The Value of Student Feedback

By Duane Dunston, M.S., Information Technology and Sciences

The value of the feedback is immeasurable because of its benefits to the students and me professionally.  They get to have a say in their own learning, and feedback allows me to uncover blindspots that I didn’t know I had.

I started soliciting feedback from students on what is or isn’t working in class based on not having any other way to receive feedback on my overall approach to teaching.  Having a colleague sit in class periodically doesn’t catch the entire range of my teaching or what goes on in the classroom day-to-day.

What didn’t work

I used to provide a survey and have students complete it.  It was anonymous, and I would go over the results right away in class with them.  On the IDEA evaluations, I would see that students thought I was being combative and defensive.  Also, there were times when I didn’t know what to do to improve on what students were asking so I would meet with Rebecca Mills in the CLT and provide results of the survey for her review and she would help me interpret the results.

What worked

While in a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) meeting, someone mentioned they attended a conference and the speaker described a similar feedback method, but instead let someone else host the session.  I decided to give that a try and reached out to Rebecca to go through the survey with my students for me.  

One of the primary benefits of this approach is that I will only hear the relevant feedback.  Since I am out of the room, it may allow students to feel more open to speak about any concerns they have.  Also, if someone states they have a problem with an aspect of the class and others don’t then it may not be a problem with the class, but with that student.  However, I won’t hear those issues because it is likely not relevant to the class or something I can improve on to benefit everyone.

I have blind spots and I want to try new teaching strategies when it is appropriate for the class. The feedback from students can let me know if it is or isn’t working for them.  While it doesn’t mean I should scrap the strategy altogether, I may just need to modify it for the respective class. 

It is important that any new pedagogical strategies be explained to students so they understand what it is and why you are doing it.  If there are multiple aspects of the pedagogy you are using, introduce it in small steps and let students know when you are adding additional parts of the strategy.  Dramatic changes can disrupt students’ learning because they can get used to one way of doing things and a sudden change can be disruptive.  

For example, I have students submit a link to their code.  After two weeks, I introduce another element: they have to record themselves running the code and submit the link to the code and the recording.  The gradual progression makes the transition easier because it can be a lot to do all at once.

I have found students to be more open with me and willing to put in the extra effort because they can see I take interest in their learning.  They tell me that they can see I’m interested in their learning and not just trying to push through 15 weeks of content.  Additionally, the students see their ownership in their learning and they can hold themselves and each other accountable when changes are requested and the students don’t follow through.  I have not encountered that yet.  

I have found students to be more open with me and willing to put in the extra effort because they can see I take interest in their learning.

In one class I was trying a strategy to teach students in small groups at a time for 55-minute time slots.  After about 5 weeks, they didn’t like that approach, so they proposed I pre-record the videos and they can work on it during their own time. I record all my lectures and post them to Canvas, so they would often review at a later time at their own pace anyway.  I was in class if they needed help and they could come to class and listen with headphones or they stop by if needed.  The results were overwhelmingly positive, with on-time submissions and dramatically improved quality. Some students stopped by to receive help, fixed their issues, and left.  The one caveat was if they were not submitting assignments on time, they would have to come to class to work on their assignments.

Conclusion

Feedback sessions help me improve long-term because I know I have support from CLT to test new teaching strategies.  However, it is important that students understand the why and how of these strategies.  I also recommend talking with the folks in CLT first, to brainstorm how you plan to implement new teaching strategies.

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