basis.

Below are a few possible journaling templates (in Word and PDF format) if you prefer to use something more structured:

References:

Additional Resources:

There is no easier way to see what students see in your classroom than to video tape the class. While these recordings can be useful for your students (to review the class, catch something that they missed…), they are also very valuable as a reflective tool. Looking at these recordings with a critical eye and ear can provide invaluable feedback on the efficacy of your teaching. When used over a period of time, the recordings can provide very tangible feedback on any changes to teaching practice. Many people are uncomfortable recording and watching themselves, so it is recommended that this be done a few times to help reduce the nervousness involved (and get a more accurate recording). For the best results, it is recommended that the process involves some formal reflection before and after the recorded class. This process can take many forms ranging from simply reviewing the recording and taking a few notes on what is observed to reflecting on specific portions of the class and making recommendations for future change.

Below is one possible format for commenting on the recording:

How can you record your lecture for reflection purposes?

Small flip cameras are available within the Teaching Centre, that can be utilized for this purpose. We have small tripods that can accompany the camera as well. The video can be removed from the camera via an SD card or via a USB plug. Because you are not editing the videos but simply reviewing them, they should be able to use your default video player on your computer to view them.

Depending on what type of mobile devices you have, using the camera on your phone or tablet is another option you could use to capture your lecture. You may want to find a compatible small tripod for your device, so it can stay steady while shooting.

References:

Additional Resources:

A good way to keep reflective material together in an organized fashion as well as keeping artifacts of teaching development is with a teaching portfolio. Teaching portfolios or dossiers can range from showpieces (useful for an interview and hiring purposes) to working/living documents that are continually added to and modified as your philosophy and practice evolve. There are many online guides on how to create a teaching portfolio as well as exemplars. What is important to understand before starting a teaching portfolio is how you want to utilize it. If it is being started and maintained as a location to house materials for award applications or job interviews, then the content within it will be considerably different from a teaching portfolio to support professional growth and development. A few things are constant in a teaching portfolio regardless of the purpose:

  • a personal philosophy of teaching (your beliefs about teaching & learning, how those beliefs temper what you do in the classroom and your course design…)

  • documentation of teaching (syllabi, assignments/activities of note…)

  • reflections on your teaching practice (specific and general)

  • artifacts that illustrate strengths and weaknesses with reflective comments

The most common place to begin this process is by writing out a personal philosophy of teaching that outlines your core beliefs about teaching. From this, you will start to examine how these core beliefs shape your approach to working with students and the methods that you use to engage your students. We have prepared a handout to help you get started with the process of writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement.

Some good resources to help get started can be found here:

References:

Additional Resources:

Student Feedback

Gathering feedback from students is an essential part of understanding the impact of planning and delivery decisions in the classroom. It is important to get information on what the students’ are hearing and seeing during classes and include that information in reflection and planning for future growth and development. In many cases, the only source of student feedback that is collected is from course evaluations. While these are one source of this information, they often suffer from low return rates, slow turn-around and in some cases questions that are designed more for administration that to inform instructors. There are some methods for collecting student feedback that are often more timely, more instructor focused and had greater value. We will be looking at the following methods of gathering student feedback:

  • Course Evaluations - formal surveys administered to students in paper or online format with often standard questions aimed at collecting information on the teaching and learning for the purpose of improving teaching.

  • Student Informal Feedback - this information can be collected in a variety of ways:

    • informal questioning towards the end of class time - ask questions that not only check student understanding of the material covered but also about the method of delivery used (did the method fit with the material covered, did students understand the connections within the content)

    • daily/weekly exit slips (sometimes called minute papers) - online or paper-based question(s) distributed to students to quickly gain answers to very specific questions about how the students interpreted the material.

  • Student Focus Groups - these are groups of students who are brought together for the purpose of providing feedback for the instructor. A peer Faculty member most often facilitates this as part of a peer evaluation process.

Currently on campus, course evaluations are being handled slightly differently depending upon with which Faculty/department you are associated. Ideally course evaluations would provide Faculty with an end-of-term snapshot of what the students’ thought of the course and how it was delivered. This can be very helpful information for Instructors as they begin to plan their following semester courses to ensure that assumptions that they make about the course content and delivery are in fact correct from the students’ perspective. Most of the course evaluations being run currently allow for the addition of custom questions by the instructor. Creating good questions is not a trivial matter and takes some time and consideration. A few things to keep in mind when creating evaluation questions are:

  • use language that the students will understand
  • ensure that each question is asking only one thing
  • avoid leading questions
  • when requesting open feedback, provide specific direction

Unfortunately, almost all of the Faculties on campus have issues with low return rate on their course evaluations unless they are distributing and collecting the evaluations during class time. Currently, many of the Faculties/departments across campus are looking at their course evaluation practices to streamline the process and ensure that the data that is collected is accurate, meaningful and timely.

