Thursday, March 29, 2012

7 things to think about when asking for student feedback on your teaching

Last week I attended a workshop about student evaluation led by Professor Sid Nair. Sid is an academic who has spent a lot of time researching the best ways to ask for student feedback and what to do with the feedback once you have got it. I am afraid I had to leave the workshop just as things were getting really interesting, but here are seven main points that I got out of the section that I was able to attend.

1. You have four to six weeks to make a good impression on the students
This is hugely significant because if you do not make the most of the first few weeks of your course to engage and capture students, they will deem you to be a poor teacher and it will not matter what you do afterwards, you will receive poor feedback.

2. Students do know what they are talking about
I confess I have been guilty in the past of minimalising what students say for various reasons. But the reality is they know what a good teacher is, or isn't. Interestingly, undergraduate students are more critical than postgraduate students which is certainly true, in my experience. I do not know why, but I suspect it is because postgraduate classes are smaller, which has enabled me to have a more personal relationship with postgraduate students. So the moral of the story is to work hard with undergraduates because they make up their mind about your teaching within four to six weeks of the course starting.

3. Response rates
Anything over 40% is good.....response rates over 70% is great. Traditionally, you will always get lower response rates to a distance-run course.

4. How to increase response rates
There are a number of ways to increase feedback rates. But what you must resist is making feedback compulsory. If you do, you will get poor quality information back from students.

  • Get student buy-in by asking a senior member of staff to explain what the survey is about, and what you are going to do with the feedback. This will give credibility to the feedback mechanism.
  • You will increase response rates if you close the feedback loop. In other words, make sure you tell the students about the feedback you have received, and how and what you plan to do about it.
  • Use a mix of feedback methodologies. For example, if you're finding that you do not get good responses to online surveys, try paper questionnaires. If you're not getting adequate depth of feedback from surveys, use focus groups. 
  • Teachers must take responsibility for response rates, and do all they can to increase rates which may include frequent reminders to students. We know that the more teachers work to promote the survey, the higher the response rates will be.
  • Questionnaires must be developed to follow good design principles. Poorly designed questionnaires will not attract high response rates.
  • The quality of feedback will improve if you ask students about their personal experience as opposed to the experience of the class as a whole.
5. Do not ask about teachers knowledge level or if they appear to be up to date
Students are unlikely to have the knowledge or experience to make this judgement. However, if feedback about the level of the teacher's knowledge crops up in comments, then obviously this has to be looked at. 

6. Difficulty of assessment and marking does not affect feedback
In other words,  if you are a poor teacher you will receive poor feedback even if you give students easy assessments and mark them generously.

7. Timing
  • Because students make up their minds about teachers' performance in the first four to six weeks of the course, you can ask for teacher feedback any time after the middle of the course.
  • Course evaluation should be administered at the end of the course.
  • Make the survey available on Thursday/Friday so students have all weekend to complete it. Do the same when you send out reminders.
Chenicheri Sid Nair and Chris Waylan: Quality and Evaluation: A Universal System for a Quality Outcome. 2005.

Lorraine Bennett a, Chenicheri Sid Nair  & Chris Wayland.  Love it or Hate it: Participation a Key Ingredient in Closing the Loop. 2006.
Chenicheri Sid Nair, Phillip Adams, Stefano Ferraiuolo & Andrew Curtis. Student Engagement the Key to Better Response Rates. 2006.
Mahsood Shah, Mark Wilson, Professor Chenicheri Sid Nair. The Australian Higher Education Quality Assurance Framework: Its Success, Deficiencies and Way Forward. 2010.

Image: 'Blizard Building lecture theatre'



Maxine said...

Interesting to read about the lower response rates to a distance-run course. Do you have any suggestions to improve the situation? Cheers, Maxine

Sarah Stewart said...

According to Syd, you have to mix things up. So if an online survey isn't working with distance students, maybe a phone call would be a more appropriate method, or even a posted paper survey with self-addressed envelope.