Weekly Teaching Note
Feb 05 2014
Get Your Students' Perspectives

On Assessment Day, January 15, one of the topics under discussion was how to gather and use student input to gauge whether you are meeting student learning outcomes at the course- or program-levels. There were some interesting ideas shared:

  • In the College of Osteopathic Medicine, each cohort of students provide feedback at the end of each course. Faculty consider their comments and provide responses in writing. This format allows the faculty members to take time to consider the ideas, and prevents any feelings of being put “on the spot.” More often than not, the faculty incorporate suggestions from the students. If the suggestions seem inappropriate, then the faculty respond with the pedagogical rationale for their decisions.
  • The English department surveys both the students who take writing courses and the faculty members who teach the courses. It’s an interesting strategy, because the faculty can compare their perceptions with those of their students.
  • Larry Herman, chair of the Physician Assistant program, said that in his cohort-based program student representatives will discuss issues with the faculty members. This system preserves student anonymity and creates a constructive dialogue.

There are some simple ways that you, as an individual faculty member, can gather input as well. One of my favorite strategies is to use a Minute Paper, about one month into the semester. Five minutes before class ends, I ask each student to take out a blank piece of paper. This activity is anonymous, so they do not need to write their names down. I ask each student to answer two questions:

  1. What is helping you learn in this class?
  2. What would help you learn better?

Students can respond with things that I’m doing, or with things that they are doing. They drop their papers at the front of the room as they leave. It only takes a few minutes to look through them, and at the beginning of the next class, I spend a few minutes telling the students what I’ve learned. A couple of caveats:

  1. Make sure to “close the loop.” It’s absolutely essential to spend those few minutes debriefing the class. It tells the students that you care about what they have to say, and you take them seriously.
  2. Be prepared to change something. Actions speak louder than words. If you tell the class, for example, that “many of you said you’d like the handouts posted on Blackboard, so I’m going to start doing that,” you send a powerful message to the students. (See item 1.)
  3. You don’t have to change everything. It’s perfectly fine to tell the students that “although many of you asked for x, I’m not going to start doing that, and let me tell you why.” If you explain your pedagogical rationale to the students, you make them partners in the learning process. They’ll know you are not acting capriciously, and that there are good reasons for your decisions - reasons that have their learning in mind.
  4. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know! ’Nuff said.

To follow up on any of these ideas, or to discuss some other ways you can gather useful feedback from your students, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu.

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