Harness the positive power of feedback

June 10th, 2021

Positive power of feedback banner image with emojis reflecting happy, indifferent and sad emotionsContributed by CTL staff

(3 minute read)

Mid-term is a great time in the semester to check in with students about how they are going – with course materials and content, with your teaching style, or with other issues such as technology. It’s far enough into the semester for students to be familiar with the course, while still allowing enough time for you to make adjustments, as needed. In the short summer semester, the mid-point comes along very quickly – so this week may be the best time to check-in with your students about any suggestions they have for tweaks.

Asking for feedback helps students see themselves as members of the learning community. It provides an opportunity for students AND instructors to communicate and reflect on teaching and learning. This year, it’s also an opportunity to acknowledge the special circumstances that have made this past year so challenging. 

First, decide on how you will collect your feedback. Quick response feedback can often be collected in class – in remote classes, Zoom response buttons can provide you with immediate feedback on specific questions. (See CTL’s super quick guide to reaction and response buttons for additional information.) However, anonymous contributions are usually recommended for mid-term check-ins – anonymity helps to create a safe space for students to offer comments that may be perceived as critical. 

Short forms that focus on key questions are recommended for check-in feedback that is manageable for students to complete, for instructors to evaluate, and to provide some direction for adjustments. Google forms or Qualtrics surveys are BU-supported tools available to instructors. Polls on Zoom or posts on Google Jamboard can also be set to anonymous, though students will be able to view the results more easily.

Next, decide on what kind of feedback you would like. One popular check-in strategy is the “Start, Stop, Continue” framework, which asks students to give feedback on learning activities or approaches that haven’t yet been used in the class (that’s the “Start”); the “Stop” prompts students to give feedback on activities or approaches that are not helping their learning; and the “Continue” helps the instructor learn what is working for the students. As students reflect on the course, they may also be prompted to reflect on their own learning: it may be useful to ask them which Learning Outcomes are resonating with them or if “Stop, Start, Continue” can apply to their own study habits. 

You may get wildly divergent answers, so take some time to reflect on the responses and look at patterns. Discuss the responses, in general terms, with your students and let them know what you plan to change as a result of their feedback. We recommend you also tell them what you are not changing and why.  Transparency will help students feel their feedback, and the learning environment is important to you. (And this may have a positive impact on end-of-semester evaluations, too!) Taking this moment to reflect with your students will also help them to re-focus their energies for the time and tasks remaining. So, harness the positive power of feedback to help you set directions and aspirations for the rest of the semester!