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.
Vanderbilt University - Center for Teaching http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/student-evaluations/
Student Informal Feedback
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:
- 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.
- You need to ask very specific questions about only what you want feedback about and keep the questions very timely.
- 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.
Student Focus Groups
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.