Using feedback to improve teaching

Collecting feedback about teaching is an important component of effective instruction.  Feedback is not a one-time occurrence; it is better viewed as a cycle or a loop.

Instructors can get feedback about their teaching indirectly by considering how students are performing on assignments, quizzes/tests, homework, discussions, class activities, etc. While student performance can provide some information about the effectiveness of teaching, other more directed forms of feedback can provide valuable information to the instructor about their teaching methods, content presentation, rapport with students, engagement in the classroom, and other topics.

Who can provide feedback?

While there are many different ways of collecting feedback, the main distinction is between methods that use students to collect evidence and those that obtain evidence from non-students. There are benefits to both. Students are in a course and see all the instructor does; however, they may not be capable of providing feedback on the quality of explanations for complex topics, for example. Sources of feedback include the following:

  • Students: As regular participants in a class, students can provide valuable feedback about the teaching and assessment methods used (although they may not be able to speak to whether these methods are appropriate in the context), the organization of the course, the presentation skills and clarity of the instructor, the learning atmosphere, as well as an instructor's perceived interest in the subject matter, availability, reliability and preparation for course.
  • Peers: Colleagues are able to provide feedback on a number of different aspects of teaching, such as knowledge of the subject matter, how the course fits within the curriculum and connects to other classes, the teaching and assessment methods used, the organization of the course and the presentation of material.
  • Supervisors: Course coordinators, program leads or department chairs are able to provide feedback about how the course and the content fit in the larger departmental curriculum, the appropriateness of teaching and assessment methods, organization of the course and course goals and learning outcomes.
  • Teaching consultants: Institute for Teaching and Learning staff are trained to provide feedback about improving the learning environment for students. They provide constructive feedback about teaching goals, instructional activities, the effectiveness and appropriateness of teaching and assessment methods, the organization of a course or a class period, the presentation of content, the clarity of presentation, and whether the course has an atmosphere that facilitates student learning. 

The most constructive feedback about teaching may require multiple perspectives and include multiple opportunities to solicit, gather and review feedback. In the sections below, more information will be provided about gathering evidence and feedback about teaching from both students and non-students.

Types of Student Feedback

There are many ways to assess teaching. Using an end-of-term survey is the method with which most are familiar (and mandatory for most instructors at Ohio State). End-of-term surveys provide instructors with valuable information to help shape the course and teaching strategies for future course offerings.

But how can an instructor collect data that could help enhance the course for current students? Such tools allow the instructor to address points of confusion regarding course design or major projects, make meaningful changes or adjustments quickly and efficiently, promote student engagement with the course content and the instructor, and positively affect the outcome of end-of-term evaluations of teaching effectiveness.

Early-term feedback

Early-term Feedback (ETF) is a formative assessment tool — in essence, a three-question survey — that allows an instructor to engage students, address relevant questions or concerns, and make changes the instructor believes to be valuable based on feedback.

ETF can provide information about student perceptions of workload, their understanding of course objectives, their ability to engage with educational technology or resources, or their reception of new instructional approaches.

Early-term Feedback is usually done between weeks 3 and 5 of a semester. Instructors give students 10 minutes to answer up to three open-ended questions like the following:

  • What features of this course contribute most to your learning?
  • What changes would enhance your learning or clarify confusion?
  • What can you do to improve your learning?
  • What, if anything, would you change about the course?
  • What is the best feature of the instructor’s presentation skills?
  • Do you feel that the approach to (describe course change) is effective?

Typically, the instructor explains the purpose of ETF and allows students to jot down responses anonymously. The survey can also be administered through Carmen or Qualtrics.

Mid-term Feedback

Mid-term evaluations can be conducted at any time (and several times) during the term. The advantage to collecting mid-term feedback is that instructors can still act on it immediately, by the next class if necessary. Mid-term feedback surveys may resemble those described above or be structured using a likert scale indicating level of agreement.

CATs (Classroom Assessment Techniques)

The Classroom Assessment Techniques described briefly here are taken from Angelo and Cross (1993). These are typically very brief and focused questions or tasks related to the current content of a course. For example, at any point during a class, the instructor may ask students to write a “minute paper” addressing something specific, e.g., “What were the two most important points covered in class thus far?” Students are given a minute to write their answers, and the instructor uses their responses as guidance in constructing the next class period. Another useful question is, “What is the muddiest (most confusing) point from today’s class?” 

