Why to collect regular ongoing feedback
As a lecturer who was comfortable with face-to-face teaching and had to move online at very short notice, I have learnt that it is very important to get ongoing feedback from students from the very beginning.
The reason is simple: we underestimate how much unspoken feedback we are getting from students in a face-to-face context, and how important it is each time we teach a module.
Those big feedback forms that we used to send at the middle and end of the term are the legacy of a culture shaped in a different context. They are of very little help in compensating for the lack of constant unspoken in-classroom exchange – and are often of no benefit to the student respondents, whose feedback will mostly be used to refine teaching for the next cohort.
It is notable that the quality of ongoing course feedback tends to increase once students realise that it is useful and tends to decrease towards the end of the term when no further significant changes are likely to happen.
How to collect regular ongoing feedback
A mix of quantitative and qualitative feedback has been most helpful in getting a sense of how a module is perceived by the students. The most effective way to collect this information is to do it regularly, in small chunks, and mixed with other activities, such as a weekly questionnaire, assignment, or quiz using your institution’s learning management system – Moodle, Canvas, Sakai (or any other approved webform), Office365 or Google Workspace.
Each time I ask for slightly different information, such as: which resources are the most helpful, which ones can be improved, how they can be improved, which topics were the hardest.
Whatever technology I am using for the assignment, questionnaire, or quiz, I just embed a few extra questions in it to avoid overwhelming students with yet another feedback form.
I usually make quantitative or objective questions mandatory and open questions optional, and this diversity tends to yield a more meaningful data set.
With this information, we can make relatively big changes, such as discontinue resources that are not proving helpful and invest our energy where it is likely to have the most positive impact on the students. At a time when most academics are feeling overstretched, anything that boosts efficiency while maintaining teaching quality should be welcomed.
In such a way, we as instructors can start to shape our online courses collaboratively with the students, ensuring they are fully invested in the process.
Course improvements based on feedback
I had been writing a weekly study guide, but it became clear that most students did not find it particularly useful, so I stopped – freeing up time to focus on more constructive activities.
My students also pointed out that they were unsure about their solutions to some exercises, so I created a submission portal where they could submit answers to get them checked.
But the most important thing, often intangible and hard to measure or describe, is that constant interactions with the students shape the way we think about the material and how we approach it subsequently.
It also helps me identify students who are struggling with the material so that I can offer them some extra help in office hours.
I read students’ varied feedback critically, mostly in order to see whether I overlooked something, and then make my own judgement rather than counting student votes.
Leonardo Rolla is associate professor in the Department of Statistics at the University of Warwick.
Read Leonardo Rolla's comments in the feature "Teaching intelligence: switching online in the middle of a course"