In this post for the Student Voice monthly theme, Salvador Aguilar, Masters student in Public Policy, describes how Course Enhancement Questionnaires and mid-course feedback gives students agency in helping lecturers improve their teaching skills…
Everyone likes to be listened to, and students are no exception to this. Most of us want to express our opinions on a course in a thoughtful, discrete and meaningful way. The University of Edinburgh gives us that opportunity with tools such as Course Enhancement Questionnaires (CEQs) and mid-course feedback (MCF). Even though their objective is to assure teaching quality, each of these feedback methods fulfil different purposes. Reflecting on my experience with these feedback tools, I am happy to share some of the practices that have impacted my learning experience.
Paving the way
Course Enhancement Questionnaires (CEGs) are sent out at the end of the course for students to reflect on the course as a whole. New students can benefit from alumni’s previous feedback while providing new feedback for future incoming students. Thus, CEQs can work in a ‘Pay it forward’ kind of way, which is a wholesome way of thinking about it.
In my very first lecture at the University, the professor took some time to explain a list of adjustments. She shared with us a personal guideline on teaching and the outcome of five years of students’ opinions. She mentioned things like: ‘speak with a clear pronunciation’, ‘repeat the questions two times’, ‘always use the microphone’, and ‘simplify online interaction’.
Being a new student from an international background, like most of the class, is hard. These rules certainly helped our learning, as they were meant to ease our ‘beginner’ status. This is a clear example of how end-of the-course feedback can help from the beginning in paving the way for future students.
Initiating a conversation
Mid-Course Feedback (MCF) is ideal for initiating dialogue between students and professors. Last semester, one professor handed us feedback postcards asking us to express what was going well and what could be improved. This was an open and judgement-free space for sharing our thoughts.
One week later, she not only delivered a thoughtful response to all fifty-five postcards, but she also provided some friendly reminders of the course’s content. She addressed most of the issues the class had commented on and thanked us for the nice comments on her lectures. The professor’s response made me aware of her genuine focus and commitment to us.
This exemplifies how MCF can initiate a conversation. Students have a receptive chance to express their concerns, and professors have the opportunity to help students make sense of any issue they might have. MCF greatly adds to the course dynamic by opening a direct and attentive communication line between students and lecturers.
A tool for potential Real-time change
Through MCF, students can spark reflections about what is working for them and what could be improved. In other cases, they can even prompt actual real-time change while the course is still running. Considering the short ten-lecture length of courses, MCF results are especially engaging for both students and professors.
Thanks to this feedback mechanism, one lecturer changed his workshop to a more practical approach. He commented on how most students wanted to have a less theoretical angle in the workshops. His response to our comments was quick in giving us exercises focused on real-life scenarios rather than on theoretical approaches. Some of the students could not believe how grounded the practice was, and found more compelling reasons to engage in the workshops.
On the one hand, this proves how student feedback can result in immediate beneficial changes. On the other hand, it shows that lecturers can be reflective about their approach and seek to better understand their audience to fine-tune their teaching skills.
In this way, MCF seems to be particularly valuable when addressing issues that arise during the course. Even if a change is not possible nor necessary mid-course, students appreciate having their suggestions for improvement considered.
What should we take away from these experiences?
Keeping in mind that teaching is a priority at The University of Edinburgh, one cannot help but recognise the undeniable added-value of feedback mechanisms to the student learning experience. I witnessed the actual impact of giving student feedback, and each tool has inherent benefits. However, as illustrated here, it is up to the lecturers to make the most of students’ thoughts to assure the best learning experience. Either way, these mechanisms highlight the importance for lecturers to continuously fine-tune their teaching skills and to seek to perform as best as they can.