Students Provide Teachers with Valuable Feedback

There is generally a formal process for gathering student ratings of instruction at the end of a course. However, as an instructor I do not receive this feedback until months after the course is complete and it is too late to make any changes. Student feedback is valuable while the course is underway, so I ask students for their feedback at the mid-point of the course. I have used various methods to gather feedback, such as:

 

Invitation for Mid-Point Feedback

  1. Email request – invite students to send me an email with suggestions for improvement that can be implemented for the prior to the end of the course.

 

  1. Anonymous Online Form/Questionnaire – invite students to rate different aspects of their course work (e.g., access to relevant resources, timely formative feedback, opportunities for asking questions, peer feedback loops, synchronous activities, asynchronous activities, etc.); and respond to open-ended questions with their suggestions for improvement.

 

This is an example of an invitation to provide mid-course feedback:

“I would like to invite you to provide me with mid-course feedback to help me make improvements during the remainder of the course.  I created a brief questionnaire that is anonymous.  I welcome constructive and anonymous feedback on achieving my instructional goals in this course. Let me know if there are areas that I can improve before the end of the course. Also add any comments about areas of strength, so I know what to make sure I continue to do to support your learning.”

 

  1. Drop-in Session – invite students to attend an informal synchronous session to provide verbal feedback about the course individually or with small groups.

 

Synthesize the Feedback

The important part about asking for feedback is to synthesize and use the feedback. Provide students with a few days or week to provide you with feedback, so you can consolidate the responses and generate a synthesis. Then, share the synthesis with all of the students. Here’s some examples of ways you can share a synthesis of the responses received:

 

  1. Word cloud – this is a great way to capture the most frequent words used for responses. Example of word cloud representing challenges with technology enhanced learning:

(This visual was also provided for the chapter –  “Designing Group Work in Blended Learning Environments” Brown & Vaughan, 2018 – http://www.drbarbbrown.com/2018/07/06/designing-group-work-in-blended-learning-environments/).

 

  1. Summary with Themes and quotes – capture common themes and offer some sample quotes to help illustrate the feedback provided.

 

This is an example of summary posted for students to review (could also be sent via email):

Thank you to those students who provided mid-course feedback!  I put the feedback together and thought I would share the aggregate responses and my action items. 

My action plan (top 3) based on your feedback:

  • I tried to extend the class time for working on units and minimized other activities over this past week. This will continue over the next couple of weeks.
  • I’m also planning to implement more formal group check-in events. 
  • As I work with the instructor team over the next year, we will continue to review and refine the readings selected for this course and support materials.

Sample of positive comments I appreciated:

  • The time and effort you have given to this class in order to maintain a safe and caring classroom environment is very much appreciated!
  • I have loved this course so far. It has brought light some very important issues that I love exploring as a group. Overall, Thank you for your care and dedication to our learning
  • The support for our group projects has been great and instructional time has felt meaningful and relevant towards our final projects, which is great as there is a lot of work to be done in such a short amount of time.

Thank you again for taking time to provide your feedback and to help make improvements!

 

Another example of synthesis:

I would like to thank you for providing me with mid-course feedback and would like to share my synthesis of the feedback with you.  The comments provided me with ideas about things I should continue to do and also ideas for improvement.  I appreciate all of your input!  I will start with the positive aspects:

  1. Feedback is valued.  Responses indicated the feedback and weekly messages provide guidance. This is something I will continue to provide and plan to provide each group with feedback about the cases analysis to help as you move forward with LT#2.
  2. Organization and pace is just right.  Responses indicated the course is well organized including the structure, content and pacing.

Areas for improvement:

  1. Discussion threads could be more organized. I added a discussion thread to each of your studio groups to help with weeks 8, 9 and 10.  If your group would like additional threads, please do not hesitate to contact me and I can add as needed. 
  2. Weekly check-in via online sessions suggested.  If your group would like to meet more often, let me know and I can set up a virtual space for your group.  You may notice that two groups already requested this and have a virtual room set-up for their use at any time during the course.  Also, if you wish to meet with me or feel a weekly check-in with me would be helpful, I can also meet with you in my virtual office at a time convenient for you.  Instead of keeping office hours, I find it easier for students to arrange a specific time with me.  Often, I can also meet in the evening or weekend when students are also available.  

How are you gathering feedback from your students?

Moving to Online Classes

In light of the recent requests for resources and help with moving to online classes, I thought I would share some freely accessible videos and links to publications.

Article about providing audio/video feedback to students:

Brown, B. (2019). One-take productions for student feedback. Education Canada, 59(2), p. 10. Retrieved from https://www.edcan.ca/articles/student-feedback/

Article about instructional design in online courses:

Brown, B., Eaton, S. E., Jacobsen, M., & Roy, S. (2013). Instructional design collaboration: A professional learning and growth experience. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(3). http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no3/brown_0913.htm

Article about using a flipped model that can also be useful for designing online coursework:

Mazur, A., Brown, B., & Jacobsen, M. (2015). Learning designs using flipped classroom instruction. Canadian Journal of Learning Technology, 41(2), 1-26. https://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/26977

Chapter in eBook offers suggestions for designing group work that can also be applied to fully online environments:

Brown, B. & Vaughan, N. (2018). Designing group work in blended learning environments. In R. J. Harnish, K. R. