Dr. Kiri L. Wagstaff is an Associate Research Professor at OSU in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a Principal Researcher in machine learning at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
What is the best way to solicit, analyze, and act on feedback from students about your course? Kenton Hokanson, a microbiology instructor, and Lyn Riverstone, an academic technology expert, shared ideas with us about timing, content, and interpretation of student feedback.
Right now is an excellent time to consider asking your students for mid-course feedback. Unlike the end-of-term student evaluations (eSET), feedback obtained at this point has the opportunity to be acted upon within the current term. Invite students to help make it “their” course. You can find out which assignments were the most difficult, why students aren’t doing the reading, and what obstacles they’re facing but otherwise would not volunteer to share. You’ll then have the opportunity to fine-tune the course and show students that you value their input and experience highly enough to take action. CTL provides an excellent 3-page document that is rich with ideas to get you started: https://ctl.oregonstate.edu/sites/ctl.oregonstate.edu/files/midcourse_feedback.pdf
Inviting feedback can allow you take the temperature of your students and identify hotspots within the course. But feedback isn’t just about the negative; you can also ask about what’s working well. I enjoy asking students to share one thing they’ve learned or a skill they’ve gained since starting the class. Asking for student preferences for the midterm exam review format may surprise you! The process also does not have to be time consuming (Davis, 1993). Consider asking for the single “muddiest” point covered so far, or within a single class meeting. Try soliciting “start/stop/continue” feedback: what should I start doing? What should I stop doing? And what should I keep doing to help with your success in the class?
You can collect this feedback with anonymous surveys or in-class polls (Wong, 2020). Midcourse feedback can also come from peers in the form of a “supportive observation” (invite a fellow instructor to sit in and watch for specific aspects you want feedback on) or a Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID) in which you leave the (Zoom) room and another instructor solicits individual feedback in a live conversation, then invites the rest of the class to vote on which comments resonate for them as well. I was intrigued to learn that CTL offers both peer services; find out more here: https://ctl.oregonstate.edu/student-feedback-and-responsive-teaching
Positive feedback can send you sky-high, while negative comments may feel burned into your brain. It’s helpful to look for themes rather than outliers in either direction. One option is to ask a trusted friend or colleague who is not involved in the class to read through the feedback and summarize it for you from their more objective viewpoint. Excel spreadsheets are one tool to help aggregate quantitative responses and also to look for subpopulations who may be struggling for common reasons. A good question to help prioritize individual comments is “Can I do anything about this?” Often, the answer is yes, but some things are beyond your control. Let them go.
Once you’ve digested the feedback you’ve received, it’s time to take action. Responsive teaching includes adapting the course based on what you’ve learned from the feedback. Take the time to formulate a plan for what you can change and how you will communicate it to the students. It is not necessary to address every comment, but common themes or problem points are worth careful consideration. Is there a Canvas component that isn’t working well? Are students missing your announcements? Are they hungry for more interaction during class time, and/or asynchronously? Adapting the course, and telling the students why you’ve done so, can increase their motivation, build a stronger relationship from you to them, create a positive classroom environment, and even increase the end-of-term eSET scores (McGowan & Osguthorpe, 2011).
The power is yours to decide what questions to ask and what feedback would be most helpful to you right now. Take a moment to think: What’s one question that would help me prioritize content for the next class meeting? Go ahead and ask it today!
Davis, Barbara G. (1993) “Fast Feedback,” Tools for Teaching, Chapter 41, 345-354.
McGowan, Whitney R. and Osguthorpe, Russell T. (2011) “Student and Faculty Perceptions of Effects of Midcourse Evaluation,” To Improve the Academy, 29(1):160-172.
McKeachie, Wilbert J. and Svinicki, Marilla (2006) McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers.
Wong, Crystal O. (2020) “Three Ways to Use Student Feedback to Improve Your Course,” https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/educational-assessment/three-ways-to-use-student-feedback-to-improve-your-course/