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Getting feedback from students is essential

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Deccan Herald | Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti | Oct 06, 2016 |

The first semester of the academic year is wrapping up in many universities. Stress levels tend to peak now for students as the examination period is fast approaching. While students prepare for their examinations, they have an important duty to do: giving course feedback.  What is a course feedback? It is essentially gathering feedback from the students about a course anonymously. The feedback is done in a questionnaire format, either by multiple choice questions or by descriptive inputs. Sometimes, it has a mix of both.  This feedback is supposed to be used by the instructor to improve the course, and sometimes by the university as means to estimate the success of instructors. Accreditation bodies like NAAC, NBA and UGC have made student feedback a mandatory part of the educational process of universities. Hence, universities mandate this to ensure continuous improvement in the quality of the education.  Listening to the students’ opinions can prove to be beneficial. A university course is akin to any product. Therefore, the right of judgement about its quality goes to its main customers: the students. Good feedback is a valuable tool for both the instructor and the university to build upon the strengths of a course and address the challenges. However, if it is badly designed, the feedback process can become completely useless.

The challenges include:

*A feedback questionnaire that lays emphasis on irrelevant points and undermines crucial ones leads to mistaken judgements being passed about the course and the instructor.
*Disgruntled students may take advantage of the anonymity and use disrespectful language.
*Just like patterned university examinations, a patterned questionnaire may encourage instructors to adopt a populist method of teaching. This eventually compromises academic standards.

Be constructive

Designing and implementing an effective student feedback system can benefit both the students and university in a variety of ways. However, to ensure that it is truly effective, here are a few tips that students need to keep in mind before they give the course feedback:

*Your feedback is critical to ensure that best practices are followed in teaching. Many students may give it a miss as they might think that the university may not implement the feedback. However, action on your feedback might turn out to be surprisingly quick and apparent.

*Praise can encourage even the most experienced of professors to strive better. But more importantly, it is important to know what worked well.

*It is also important to note what did not work well. So, by all means, do provide criticism. But, let your criticism be actionable. Tell what you would like to be added or removed in the course. If possible, focus on the technical aspects. Statements like ‘bad professor’ are totally useless in helping the instructor improve the course. Instead, how about, “Please add more programming activities in the lectures?”

*If any encounter with the instructor has ticked you off, please don’t use the feedback as a means to take it out on him or her. Remember that a semester is a reasonably long period of interaction, and the whole experience can’t be judged on the basis of one data point.

*Avoid passing personal or general judgements about a professor. Comments on looks, dressing style, accent, odour should be completely avoided. Remarks on the behavioural aspects are acceptable only if coming directly in the way of proper learning. For instance, “Professor is not punctual” could be rephrased to “Lectures often run too long eating into the next lecture or lunch time.”

In short, make your feedback count by making it constructive and objective to the best of your ability. While some things will work in the course’s favour, there are some that will not.  Remember, if you have indeed learned something useful from a course, it is important that your feedback does reflect that reality. It is also important to mention  areas where there is a scope for improvement. Also, while giving feedback, ensure that you do not use strongly opinionated words. Focus on the goals of a course, and do your bit in helping your university achieve them by giving a constructive feedback to all courses you do. –  (The author is assistant professor, International Institute of Information Technology, Bengaluru) – Courtesy


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