References:

Additional Resources:

One of the easiest methods of obtaining feedback from students is to ask them. Unfortunately in many cases, the simplest solution is often overlooked. Despite sounding simple, there are a few things that need to be considered for this to be effective:
 

  1. To receive authentic feedback, you need to foster a culture of communication that encourages students to provide constructive feedback while at the same time reassuring them that they will not be penalised for their responses.
  2. You need to ask very specific questions about only what you want feedback about and keep the questions very timely.
  3. You need to be willing to respond to the feedback (if students provide feedback, and you don’t respond to this, then they will lose faith in the process and stop responding).

Collecting this feedback can be managed in a number of ways. Some research refers to the collection of exit slips others minute papers, regardless, they apply to the use of regular questions at the completion of a class that asks students to provide feedback on that particular lesson (either the method of delivery or the material covered). These can be handled as paper-based activities or as online questionnaires (online questionnaires are the easiest to manage and collect, but will often have a lower response rate from students as they can not always be done within class time due to the need for technology).

Our current Moodle version has a nice tool for collecting this information called the Feedback Activity. It allows for the collection of Anonymous (if desired) student answers to specific questions quickly and easily as well as provides some rudimentary analysis tools (and the ability to export to Excel for further analysis if desired). For assistance using the Feedback Activity please contact the Teaching Centre.

References

A method of collecting more detailed student feedback is to get a group of students together and interview them. This is usually moderated by a third-party participant (typically a colleague who does not teach the same course) and conducted with a group of 8-12 students. The students can often provide helpful information on many aspects of a course:

  • course design
  • teaching methods
  • learning outcomes (if they were clearly stated or met)

There are many benefits to this approach of collecting student feedback that are similar to other feedback methods. First it makes students feel that their opinions are valued and respected. Provides students an opportunity to further clarify their thoughts. As well the moderator can probe deeper into the root of the issue rather than just dealing with surface reactions.

For assistance planning your Student Focus Group, you can contact the Teaching Centre or use our Student Focus Group Guidelines document.

References

Peer Feedback

Another invaluable source of feedback on teaching can be gathered by working closely with a peer either from within your own Department or from another Department. This process can be beneficial for both parties involved and can also have the added benefit of starting collegial conversations about teaching practice and methodology. It can also be a very rich source of artifacts and information for reflection and growth. There are a number of ways in which your peers can help improve your teaching and provide feedback:
 

  • Direct Peer Feedback - the process of having a peer observe one or more classes and provide feedback on specific areas of interest to the instructor.
  • Peer Coaching - working closely with a fellow instructor (usually an instructor with more experience) to gather information specifically about teaching from and bounce ideas off of.
  • Student Focus Groups - by working with a peer, valuable student information can be collected and shared in a straightforward and effective format that yields information that is far richer and timely than traditional course evaluations.
  • Instructional Skills Workshops (ISW) - an intensive 4-day program offered to Faculty that involves a series of teaching and peer-feedback exercises designed to help strengthen teaching skills and practice.

The use of peer review of your teaching can provide some very useful insight into many different areas of your practice. Having a colleague that you respect and trust take a look at your planning and assessment strategies as well as coming into your classroom to observe you in action can provide some very powerful feedback for your growth and development. To help facilitate this process the Teaching Centre has a pool of people who would be interested and willing to engage in this process with you or you can approach a colleague to see if they would be interested in engaging in this process with you. The process can be even more rewarding if done in a reciprocal arrangement where each Faculty members provides the other feedback. It also has the added benefit of creating community around teaching.

This process can take different forms, but usually follows a series of steps similar to this:

  1. a pre-observation meeting to discuss expectations and parameters
  2. a classroom observation or observations
  3. a post-observation debriefing to discuss what was observed and provide informal feedback
  4. a written summary that documents the process and provides concrete and formal feedback

It is important that this cycle be completed within as short an amount of time as possible. This is key so that the discussion, observations and feedback all occur while the events are fresh in both parties minds. If too much time passes, the impact of the experience is diminished for both reviewer and reviewee.

There are a few guidelines that we strongly suggest for the process of peer feedback in order to ensure that both the reviewee and reviewer are clear on the expectations and as comfortable as possible with the process:
 

  1. The reviewer and reviewee discuss the parameters of the feedback with the reviewee deciding which areas of their teaching they would like to receive feedback on. While general feedback can be helpful, more often it is easier and more useful to have the reviewer focus on particular parts of the instruction. The reviewer must keep in mind the weight of what they are being asked to participate in and keep a very professional approach to the process. Being asked to provide feedback of this nature is a very personal activity, and they need to be sensitive to the way in which they deliver their observations to the reviewee while at the same time providing constructive feedback that will be helpful.
  2. The reviewer is a silent observer within the class setting. While the reviewee may introduce them (if they choose), they are not to participate in the class. Their role is to observe the instructor and students to provide objective feedback. Once they begin to take part in the class, they lose this objectivity and perspective.
  3. The entire process and all of the material produced is the express property of the reviewee and should not be shared with anyone else. It is up to the reviewee who, when and how this information will be used and shared with others (if at all).

