By Amy Erickson
Excelsior instructors are asked to provide feedback prior to a class being half completed. For many of us teaching eight-week courses, that halfway point was last week. Although I feel comfortable giving students thorough, constructive feedback, I am interested in hearing their feedback as well. I am also interested in ways to evaluate my own teaching and seek out guidance from other, more experienced faculty members. With these ideas in mind, I decided to watch Ann Taylor’s 20-Minute Mentor video, “How Can I Get Useful Feedback to Improve My Teaching?”
Some universities rely on annual performance evaluations, where others are continually assessing and evaluating instructors. If you are working for a university that provides bi-annual or annual performance reviews, consider taking time to evaluate your own work more frequently. In Taylor’s (2015) video, she suggests that we evaluate ourselves with these important questions: “Are you giving good response time? Are you available to your students? Do they feel like you’re accessible? Do you come across as a caring faculty member in things like emails and written discussion posts?” (paras. 9-10). All these things contribute to the online environment and student perceptions of you and your class. If you answer no to these questions, you’ll need to find ways to address these issues quickly. As I’ve noted in previous articles, students respond positively to instructors who demonstrate engagement, presence, and empathy in the classroom.
Taylor (2015) brings up an important point when she says that students are not to be relied upon for evaluating the content of the course, but they certainly are capable of evaluating our ability to communicate and teach that content. She gave two suggestions that I really liked; the first is the “one-minute paper” and the second is the “muddiest point” paper (Taylor, 2015, paras 17-18). The one-minute paper allows students to write for one minute about their understanding of the material. “What’s going well for them? What are they still confused about? What maybe they’d like to see more of?” (Taylor, 2015, para. 17). The muddiest point paper allows students to ask questions about material that requires additional clarification. This can be done throughout the class, as it doesn’t take much time and it gives you meaningful feedback in terms of your instruction. Instead of it being a one-minute paper, you could call it a one-minute email. (That sounds a bit more manageable, especially for students taking writing-intensive courses.)
As I mentioned before, some universities rely on annual instructor performance evaluations. If you feel that you need more feedback, Taylor (2015) recommends reaching out to your peers. If you don’t know who your peers are at Excelsior, consider reaching out to your director for guidance, or ask your director if you can be connected to a seasoned instructor who may be interested in helping you. If you are a seasoned instructor, consider letting your director know that you would be willing to offer such services to new instructors.
For those interested in engaging in peer reviews, Taylor (2015) suggests using the Peer Review Guide to Online Teaching, which she developed for Penn State. The review is based on Chickering and Gamson’s research on the seven principles of effective teaching. If you are unfamiliar with Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) research, the seven principles are as follows:
- Encourages contact between students and faculty.
- Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
- Encourages active learning.
- Gives prompt feedback.
- Emphasizes time on task.
- Communicates high expectations.
- Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.
Another Cool Idea
Taylor also shares a story about polling to get information from your students. A lot of online polling tools exist, but I was more drawn to the resource she discussed as part of this story. As it turns out, Taylor (2015) had a professor who created a website of his own with frequently asked questions, resources and instruction related to the class. He stopped updating it because he felt students weren’t using it. He polled students and was surprised to find that 90 percent of students used it and so he began updating it immediately. Although this is another great example of receiving helpful feedback from students, I was more drawn to the idea of a personal website that students could access for tips, tricks, and additional guidance.
One of my colleagues said that she struggles with student feedback, because it is either written by students who loved the class or hated the class. There is very little middle ground. Some universities have decided to make feedback mandatory or assign points to the course evaluation to encourage complete participation. As Taylor (2015) noted, student feedback can be challenging to read. I imagine we’ve all received wonderful feedback, and I imagine we’ve all received negative feedback, too. Instead of getting defensive, try to take a deep breath, and take it all in. “Read your results with a thick skin. Look for trends. Look for common sources, common pieces of feedback” (Taylor, 2015, para. 55). Taylor (2015) recommends that we ignore what she calls outliers, but I tend to think that we can still learn from them. We can go back to our self-evaluation and ask important questions: How did a student get in such a position? Did we fail this student in terms of adequate communication? Did we give timely and constructive feedback? Did we show empathy and compassionate support? How can we prevent such student feedback in the future?
Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, 3-7.
Taylor, A. (2017, March 22). How can I get useful feedback to improve my online teaching? [Webinar]. In Magna 20-Minute Mentors. Retrieved from http://www.magnapubs.com/mentor-commons/?video=13857