Want to know what your students think about your teaching? Ask them! @pgcap #CMC11 MOOC

Last week’s #coresep11 session of the @pgcap made me think and reflect about loads of different aspects of teaching and learning and my own practice.

One of them was a question raised by one of our students, which stayed in my mind since then. The more I started thinking about it the more I felt that there is something here that could be done to organise my own thinking and perhaps start something off that others might find useful as well. What I am attempting here will be just the start and I am inviting everybody who is reading this, to contribute their thoughts and ideas linked to what I am presenting below. The plan is to continuously update this post and co-create a rich resource that might help us all in our practice.

I guess, you are wondering what this is all about. Well, the question that stayed with me is the one around receiving feedback from students. Usually we teachers are the ones providing feedback to our students and often this is problematic too but I am not going to focus on this here.

Students are usually asked at the end of a module or programme to fill out an evaluation form. I see value in creating opportunities for an ongoing dialogue and conversation with the students to enhance practice and respond to the needs of individuals and a specific class. I am not suggesting that we will have to agree with all feedback  received but it can become an additional resource and perspective to our own evaluation and will definitely help us reflect on our practice and be aware of certain views and how students experience our teaching.

  • How can we engage our students in feedback activities that will help us evaluate our practice and move forward?
  • What options do we have?

I am starting this ideas collection hoping that others will contribute their thoughts as well. Everybody who contributes will be mentioned and a link can also be added to their online space. How does this sound?

Ways to get informal feedback about your teaching practice from your students

Get the stickies out!

1. Get the stickies out!

Just before the end of a session, ask our students to write a short statement about your session. Give students about 5min max (no more time is needed) to capture their responses on a sticky note and place them on a door or a wall and then leave the room. All stickys are anonymous and this fact might encourage students to be more honest and critical but not necessarily constructive. Please be aware of this.

Variations:

  • instead of asking students to write something down, you could ask them to doodle their thoughts on this. You could provide crayons, coloured pencils or coloured pencils too. Access an example here.
  • consider using electronic sticky notes too. Especially useful for online or blended settings but also for face-to-face situation. Stickies can be added any place, any time, which might also be attractive for some and encourage more reflection before posting the feedback. There are a number of free options available to get you started and some of them don’t even require registration and students can add anonymous stickies if they want to. A link to a e-noticeboard collection can be accessed here.
Smiles?

2. Smiles?

These stickers are great. You can find them anywhere, the blank yellow and light blue stickers. I bought them from http://www.ebay.com (cost: under £5) and are available in all sorts of colours. No, the smileys and saddies were not there when I bought them. I added them and that was the fun part. I have now about 1000 of these stickers.

Hand them out and create a table with basic module activities such as

  • delivery
  • information
  • interaction
  • assessment
  • feedback
  • resources
  • online learning spaces
  • support

Then ask your students during a break, before the start of a session or immediately afterwards, to post smileys and saddies into the different columns based on the and resond to comments left by others if they know the answer.

Variations:

  • Choose different colours and draw different things with different meanings depending on what you would like to find out.
  • Why not use different shapes and/or symbols? You will find loads of ideas on eBay, just look for stickers.
(Lego) creations

3. (Lego) creations

Lego blocks are not just for kids but they are also an excellent way to turn feedback into a more creative and reflective activity. If you are not convinced, check out Lego serious play. Hand out little bags with lego bricks at the end of a session and give your students 5 min to create something that represents what they think and/or feel about your sessions.

Variations of materials. Instead of playdough you might want to use:

  • mobilo
  • playdough
  • drinking straws
  • aluminium foil
  • paper/cards
  • fabric
  • or anything else. The options are endless.
Nothing wrong with surveys

4. Nothing wrong with surveys…

… if they are short and to the point! Think in advance what you really want to find out and have a focus for your survey. Don’t try to get feedback on every single aspect of your teaching in one survey. You might create a series of mini surveys, each with the different focus point. Does this make sense? I have used www.surveymonkey.com for a while but the free version makes the analysis and evaluation a bit tricky, so I am actually moving towards using GoogleDocs because the analysis of data is more streamlined.

Variations:

  • Consider creating a printable survey.
  • You could also ask a group of students to design the survey and then use it for the whole class.
Have a chat

5. Have a chat

You might consider organising an open and honest chat with your students at the end of a session or at some other time in a different location where everybody will feel more relaxed and comfortable to contribute constructively. In order for this to happen, you need also to have created first, I think, a learning community. You might want to make some notes during this or record your conversation so that you can play it back later and help you reflect on what has been said. This way of receiving feedback from your students will also enable you to discuss their thoughts and ask for clarification if needed and explain certain aspects of your practice if required.

Variations:

  • Group tutorial chat
  • Focus group
  • Individual chat or during a one-to-one tutorial
  • Invite a colleague to have a chat with your students
  • Use a web-conferencing tool
keep a journal

6. keep a journal

Ask your students to keep a reflective journal about the module or programme of studies. You will see that some will also start commenting on their learning experience and express likes and dislikes. Why not set up a class blog (I guess you could use www.wordpress.com or any other blogging tool and remember it doesn’t have to be all written. Try www.ipadio.com as well and create and audio journal) to reflect on the sessions together with your students. This way you can model reflection and encourage your students to provide their input and comment on your thoughts.

Variations:

  • Encourage students to keep a real notebook to capture their reflections off-line if they prefer to do this but it would be useful to gain and insight into their thinking during the module/programme of study.
  • A scrapbook is also another way to create a more visual artefact of the process of learning and reflections.
Pick a card

7. Pick a card

Do you love taking photographs? Have you thought about starting a collection that could be used in your teaching to get feedback from your students? Start with this use and soon you will discover that the images will also be useful in other situations. Don’t worry if you don’t have many photographs yet. There are many out there on the web you can use. Always check the copyright notice and you might want to check out the ones made available under creative commons. You will find loads. Check out flickr and sxc. When you put your collection together, think of different moods and objects and styles individuals can relate to that will trigger reflection. Print them out and laminate them so that they last longer. Then at the end of a session you could spread them on the floor or on a desk or put them on a wall and ask your students to pick one that symbolises how they feel about the sessions so far or about a particular session or a specific aspect of your teaching. It is up to you.

Variation:

  • Use postcards instead, these can be from different places, activities, objects, paintings etc.
Play a game

8. Play a game

Game-based learning is becoming more popular. I am not sure how much it is used in Higher Education at the moment. However, I am seeing great value in using games for receiving feedback from students.

Think about games you have played. It might be a board game, a card game or a more physical game. This is up to you. You might want to develop a game in collaboration with your students. Think about games you have played and could adapt to gain useful and constructive feedback. Or come up with your own orginal idea and develop it into a concept. Think also about for how many players your feedback game will be and how many groups you need. Keep in mind that games will require more time to develop (unless you have one already) and play but they add a fun element to the process and might make students feel more relaxed too.

Variations:

  • Digital games
  • Mixed-reality games
Flipchart

9. Flipchart

Could you hang a flipchart on the wall and ask your students to write or draw something that will tell you what they think of your teaching? You might want to leave the room when this is happening because some might want to keep their anonymity. This is up to you.

Variation:

  • You could also ask your students to create a mindmap on a flipchart on which you could provide some branches to make a start inviting them to focus on different aspects of your teaching.
Traffic light system

10. Traffic light system

The traffic light system is used widely in schools for behaviour management, assessment and check understanding. I think it could also be very useful for getting feedback from students about their learning experience. You might want to create laminated traffic light cards on which students can record the following using a non permanent marker.Later you can wipe the responses off and use the cards again.

  • green – really love this
  • orange – not sure about this
  • red – have a real problem with this

You might decide to change the above statements.


However you decide to collect feedback from your students, I think it is a worthwhile activity if you want to find out how they feel and are keen to enhance their learning experience before the end of your module or programme so that you can digest it and explore opportunities to enhance their experience by making adjustements to your practice.

Remember to use the feedback collected in combination with your own reflection and evaluation. Also discussing your sessions with colleagues as well as carrying out peer observations will help you gain a richer picture and multiple perspectives. If there are more critical comments try not to take them personally. At times you might feel upset but try and understand and think ‘How would you feel if you were in their shoes?’.

Remember you asked your students for feedback because you want to develop your practice further. I think it would be useful to clarify this at the beginning so that your students understand the purpose of this activity. Then they will be more constructive.

Also it is important to get back to your students and share with them in what ways the feedback has been useful for you and what you intend to do with it.

If you lay the foundations of a learning community and turn teaching and learning into a partnership with your students, students will take more responsibility of their learning and soon discover that you need to work together and one way of doing this would be to keep an open and honest dialogue. There is no right or wrong way of getting feedback from students – whatever works for you and your students.

Also check out ESCalate’s page about Student’s experience and student feedback where you will find a number of case studies, including one from me.

Let’s be creative!

Please add your thoughts on the above and further ideas. Why not share what you have tried and how it worked.

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