Closing the feedback loop

Closing_the_feedback_loopA couple of weeks ago, I foolishly promised readers of this blog a catch-up on the latest session in our Teaching & Learning Showcase series – ‘Closing the feedback loop’, which took place here at Reading on Tuesday.

I say ‘foolishly’ because when I made that promise, I had already committed myself to presenting at JISC’s public webinar on ‘Current issues and approaches in developing digital literacy’ that very same lunchtime. I’m used to juggling lots of different things, but being in two places at the same time is a trick I haven’t quite managed yet.

Luckily, my colleague Joy Collier, who has been organising these wonderful sessions, headed over to Carrington 201 armed with a tripod and camcorder so that I could catch up.

The session focused on how we listen to, engage with and respond to student feedback and how we let students know what we’ve done as a result of their comments and suggestions. As Matthew Nicholls, who is hosting the Showcase events this term, said in his introduction: ‘We give feedback to students and we hope they listen to it. And increasingly, students give feedback to us, we solicit it, and we really should listen to it – it can help us shape what we offer them.’

First up was Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) Vice-President for Academic Affairs Kara Swift who spoke about ‘“You said, we did”: the Moving Wall of Change’ – and had brought in the actual ‘moving wall’, a noticeboard normally on display in the Students Union for publicising change brought about as a result of student feedback.

Academic representation at all levels has a high profile at Reading, but not all students engage with academic representation. ‘One main way that we can get everyone engaged in the process is by feeding back to them the change that can come about by engaging in the processes.’

Short, bullet point-style, eye-catching notices in high-traffic areas are one way but feedback can take many forms. Blackboard announcements, social media, or simply standing up at the beginning of a lecture can all be appropriate channels to let students know they are being heard – the main thing is to highlight to students that their input is valued and acted upon.

Kara’s advice: ‘Link it back to the source where it originated … Don’t put it in staff-student liaison committee-style minutes because I can guarantee not many people are going to stop and read that.’

Rachel Redrup, Marketing Co-ordinator for the University Library talked about the ‘Library planning-feedback circle’. The Library caters to the whole University community – staff and students – and continually invites feedback which helps evaluate strategies and processes and feeds into future plans.

Feedback is gathered formally and informally through a range of channels: the Liaison Librarians who serve each department, information desk queries, comments submitted online, the Faculty and Course Rep system, surveys, and even a mystery shopping exercise.

Rachel made the point that asking for feedback leads to expectations. ‘If we don’t deliver on that expectation, we are in a worse position than if we didn’t ask questions in the first place … You have to tell people what you’ve done or they won’t know and they’ll think you’re not listening to them.’

The final presentation was by Stuart Morris, Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at the Henley Business School. Being relatively new to teaching, Stuart has taken a close look at student satisfaction figures, both for modules as a whole, and for him as a lecturer. Big class sizes and high response rates mean Stuart has access to large amounts of detailed data.

Breaking data down by Faculty has revealed some interesting differences in the views and perceptions of students from different disciplines – echoing Kara’s point about looking at where certain kinds of feedback originate. Mapping grades against entry level and country of origin has thrown up the question whether some students are finding the course too easy, and has pointed to potential language issues which Stuart is going to address.

The key message I took away from Stuart’s talk was that numbers aren’t everything but they can tell you where to look: ‘The Systems Engineering students didn’t like [a session on presentation skills] significantly differently from everybody else. When we went to the narrative […] of their feedback they were complaining that it was at odds with what they had been taught […] What they had been taught is how to deliver a paper effectively, but what I’m teaching them is how to sell. Next year, I will preface the session by saying “This is trying to do a different thing from what you’re used to”, and I hope that that will catch.’

Our Teaching & Learning Showcase series continues with a session on ‘Inclusive practices in teaching, learning and assessment’ on Tuesday 12 March, 1–2 pm, in Carrington 201 here at Reading.

If you can’t wait, we bring you two other events before then:

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