SGID (Small Group Instructional Diagnosis)

A SGID is a way to gather rich, contextualized information about a course and instruction through an in-class focus group interview, facilitated by an Institute instructional consultant. The process includes:

  • An initial consultation to learn what an instructor would like to discover through the SGID experience.
  • Scheduling 20 minutes during a class meeting to allow the facilitator to become a “research tool” for the instructor. The facilitator engages students in small group discussions about three questions related to their learning in the course. Then, the facilitator pulls the smaller groups back into a full class discussion to summarize and clarify feedback.
  • A post-SGID meeting with the facilitator. Instructors receive a report providing a short description of the process, as well as transcribed student responses. This document is shared only with the instructor, but could be a great source of data to include in a teaching portfolio. Together, both instructor and faciliator work to interpret the comments and identify future action. 

SGIDs are normally conducted mid-term so that an instructor has the opportunity to react to the information gathered and apply it to the remainder of the semester.

SGIDs frequently result in better instructor-student communication and a greater sense of community in the classroom. Students are often impressed that the instructor took the time to ask for feedback in a detailed manner, and, in return, they respond with insightful, eloquent, and articulate answers.

Request a SGID 

Student evaluation of instruction (numerical/quantitative ratings)

SEI (Student Evaluation of Instruction) forms are typically filled out at the end of the quarter. Students are asked to assign a numerical value to various aspects of the course and the instructor, on a scale of 1 (poor) – 5 (excellent). Ohio State faculty and TAs can download their cumulative SEIs through the Faculty Center. Click on the link to SEI Info and choose “Generate New SEI Cumulative Report.” For more information about SEIs, see the online SEI Handbook from Ohio State’s Office of Academic Affairs. Individual departments may have their own unique surveys for instructors to use in addition to or in place of the SEIs.

Discursive student evaluations (qualitative)

Often conducted in conjunction with SEIs, discursive student evaluations are written comments that the students offer in addition to the numerical ratings. These allow the students to add more information about issues evaluated on SEIs and to address issues that do not appear on the SEI forms. For example, an instructor might ask students what about the course or instructor helped them (or didn’t help them) learn; their most (or least) favorite part of the course; how valuable certain assignments were; what they thought about the readings, etc. Some departmental forms use a similar system for collecting open-ended feedback. Discursive feedback does not go to the Registrar’s office, but instead will either go to the department (and may be summarized for an instructor in some cases) or will be returned directly as raw data.

Evidence From Non-Students

Other teaching professionals — such as peers, professors or unit-level teaching consultants — can also provide instructors with evaluations of teaching. Below are documents from others that could be included in a teaching portfolio or as feedback.

Peers, advisors, and other faculty

  • Written feedback from a classroom observation that details judgment on teaching
  • Written feedback that details judgment on course materials, such as handouts, exams, and syllabi
  • Written documentation that details teaching contribution to the department

Documentation from outside consultants

  • Written feedback from a classroom observation that details strengths, as well as areas for improvement
  • Written summary from a classroom videotaping that details strengths, as well as areas for improvement
  • Written summary of open-ended comments from student evaluations of instruction that details strengths, as well as areas for improvement
  • Written summary from mid-term feedback that details areas of strength, as well as areas for improvement
  • Written summary that details the teaching improvement work done with a consultant

OSU Feedback Resources

The question of whether or not students are learning in your class takes more than exams to answer. Asking students how things are going at the beginning, middle and end of each term can provide valuable feedback to improve a course.

Student Evaluation of Instruction (SEI)

Ohio State requires students to have the opportunity to evaluate their instructions at the end of every course. The Student Evaluation of Instruction (SEI) is the standardized survey instrument used.

When interpreting your SEIs, the Registrar makes several suggestions, including the following:

  • Consider the results within the context of other less quantifiable information, such as the usual performance of the instructor and special circumstances surrounding the particular offering that might have influenced student opinion.
  • Check response rate to determine if the scores reflect the opinion of a substantial part of the course enrollment. For small section sizes, look at frequencies, as well as mean scores since outliers can greatly influence the mean rating.
  • The focus should be on patterns of responses and general comparisons rather than on trivial differences in mean values. To dwell on a trivial difference in mean values is inappropriate as a basis for comparing one instructor with another. Differences of a few tenths of a point should not be the basis for personnel decisions.

Institute consultants are available to assist instructors in interpreting SEIs and planning for changes to future courses.

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Helpful Articles

Challenging Misconceptions About Student Ratings of Instruction – Stephen L. Benton and Kenneth R. Ryalls

Student Ratings of Teaching: A Summary of Research and Literature – Stephen L. Benton and William E. Cashin