Enabling Usable Student Feedback

I have several frustrations with student evaluations of instruction:

  • the questions or prompts are usually not very useful (such as, “were your assignments graded fairly?” Many student interpret this question as, “did you get the grades you wanted?”)
  • there is no opportunity to discuss the feedback with students for clarification and ideas for implementation
  • the feedback comes too late to have any affect on the teaching the students who gave feedback receive

One of the ways I’ve been able to get valuable feedback that is instantly usable and can be discussed is through Bob Broad & Jerry Savage’s midterm chat. The disadvantages of the midterm chat are that it takes up a big chunk of class time and it usually isn’t scheduled until well into the semester (hence the “midterm” in the name).

I decided to try something new this semester. I set up online surveys through SurveyMonkey for each of my classes. Each survey has just one question: “What do you want Liz to know?” I put a link on the course websites to the survey and mentioned it in class. The link allows students to remain anonymous and give me pretty instant feedback to assignments, class activities, policies, etc.

I’ve already received three pieces of feedback, and all three are useful–none of the griping I thought I might receive. All three pieces are critical in some way, but in carefully thought out and fairly sophisticated ways.

I like having a forum that allows (and even encourages) students to critique my teaching and also gives me a chance to discuss the feedback with the class and, if appropriate, make changes.

I’ll be posting later this week about some of the specific feedback I’ve received and what I’ve done with it.


Instrumentalism (imagine a circle/slash around that)

“Yet many teachers (and I suspect most) look upon their vocations as the imparting of a largely mechanical skill, important only because it serves students in getting them through school and in advancing them in their professions. [. . . ] Writing teachers are perforce given a responsibility that far exceeds this merely instrumental task.”
–James Berlin, “The Major Pedagogical Theories”