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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Getting Feedback from Students

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There are several informal strategies for getting feedback so that the students who give it will benefit from it. Whatever format you choose, ask your students to be specific. 'This course is the best ever!" can make you feel really good, and "This course STINKS!" can make you feel really bad. But neither comment is especially helpful in maintaining excellence or improving instruction.

  • Chain letter: Send a sheet of paper (or several, for larger classes) around the room with a few survey questions at the top and space for comments. Each students puts a tally mark to indicate responses to questions, then writes comments. As the sheets circulate, students respond to each other's comments, creating revealing dialog for the professor.
  • Dial-a-Prof: An answering machine on your telephone allows students to ask questions any time they come up. If you get flood of calls on the same subject, you know you have a "hot" topic that needs clarification in class.
  • Dear Professor letters: About three weeks into the term, ask students to write you a letter (anonymously, if they prefer), telling you (for example) what they find most interesting about the course so far, what questions they hope the course will answer, any problems they are having with the readings, or a concept they are having trouble understanding. You may also ask them to comment on materials and assignments, solicit what you could do to help and ask that they think about how they may help themselves.
  • Feedback form: Take a few minutes at the end of a class, after the third week and perhaps again at mid-semester, to have students complete a feedback form. It is best if you leave the room. Ask one of the students to collect the feedback sheets and return them to your office in a provided envelope. Make sure that you stress to your students that their comments will have no bearing on their grades, that you want to find out how you can best meet their learning needs. An informal feedback form might include the following' questions:
    1. What factors help you to learn in this class?
    2. What factors hinder your learning in this class?
    3. What would you do for yourself to make this class a better learning experience for you?
    4. What specific suggestions do you have for making this class a better learning experience? .
    5. What specific questions/content are still unclear for you?
    6. In general, how satisfied are you with the class so far this semester?
  • One minute paper: At the end of any class ask students to write down brief answers to two questions:
    1. What is the main point you learned in class today?
    2. What is the major, unanswered question you leave class with today?

    Having students do a one minute paper regularly in class has several purposes:

    1. To focus student attention on the "big idea" of the session.
    2. To focus student attention on' unclear points.
    3. To inform you of student questions and general misunderstandings.
    4. To build continuity over time.

Students need to know that their comments have been heard and taken seriously, which means that you need to give them feedback on their comments. At the next class meeting take a little time to respond. You may:

  1. Include several examples of what students say they like about the class.
  2. Choose one or more suggestions for change that you also believe will improve the course and that you feel you can implement. Also, let the students know how you plan to do that.
  3. Choose one or more suggestions that, for either practical or other considerations, cannot be implemented. Inform the students of the reasons.

A final note: If you don't plan to use the feedback, don't ask for it. Have a purpose for requesting it; stay open to what you hear; discuss your feedback with someone who can be objective and keep it in perspective.

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This entry was posted on October 10, 2007 by in Tip Jar.

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