Increased focus on the quality of teaching in Australian universities has meant an increase in the use of student surveys as a measure of teaching quality. While the literature on student surveys of teaching is vast, it mostly concentrates on aspects of the instruments used and staff perceptions of their usage, with very little evidence of student opinion.
A survey of students at Murdoch University indicated that while they felt that student surveys were extremely important, their main concern was happened to them and whether staff made any use of the information given. This study examines three units where the teaching staff gave feedback to the students, about the pedagogical decisions they have taken as a result of feedback received from previous groups of students. While providing this information to students may reinforce their views of the importance of the surveys, this study addresses the wider pedagogical question of what happens when teachers make their teaching 'explicit' in this way. The views of staff and students are sought to investigate what effect, if any, such attempts to make teaching practices explicit have on aspects such as the 'culture' of a class and teachers' and students' perceptions of appropriate pedagogical practice.
In response to the 1994 Quality Audit which focussed on teaching, Murdoch University instigated a system of mandatorily surveying all units on a three year cycle. This effectively trebled the number of student surveys which were undertaken each year. By mid 1995 there was some concern, amongst both teaching staff and those involved in administering the surveys, that students may be being 'oversurveyed' and that there was a danger of respondent fatigue. Somewhat ironically, a survey was undertaken to collect some information on this issue. Students were asked to answer three questions -
Do you take these surveys seriously?The response to these questions was overwhelmingly positive as shown in Table I. Students were also given the opportunity to make comments. Through these comments it appeared that the issue of most concern to students was that they had no information on whether any action was taken as a result of the surveys. They took them seriously but did not know whether staff did. As the surveys are undertaken in the final weeks of a unit, it is impossible for the existing class to be aware of, or to benefit from any changes made as a result. In fact there is an undertaking to students that, to ensure confidentiality, staff do not receive the results until after the student grades have been finalised. Students have no evidence to show them that staff make any use at all of the results of the surveys. From these comments came the original idea for this research project; given that the timing of student surveys does not allow for feedback on them to be given to the same group of students, what happens when staff give information to the next class on decisions they have made because of feedback from the previous group of students? How do students feel about getting this kind of information, about staff making their teaching explicit in this way? Will it make any difference to the 'culture' of the class or to how students feel about it?
Are you happy with the frequency of the surveys?
Do you want the surveys to continue?
|Do you take these surveys seriously?||90||8||2|
|Are you happy with the frequency of the surveys?||82||16*||2|
|Do you want the surveys to continue?||88||8||4|
|* Some students indicated that they would like the surveys to be more frequent.|
At time of writing, this research is still in progress with the end of the data collection stage having been reached. Therefore, this paper seeks to give a background and an overview of the study only.
The ultimate purpose of any student evaluation of teaching system is the improvement of teaching, and implicit in that is the improvement of student learning. A prerequisite condition for teachers to make improvements to their teaching as a result of student feedback is that they consider student opinion worth listening too. Respect, care for students and listening to what they have to say on teaching and other issues is considered a fundamental aspect of good teaching (Brookfield, 1986; Centra, 1993; Greene, 1973; Taylor, 1995; Vella, 1994). If we are to construct a model of teaching in which the students' opinions are considered important then the traditional hierarchical 'teacher-expert, student-novice' one hardly seems to fit. In contrast it should be one where the distance between the teacher and student is cut so that the teaching becomes more of a dialogue between equals (Vella, 1994). It should be one where teacher and students co-operate and take on each others' roles (Brookfield, 1986) and where students feel, ultimately, that they are included in the teaching process. When students give feedback to a teacher they are sharing their perspectives of the unit and teaching they have just experienced. If the teacher acts on that information and communicates that action back to students, is he/she ultimately saying 'I am willing to let your views influence and change what I do in my teaching and in this way I am making you a participant in this process'? This study aims to investigate a situation in which students may feel more included in that process, specifically by examining what happens when teachers give feedback to students on the pedagogical decisions they have taken as a result of the feedback student have given to them. Some issues that might arise are whether the teacher's sharing of his/her own knowledge of teaching will make students feel more 'included', that there is more of a dialogue and less of a hierarchical structure in the class. Will there be any effect at all on the students? If so, will the effect be positive in terms of their learning or their experience of the class? Will it allow them to focus more on the process and less on the content of the unit? Will this 'meta-teaching' ie the awareness of how the teaching occurs, encourage students to think about their own 'metacognition' ie about how they learn?
Data were collected by a number of means; by interviewing the coordinator for each unit, by interviewing groups of students from each unit, by recording lectures to ascertain how the students were informed of the changes made and by a student survey at the end of the semester which included an open-ended question asking their opinion of the lecturer's giving feedback on the feedback from other students. In the group interviews students were asked what they thought of completing student surveys, what they thought the attitude of the staff was to them and what their reaction was to the feedback on what other students had said.
When [the lecturer] actually said this is what people have said, that's the first time I have ever heard, you know, any comeback on what was filled in...Overall the students were very positive towards staff giving them feedback on what other students have said and what changes they have made as a result. The main issues which come out of the student interviews were those concerned with respect and concern for students. They felt staff were listening to what they were saying, they felt their opinions were being taken seriously and that by doing this the lecturer was opening up a discussion for further changes to be made. Overall, it gave students the feeling that this lecturer was approachable and that if they had problems with the unit, its structure or the style of teaching, then their concerns would be listened to and acted on.
And he's listening to what the students are saying, which shows that I mean, as we progress along hopefully if we go up to him and say look you know this is a bit dodgy is there anything I can do about it at least you feel like he might listen whereas some of them it feels like I'm talking to a brick wall.Recent research in higher education has identified a heavy workload as a factor which encourages the use of surface learning strategies (Ramsden, 1992). Students in each of the three units commented on how their lecturers took their commitments in other units into account when setting deadlines for assigned work -
He also makes an effort to coordinate his unit with what's happening in other units with deadlines and that and we've got one particular assignment which is heavily involved in our other main course for our degree and the two lecturers have been working together really well for that. It's different because so many lecturers just don't take into account that you've got eight assignments due on the day that their assignment's due in and there's no way you are going to get it done.The quotes from the students, above, show a positive reaction to the feedback their lecturers gave them. At the presentation of this paper a more detailed examination of the data will be available for discussion.
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|Please cite as: Ballantyne, C. (1997). Improving university teaching: Giving feedback to students. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p12-15. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1997/ballantyne.html|