Receiving and Providing Feedback

In classes where controversial material is presented and discussed, it is important for faculty members to know what students are thinking so that the teaching approaches can be directed to student opinions and preconceptions, and so a climate of trust and communication can be maintained. Students also need a safe place to express reactions and opinions. Finally, providing feedback to individual students can enhance student learning, and the instructor needs to clearly separate feedback on a student's position on issues from grading. The following approaches are largely adapted from Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross' Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers , which can be checked out from the LEARN Center Library, located in the Research and Sponsored Programs Office, Roseman 2023.

One Minute Paper
The instructor stops class a few minutes early and asks students to respond briefly to one or two questions. They can be a variation of one or both of these two questions:

  • "What was the most important thing you learned during this class?"
  • "What important questions remain unanswered?"

The instructor can also ask for feedback on an issue or topic or teaching approach used that day in the class. Students can respond on index cards or on half-sheets of scrap paper. Direct students to leave their names off the cards/sheets of paper. Let students know how much time they have, how you want their response (words or phrases, sentence fragments, sentences).

Classroom Opinion Polls
Before starting to cover material about which students are likely to have preconceptions (with varying degrees of relation to historical evidence or data on current conditions). These opinions, often unrecognized or not clearly articulated by students, can distort or block the instructional message. The faculty member can ask students to respond in a multiple choice format to a few questions. If this is done at the end of a class, the faculty member can tabulate the answers, get a sense of the range and intensity of the preconceptions held by students, and understand potential roadblocks to teaching.

Sample questions:

Overall, Indian gaming (casinos) are good for tribes in Wisconsin .

Strongly AgreeAgreeDon't KnowDisagreeStrongly Disagree

Overall, Indian gaming (casinos) are good for the state of Wisconsin .

Strongly AgreeAgreeDon't KnowDisagreeStrongly Disagree

Instructors can eliminate the middle option ("Don't Know") if they want to force students to agree or disagree with a point of view. If Desire2Learn is being used in the class, it is easy to get this information from students.

Misconception/Preconception
It is important to assess students' background knowledge with a focus on uncovering prior knowledge or beliefs that may hinder further learning. What students "know" may not be factually true. Instructors who have taught the class before have an understanding of common preconceptions.

Forced choice answers preserve anonymity, and are easier to summarize than short answer. One format which yields a wealth of information on student knowledge and students' level of conviction of their knowledge is to ask a variation of True-False statements and then have students circle one of the following:

I'm absolutely
certain that is
true
I'm pretty
sure it is
true

I have no idea if it
is true or false

I'm pretty
sure it is
false

I'm absolutely
certain it is false

Before employing this, have another faculty member read your questions to make sure that they do not seem patronizing, threatening, or obvious.

Students working in teams to come up with "reasonable" explanations or justifications for the misconceptions uncovered through this assessment.
When students are asked to respond to course readings with highly charged emotional content, some students will respond in ways that they think will fit with the instructor's views on the subject. One option to get around this with homework assignments is to state that students need to write a page (handwritten) or 250 words typed, answering a question or questions related to a reading. They are not to put their names on the paper. Before the class is over, the instructor recruits a student to collect the papers. Toward the end of class, the instructor leaves, and the appointed student collects the homework papers, checking names off as students hand in their papers, and gets the papers and list of students who completed the assignments to the faculty member later that day. Students are given credit for handing in the papers, but the papers do not get a number/letter grade.

Electronic Mail Feedback
This can be used either with a course using Desire2Learn or when the instructor gathers student emails. Students are sent a question asking for feedback on teaching/learning activities, their perception of the class climate, or other issues. They are encouraged to send their feedback to a class member who volunteers to cut and paste the responses (without identifying the senders) and then send an email with all the responses to the instructor. On Desire2Learn, it is also possible to post feedback anonymously.

Informal ways to get student feedback
Students can be encouraged to share their perceptions about the content and the process of course learning in a variety of informal ways. One can ask students to bring in questions about the class and pass them in anonymously, and during class the instructor can stop periodically, pass out 3x5 cards, and ask for brief feedback—"On a scale of 1-10, ten is high, how useful was the exercise we just did in contributing to your learning. Put an explanation for the number you chose if you wish." If students are journaling in the class, their journal entries can be a source of feedback.

Providing Feedback to Students
The faculty member can provide feedback to the entire class, and to individual students. When any of the approaches to eliciting feedback discussed above are used, the faculty member should share a summary of the feedback to students in the subsequent class, so that students know that their feedback is being heard and used.. In some cases, such as the use of Classroom Opinion Polls, the instructor may use the results of the polls for small group or classroom discussion.

Faculty members can also provide feedback directly to students. When the instructor is using rubrics or scoring sheets* for grading a paper assignment or essay question, grading can be seen by the student as separate from feedback. The faculty member on the essay/paper itself can write to the student indicating, for example, the contradictions between one answer and another, or the lack of substantiation for an observation.

*Typing "rubric college teaching" into www.google.com yields a variety of examples of rubrics and instructions on creating rubrics.