Getting formative feedback for yourself

My email inbox has several reminders that we are in the season of module evaluations. At Surrey, we run this centrally, with students completing forms online on each module and over a wider range of questions and I’m assuming that most of you have something similar.

These systems provide a useful benchmark for comparison across modules and teaching staff and – certainly in my case as a Director of Learning & Teaching – a good way into getting a handle on what’s happening across the School’s provision. At the same time, I also know that as a module leader they do not provide me with much in the way of formative feedback.

The reason for this is relatively simple. The questionnaires are set up as Lickert scales, with a couple of boxes at the end for ‘further comments’. This means that interpretation of the results becomes rather tricky, since I have no real way of knowing why someone has put 4 instead of 5 on one scale, even with the range of questions posed. The further comments are not always provided and certainly never explain all the reasoning behind individual scores.

The result is that we often spend time trying to work out ‘what students mean’ by their feedback, connecting it either to other formal routes (e.g. student-staff liaison meetings) or informal conversations. However, it’s still a bit hit-and-miss.

In particular, I notice that it is hard to incorporate these evaluations into developing modules for future delivery; to use the phrase that we’re talking about a lot more these days, there’s no ‘feedforward.’

Interesting, but not necessarily constructive

I fully accept that this is not the primary function of module evaluations, which are more about quality assurance, but it still seems like a sensible process to connect that to quality enhancement.

With that in mind, I’m also going to use the end of semester to run my ABC exercise in class. I’ve discussed this at length before (and made a video), but it suffices here to say that it is very much more focused activity that gives useful input into module development from students.

By its nature, ABC creates constructive feedforward that comes from students themselves: I’m always pleasantly surprised by the engagement that students have with the process and the interest they show in helping to improve things for their fellow students in years to come.

So if you feel that module evaluations aren’t giving you all you need, then consider raiding the stationary cupboard and trying something different.

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