Going Beyond SoFis, Soliciting Meaningful Feedback

Meaningful participation in the student feedback process can be difficult for some educators, making SoFis a bitter pill for any number of reasons.  Perhaps students aren’t informed about what meaningful feedback looks like. Often students aren’t vested in the process or in providing serious feedback, sometimes because we don’t take the system seriously enough ourselves. Additionally, given the time of year, even when meaningful issues are raised we do not have the opportunity to course-correct and make impactful changes for those particular students. Given these observations one might think I was building a case for less solicitation of feedback instead of more. However, it is exactly for these reasons that I would suggest offering students an opportunity to provide more informal feedback throughout the semester. Doing so is not only a good, best practice but one of the best, best practices. Consider the added potential to increase the effectiveness of your teaching as well as provide a more positive SoFi experience for you and your students.

Three immediately relevant considerations for seeking your own feedback, as discussed in 5 Reasons You Should Seek Your OWN Student Feedback, are:

  • Increased Student Engagement: Finding out what students “like” will often help you determine which activities they are finding effective methods of engagement.
  • Differentiation: Examining assessed metrics alone might show that a student is doing quite well in your class but that success may be coming at the expense of an unnecessarily high commitment of time and personal resources. Meanwhile, a student turning in average to subpar work may require more of a challenge to promote their engagement. Determining the level(s) at which students are challenged by your teaching puts you in a position to adjust and meet their individual needs.
  • Preparation for Official Evaluations: Having already provided an opportunity for students to offer feedback and, in theory, having acted on that feedback primes SoFis to receive increasingly meaningful and positive information.

These benefits aren’t easily recognized if we’re not asking the right questions, presenting another challenge to meaningful feedback. There exists a strong debate over what constitutes a “good” question in this context. We will table that discussion for now and invite you to offer thoughts in the comments below. In the meantime, allow me to offer the prevailing questions for consideration:

  • Is the work in this class too hard or too easy for you?
  • Do you feel our tests and quizzes are fair?
  • How easy is it to approach me with questions or concerns?
  • Do you feel our class time is used wisely?
  • What do you like most about this class?/ What do you like least?
  • What else do you think I should know?

Obviously, you have questions unique to your teaching that may not be covered in such a broad list. Remember to keep the questions simple yet direct; use open-ended prompts to allow students to provide considerations your questions may directly address. Afterall, the point of soliciting this feedback is to find out what you don’t already know.

There are a number of logistical factors to be considered when addressing the implementation of a survey to garner feedback. Some such considerations include:

  • Should it be done online?
  • On Paper?
  • In class?
  • On the students’ own time?
  • Anonymously or not?
  • When during the semester to seek feedback?

Sometimes, one may jump to an immediate preference: “I’m going to administer the survey on paper, anonymously in class during the last week!” If we consider this particular choice, one may begin to wonder if the legibility of a hand written survey may impact the outcome. Given that it’s anonymous, you wouldn’t be able to follow up on illegible responses nor the particularly poignant or cryptic responses which may be worthy of further discussion. Could we be using class time more efficiently? Given that it’s the last week of class, how could one possibly introduce meaningful change to the course? Could the limited amount of time you are able to provide in the class prevent a particularly astute student from providing the meaningful and in depth feedback they might provide on their own time? As you can see, the administration of such a survey may be, unto itself, a topic worthy of discussion with students.

Which leads to the next point: talk to your students about what your intentions are in administering such a survey. Make them aware that you are interested in honest and open feedback. Provide them examples of what meaningful feedback might look like. Discuss what constructive criticism could entail. Let them know that there are simply some things you have no control over (i.e., class times, building conditions, etc.). Most importantly, students must understand this isn’t a situation in which “negative” feedback will be punished.

When you feel that you have the students’ trust, a survey worth the time of both you and your students, and the conditions under which it will be administered, be prepared to receive the feedback. Readiness includes being ready to take action, which can look like:

  • Continue the Dialogue: Follow up with individual student concerns. Bring them to the rest of the class to find out if others have similar concerns. Check back, over time, to be sure progress is being made.
  • Look for Patterns: Sometimes concerns are specific to a single person and, in some of those cases, there may be nothing we can do. However, if a pattern of complaints arise it may be time for self-reflection – this isn’t a bad thing! It’s best to catch and rectify these issues when there is time enough to do so.
  • Fix What You Can: If there are simple “fixes” that can be made, do so. Perhaps a student is unable to hear you when you turn to write on the board. This may be an issue they are afraid or too shy to present in class; this is also something you can be mindful of and correct. Remember, students are less likely to provide feedback if they don’t feel there’s an opportunity for something to change.
  • Check Your Ego: While feedback may start to feel like the Festivus’ airing of grievances, remember that the balance of power in the student/faculty relationship can be one-sided and that the student has demonstrated great trust by providing you critical feedback. It’s our job to put egos aside and address their concerns in a serious and professional manner. If you find yourself becoming disheartened by negative feedback, take some time to concentrate on the positive feedback and find ways to amplify what you’re doing in those areas.

Much goes into gaining meaningful feedback from students. It would be disingenuous to suggest that either the solicitation or implementation of feedback is simple. As educators, however, we know that doing things because they are easy or avoiding them because they are difficult rarely provide positive results. We need results that put us on the path to continued improvement/excellence. Please don’t hesitate to contact the Canvas Support Team with questions or concerns about how to implement strategies to obtain quality feedback from your students. You can reach us by email (canvas@geneseo.edu) or the Canvas Hotline at 585.245.6000 (weekdays 8AM – 4PM).

Sources Stolen From:

Interesting Additional Reading:

How Students Can Shape the Design of Their Courses

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