If you are not sure where to start or have questions about the process, make an appointment to meet with one of our Teaching Development Coordinators to discuss this further

Additional Resources

Peer coaching is an evolution (or devolution) from the practice of clinical supervision of teachers in practice in which the coaches role is to help the instructor being coached to achieve the goals that they establish as part of the process. The fundamental difference between Peer Coaching and traditional peer mentoring approaches is that it is not designed to be evaluative in any way. Barbara Gottesman is a pioneer in the area of Peer Coaching and has written several books along with numerous articles on the subject - one of which is Peer Coaching in Higher Education (2009). While this practice was originally developed for K-12 schools, Barbara has very successfully transferred these practices to Higher Education.

The process consists of 5 basic steps - all performed within a single day (with the exception of the request) as outlined by Gottesman:
 

  1. Requesting a visit
  2. Class visit (not usually an entire class)
  3. Reflecting - coach reviews observation information and makes some suggestions
  4. Meeting - coach and instructor meet to discuss notes together. If the instructor is ready, suggestions are shared.
  5. Debrief - did the process work? Were the suggestions helpful?

There are some identified benefits of this method of gathering feedback that go beyond just helping to improve teaching efficacy and student learning. This process helps to break down the isolation that instructors can feel within their role as teachers but also contribute to create a culture of community around teaching practice.

For more information on the process, we encourage you to check out the following resources:

Additional Resources

  • Peer Coaching in Higher Education, Barbara L. Gottesman (2009) - sample chapters available online

  • Huston, T., Weaver, C. L., (2008) Peer Coaching: Professional Development for Experienced Faculty, Innovative Higher Education, Vol. 33, Issue 1, pp 5-20.

The Instructional Skills Workshop is comprehensive instructor development program that is recognized internationally and has been in use for over 35 years. The workshop is an intensive peer-lead four day (28 hours) teaching boot camp designed to help Faculty:
 

  • identify and build on their existing strengths
  • develop new skills and techniques
  • create an interdisciplinary cohort of peers who love teaching as much as you do

One of the unique things about the ISW is that it isn’t simply a workshop where you listen to people talk about different ways to approach instruction in the classroom. Rather it is designed to immerse the participants in their teaching and provide them with immediate feedback from their peers on what they observe during these sessions.

For more information about ISW, check out these resources.

Additional Resources

To participate in an ISW, please contact the Teaching Centre to find out about upcoming dates and availability.

Literature Review/Professional Development

A fourth area for gaining insight into teaching practice is through examining current literature on Teaching and Learning or participating in Professional Development opportunities. There are many conferences, workshops and events offered on campus, locally, provincially, nationally and internationally that will provide opportunities to engage in looking at and thinking about classroom practice. The demands of keeping up to date in any field of study can be daunting, but a necessary part of staying current. Keeping up to date in the field of Scholarly Research in Education is no different but can be an important part of reflecting on classroom practice and planning as well as keeping informed about new areas of research and study in teaching and learning.

There is a variety of methods for keeping up with research and practice in teaching:

  • reviewing literature - provides a look into what is going on in teaching across a broad range of locations, subject disciplines and levels on your terms and at your pace.
  • attending workshops/conferences - provides opportunities to network with people outside of your subject discipline locally and internationally in the context of teaching and learning research

There is a broad range of teaching and education-based journals that provide a wonderful sampling of the work that is being done (both research and practice-based) currently. Some journals are more focused on technology or specific disciplines of teaching. However, there is academic literature that caters more to a broad sampling of foci. Some of the top ranked educational research journals are:

An exhaustive ranking list of Educational Journals is provided by SJR - Journal Rankings.

Attending workshops and conferences can be time consuming and expensive in some cases, but they often yield some of the best results when it comes to re-charging interest and passion towards teaching practice. This is most commonly a result of interacting with other people who are passionate about the area and who are doing interesting and innovative things in their professional practice. Sometimes this interaction serves to provide new focus, other times it helps to galvanize the work that is already being done. It is also very often helpful to realize that you are not alone in your struggles and frustrations - there are others out there dealing with the same barriers and frustrations.

Starting locally, the Teaching Centre runs a number of workshops and events all geared at different aspects of the teaching experience (from technical workshops to new research and methodologies):

On-campus Workshops

There are also some very good conferences within the province that provide an opportunity to begin networking with Faculty from across the province:

Provincial Conferences

And there are a number of excellent national and international conferences that draw some of the biggest names in research and practice together to discuss barriers and opportunities in education:

National Conferences

International Conferences

This list is not intended to be definitive, simply a sampling of some of the workshops and conferences that we have participated in. For a more detailed list of education focussed conferences, check out Clayton Wright’s yearly updated list of Educational Technology and Related Education Conferences.

While there are other possible methods of gathering reflective information on teaching, these areas cover a wide variety and have been selected to offer Instructional Staff options that fit with their comfort levels and personal preferences.