Student feedback: The key to course improvement

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In this post, Sakie Chiba-Mooney, a language assistant in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, contributes to the Enhancement Themes* work that the University is engaged in to close the gap between student and staff perceptions of feedback…

“Hooray! This student likes my class”

“Oh, God… That student hates my class”

This is how I used to react to course feedback from students. Every teachers’ desire is the same. We want sweet, lovely, positive feedback from students. However, negative feedback is the real key to improving our teaching. How can we make the best use of student feedback?

Initiator of awareness reform

Student feedback can be the initiator that illustrates the gap between what teachers think is the best and what students think is the best. As professional educators we always try as hard as possible to provide the best class for our students using the knowledge of latest pedagogy, approach, theory etc. Therefore, when students give us negative comments on our class, we may dismiss them, thinking students don’t understand what is important or students don’t know much about our field. We have to realise that we sometimes need to change things to meet students’ real needs because students should be the centre of the learning process, rather than our academic interests. Updating new pedagogy is essential for educators to provide a good class, but giving practical help to our students so they become the best they can is more important.

Guideline for improving classes

Then, how can we improve our class for our students? The clues are also in student feedback. If you overlook them or throw them away, you are losing gold that shines in your class. It is important to analyse each comment carefully and categorise them to plan new and specific actions in order to tailor our class to student needs. If necessary, it is also beneficial to carry out follow-up survey before deciding to make any changes to the original plan. What the students want to learn, and how they want to learn it, are the most important matters for education.

Communication tool between students and teachers

Having said that, what if students have different opinions? We all know that they will. For example, if some students say this class is too difficult and others say it is too easy and want more challenging tasks, what can we do? Should we try to please the majority and ignore the minorities on either end? It is impossible to meet the needs of all the students all of the time. The solution is sharing. Share the situation. Share the feedback, all of it, good and bad, with the students. As I mentioned before, they are the centre of the learning process, they need to know other members’ thoughts and opinions about the class to create the best learning environment together.

However, teachers shouldn’t lose control or the ability to facilitate the students’ learning process. We shouldn’t forget we are the lead designers of the learning process. Good leaders and good designers listen to people and make decisions reasonably based on what they hear. Don’t make them decide the final outcome. As architects of the learning process we adapt the structure to suit the needs articulated by the students. Wise use of student feedback can create an effective communication highway between teachers and students, which enables them to improve the course collaboratively.

To sum up, student feedback can play an important role to improve courses and classes as tools of continuous students’ needs analysis and communication between students and teachers. Listening to students’ voices is different from obeying students’ opinions. It is vital to set up clear learning objectives and share them with students from the start so that our learning ship will not lose direction and reaches its goal. Student feedback can help teachers understand students’ current situations and needs, and enable us to support students to fulfil their goals in the best way.

*The Enhancement Themes aim to improve the student learning experience. They involve institutions, staff and students working together, sharing practice and generating new ideas for learning and teaching. The current Theme focuses on Evidence for Enhancement: Improving the Student Experience asks about the information (or evidence) used to identify, prioritise, evaluate & report on what’s good and what could be better about the student experience.

Sakie Chiba-Mooney

Sakie Chiba-Mooney is a Japanese language instructor in Asian studies in School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures in UoE. For more than 10 years, she has taught Japanese to various people from young children to adults in many different institutes. Her interests are Learner-Centred Education and Universal Design for Learning. Her current aim is to provide a course which can meet the diverse and variable needs of all students.

One comment

  1. Indeed feedback is important but can not be the only tool for improvement or the only factor of decision for the course curriculum/structure/design. The reality is that I found myself very often in the situation of not knowing what to do: some students said the course is too easy and some said it was too difficult. What I did was fo the following courses, at a beginning of a course I shared the feedback of the previous group of students. What I also provided was some more info on the students that found the course easy and the ones that found it difficult, for example how many hours per day didi they study individually after the class , or if they did do the homework projects or not. So in the end everyone knew form the start that in order to consider this class easy you will need to study individually after each class a minimum of 20 minute. And I really didi not expect a higher percentage of students who found the class just at the right level of difficulty after being told how much time they should dedicate to individual study.

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