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Notes from class: Feedback sucks (but it's good for you)

October 12, 2017


How can we as instructors/professors learn quicker about what it is working and what is not?


Maybe more to the point:  do we even want to?  


When I began teaching, I realized I needed to learn more and quicker about how I am being received, how the course is working and what is (and what is not) helping students learn.  A professor friend of mine shared a little trick which I have refined and adopted:  the quick feedback form.



Here is what I do in class (you can let them know in advance):

  1. Ask students to get out a half-sheet of paper.

  2. I put the above image on a Ppt or draw it on the blackboard or whiteboard. They don't put their name on it. It's anonymous.

  3. I give them 2 - 3 minutes to write out thoughts on their own.

  4. I give them 5 minutes to share either in pairs or in small groups (no more than four students in a group) during which I leave the room telling them, "When I come back I want to hear from you."

  5. I leave and come back 5 minutes later.

  6. We discuss.  I feel like the best and worst teacher on the planet as their comments fly at me like paper airplanes.

In a recent class, there was a near mutiny about the apparent horrible state of my Canvas page (the LMS we use at Penn State).  And my "Announcement" which I send out with great eloquence and clarity are also a mess.  


I came back to the room and after a flurry of compliments and kudos, a brave student mumbled something about "sometimes the announcement and assignments on Canvas are unclear."  As soon as I thanked the student and showed sincere interest in feedback (when the rest of the class saw I would not shoot the messenger nor would I defend myself and make excuses), about half the class of 35 students raised their hands.  


The courageous mumbling of a single student had struck a nerve and an opportunity for creative collaboration and improved learning and teaching.  


It was not possible to address all their concerns in the moment so I asked if 2 - 3 of them would sit down with me next week, with one of their compute