There has been a lot written on social media and online about the sudden shift to online teaching. Whether it be Zoom bombing or Zoom ghosting, the best ways to put our content online, converting assessments to be suitable for online – we are hearing about it every day in the media, on social media and in anonymous rants on reddit.
Which leads me to student feedback surveys (SFS). I strongly believe in our surveys as a tool for reflection, however I realised that I’ve never had a conversation with my students about how they give feedback in the SFS.
I am aware that many tertiary teaching staff are deeply impacted by the feedback they receive. One friend who teaches at another university mentioned to me the distress that feedback had recently caused them. This person is very dedicated to their teaching, has years of experience developing flipped content, innovates with technology in the class room and has helped their colleagues navigate this world of suddenly online teaching. Of course, much of the feedback received was positive – but the negative feedback was not nice.
“Why wasn’t the content as good as Khan Academy?”. “The teacher should take a chill pill”. Encountering this feedback knocked this experienced educator for six, creating emotional distress with no constructive feedback that might lead to any improvement in the student experience.
Students are understandably stressed – the life of a university student this session has not been “normal”. Many have lost their casual jobs in hospitality and retail, international students are either far from loved ones, or studying overseas with often unreliable internet connections, others are sharing a slow internet connection with parents working from home and/or siblings engaging in remote learning. They miss the sense of community that comes with being on campus and physically together in class.
They are venting on reddit, on social media, in emails to staff and potentially, in their feedback surveys. After seeing the aftermath on my friend, I wanted to do something to try and ensure none of my UTS friends and colleagues ended up in the same position – wondering whether they should put in any more effort when the feedback comments feel like a kick in the guts. I wanted to inspire kindness, understanding and empathy – while still helping us highlight what needs improvement.
This led me to create an infographic template to share with my students this session, using PowerPoint and sourcing icons from The Noun Project. Then, just in case this might help those at other institutions, I made a generic version and tweeted about it.
And the feedback from the Twitter-verse was really positive!
Shame it’s needed but I think you strike the right tone. Too often questionnaires turn into a moanfest rather than being constructive.— Susan Smith (@SmithySusanA) May 24, 2020
Thank you so much. Students can give the most random feedback which is often centred on their individual wants. Helping them learn how to give constructive feedback is important. I will be using your infographic now and in future courses when we are back to in-person classes.— Rosalind Duke (@rosalind_duke) May 25, 2020
And our Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education) Prof Shirley Alexander reminded us that our early feedback comments were overwhelmingly positive.
Great work Amanda. But just to reassure others, and after reading ALL the UTS student qualitative comments, I can confidently say that positive, grateful and supportive student comments far outweighed the number of negative comments.— Shirley Alexander (@SAlexander_UTS) May 25, 2020
Of course we know, we tend to irrationally dwell on the negative feedback (just like we dwell on paper rejections or negative comments at conferences) – trying to change that habit is a whole other blog post!
I hope that my little infographic helps us improve the feedback we receive and help us make changes for our online (and for some face-to-face) teaching in Spring that makes things a little bit better for us all.
Have you tried something new to help students give feedback? I’d love to hear about it – either in the comments below or via email.