March 13, 2014

Welcoming Student Feedback to Improve the Teaching Process

by Jackie Tran, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Howard County General Hospital

Going through pharmacy school, the biggest thorn in my side was filling out those end of the course/rotation evaluation forms. These lengthy forms seemed to take ages to complete and with each instructor or preceptor came the same set of questions. This process seemed very cumbersome to me and I always wondered if the instructor (or preceptor) really cared or read what I had written. I’ll admit that I didn’t take them very seriously or make much effort to fill them out.  Looking back, I feel that I committed a disservice, not only to the instructors but also myself and future students, because without providing my feedback, how would people know how things can be improved? Feedback, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, is something we should seek to receive as it fosters improvement. There are many ways to solicit feedback but it’s perhaps more important to have the right attitude when receiving feedback and, once received, using it to foster improvement.

Soliciting Student Feedback

End of the year course evaluations are not the only method to gather feedback. There are many approaches that instructors can employ including focus groups and learning logs. Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses. Below are examples of approaches suggested by Hoban and Hastings after a 10-year collaboration to investigate approaches to optimize the gathering of student feedback.1

1.    Student interviews / Focus Groups

In this approach, the instructor uses open-ended questions to interview students. The interview asks students to discuss the effectiveness of the instructor’s teaching process as well as identifying effective strategies that reinforced the learning.

2.    Student Learning Logs

Students are asked, at the end of each lesson, to write down what they learned and how they learned (e.g. what the instructor did to facilitate their learning). This approach can be helpful in ensuring that students are achieving the goal of the lesson but students often have difficulty with describing how the instructor helped facilitate the learning.

3.    Surveys

This last approach is the most commonly used method. The survey needs to be formulated in a manner that would allow the instructor to reflect on their teaching approach. For example, useful questions might include “My instructor uses things I already know how to help me learn new ideas” or “Across the term, my teachers’ lessons build on one another to develop better understanding.” Additionally, having both student and instructor complete the survey, instructors are able to compare their perceptions with the students’ perceptions.  This allows the instructor to gain a bigger perspective when reflecting on their teaching process.

The list above is only a small representation of the many methods that could be employed to collect feedback from students. It is up to the instructor to decide which is most appropriate for their audience and setting.

Instructor Attitudes Towards Student Feedback

Receiving student’s feedback poses a potential challenge because most often the process will elicit a psychological response. Instructors should separate their emotions when receiving feedback as this will facilitate a more reflective and cognitive consideration of the information. This will help instructors to deal more effectively with some of the more critical comments.2

Vanderbilt University has developed strategies that can assist instructors with receiving feedback. When reading/receiving feedback, some of the strategies include: 3
  • Pick out a good time and place so that you have the privacy and space to analyze the information
  • Identify trends in the students’ feedback; look for what is working well and what needs improvement in the teaching process
  • Gain perspective on the student feedback by considering current experience with teaching
  • Realize that all instructors will receive negative feedback. Negative feedback can still be used to identify areas of improvement.

Using Student Feedback

Once instructors have read and reflected on student feedback, the next step is to use it to identify things that need to be improved in the teaching/learning process. Stanford University’s Center for Teaching and Learning offers a stepwise approach:4
  1. Reflect on the goals of the course. This step will allow instructors to place student feedback into perspective by allowing instructors see where they and the students differ on their view of the course
  2. Determine your personal strengths and weaknesses as an instructor.  Student feedback can be used to pinpoint some areas of strength and weakness.
  3. Target areas of improvement   This last step is where the instructor identifies the change they will make to improve the teaching process. Instructors should focus on one to two changes that can be feasibility implemented. It’s important to remember that improvements in student feedback may not be seen instantly. It can take days, months and even years before the desired outcome is achieved but that should not deter an instructor from continuing their efforts to push for the improvement.
  1. Hoban G, Hastings G. Developing different forms of student feedback to promote teacher reflection: A 10-year collaboration. Teaching and Teacher Education. 2006 11;22(8):1006-19.
  2. Using Student Feedback [Internet]. Eugene (OR). University of Oregon, Teaching Effectiveness Program. [Cited 2013 Feb 17].
  3. Student Evaluations [Internet]. Nashville (TN). Vanderbilt University, Centers for Teaching. [Cited 2013 Feb 17].
  4. Stanford University. Using Student Evaluations to Improve Teaching. Standford University Newsletter on Teaching, Fall 1997, Vol 9, No.1.

No comments: