After about one month in each semester, Gayle Golden will set aside a little time to ask students about their studies.
The journalism lecturer at the University of Minnesota kept the whole process simple and asked short questions like the following:
- What should continue to happen in this course?
- What should we start with in this course?
- What should we stop doing in this class?
Golden collects the results anonymously provided by the students, then studies the feedback and lists all the information she has received. In the next class, she discussed these findings with the students. She tells them which suggestions she plans to put into practice, which suggestions she can’t take action on, and why.
“If they tell me things like’I don’t want deadlines’, I will say,’I hear calls for no deadlines. I know deadlines are difficult, but I can’t do it in this class. The reason is this-I’m sorry,'” Golden explained. “That said, I have told them that I heard it.”
This practice is called Early feedbackExperts say this is an effective strategy for quickly improving teaching and learning—sometimes even the next lesson. It can be done using basic knowledge (pencil and paper) or complex digital tools (such as chatbots).
The process of collecting and integrating student feedback not only provides an opportunity to improve the course before it takes too long, but it can also change the tone and culture of the classroom so that the professor can prove to the students that she values their views.
“My experience is that if I give early feedback, my relationship with the class tends to be more open-overall better because they are more willing to talk to me throughout the class,” Golden said.
How to collect feedback
Kris Gorman, an educational project expert at the University of Minnesota Education Innovation Center, explained that asking and responding to student feedback at the beginning of the semester is very simple. Between week 5 and week 8—and after students receive the main assessment results—the teacher asks the students to weigh their learning progress. The teacher collects the answers, then finds out and explains the different measures they will take.
“Tell your students what may change and what will not change, express gratitude and appreciation, and then take action-close the cycle,” Gorman said.
The simplicity of this process belies its power. Students can immediately benefit from improved curriculum arrangements and a more trusting relationship with faculty and staff.Research shows that professors who collect early feedback and use it with the help of consultants to change courses can Improve their end-of-semester teaching evaluation.
“This is one of the most effective ways to change teacher practices,” Gorman said. “In general, teachers and lecturers are very sensitive to student feedback. In terms of changing teaching practices, this is usually more motivated than almost anything else they do.”
Collecting feedback is as simple as distributing index cards. But teachers can also use more technical methods.For example, researchers at San Jose State University Hired a chatbot Interview college students to understand their problems and concerns, as well as the obstacles they face, especially the courses. The subjects were willing to provide feedback through the robot and expressed support for further relying on the chatbot to achieve some of the course improvements they wanted, such as getting help answering basic questions about textbooks, office hours, and deadlines.
Part of putting this concept into practice was Assistant Professor João Sedoc, who asked students to talk to a custom chatbot to get feedback on his courses in technology, operations, and statistics at NYU Stern School of Business. He likes artificial intelligence tools related to his technical courses. He suspects that the appeal of chatbots will cause more feedback from students than using online surveys or Google Forms.
“People express themselves more,” Sedok said. “It’s always good-the more they tell me, the more I know.”
Looking for “unresolved results” and “dislocations”
Early feedback can unearth a lot of useful information.
It sometimes determines the details of practical courses that cause problems for students-what Gorman calls “low-hanging fruit.” Students may ask to hand in their homework at 10pm instead of 5pm to accommodate the fact that they are in class all afternoon. Or they may notice that the professor’s notification is not successfully sent to them through the learning management system.
These problems are relatively easy to solve. For example, Sedoc learned through early feedback that students at the back of the classroom could not hear him clearly.
Or they may need more time and energy to solve it. During the pandemic, Golden learned through an early survey that students felt isolated doing homework alone at home instead of their usual way of working: sitting in groups at desks. Someone suggested that Golden organize students into Zoom breakout rooms so that they can collaborate better.
She said that this change requires Golden to do some “technical gymnastics.” But she feels that such an effort is worthwhile.
“Navigating is more challenging for me, but it is more comforting for them.” King said. “It doesn’t sound like a big deal. But if I didn’t ask them, and we didn’t brainstorm together, I might stick to this idea-it works for me, it is difficult for you. A student was asked They expressed concern.”
Gorman said that student feedback can also highlight “misplacement” in the curriculum, and teachers may not be aware of this in other ways. The survey results may indicate that students are eager for more specific examples to better understand the material, do not understand the relationship between the assessment and the concepts they are learning in class, or feel unprepared for the exam.
“I have seen people redesign their grading standards to better understand how their students experience these grading standards,” Gorman said.
Detecting this dislocation early can prevent students and professors from going too far on the wrong path. For example, near the beginning of the semester, Sedoc asks students what they hope to get from his course, trying to understand how well their expectations match the syllabus. Sometimes, he will find that a student has many years of computer programming experience, so it is not suitable for beginner courses.
Then, Sedoc can tell the students that before it is too late, “they may not get what they want from the class,” he said, “because their level of technical ability exceeds the level that I calibrated for the class. For the sake of that. .”
Communication and care
The request for feedback involves some vulnerabilities. Students may make criticisms that are difficult to hear or seem overwhelming to professors who already feel overworked (for example, during a pandemic). Gorman suggested that for teachers who are hesitant to open the floodgates with open-ended questions, they can experiment by asking specific course details in a targeted manner.
“I have always encouraged people to collect feedback only when you are ready to take action,” she said. “If you are incapable, the worst thing you can do is collect feedback and be unwilling to make any changes.”
Teachers can use some strategies when designing survey questions to encourage students to provide relevant feedback, rather than deviating from the theme or personal comments-the kind of women and people of color that Gorman calls More likely to receive.
“Try to ask questions about’What helps you learn?'” Gorman said. “Students do not always express their feedback in the most pleasant way. However, when teachers pre-set that they care about the student’s experience and want to make changes, students will be more constructive rather than critical.”
Inevitably, some feedback will make people feel negative. When this happens, teachers should try to “take action and leave emotions,” Gorman suggested. However, if they still feel defensive, Gorman recommends that they seek the support of the institution’s teaching and learning centers—separate from any formal evaluation process.
When early feedback showed that his students thought he was condescending, a professor at the University of Minnesota did just that. The Education Innovation Center helped the professor discover that after teaching the same material for many years, he was so good at predicting students’ problems that he kept interrupting people in the middle of the speech.
“I encourage the lecturer to fully listen to the whole issue,” Gorman said. Only then will he give the answer, and then ask: “Does this clarify things, or does it need more explanation?”
The intervention helped improve the curriculum for that semester. When the lecturer continues his new method next semester, “the student’s climate experience is completely positive,” Gorman said. “They have never experienced the same person being condescending or dismissive in the same class.”
This is an example of why when a course has a difficult start, Golden believes that fear should not prevent teachers from seeking feedback.
“Especially if you think the course is not going well, this is exactly what is needed,” she said. “Like any relationship; you have to ask “what’s the matter?” “And talk about it truthfully. You will find that if you start doing this, you are likely to improve the situation.”
Gorman said that even if a course runs like a “well-functioning machine,” it is worth soliciting early feedback from students every semester. “It conveys care just to do this.”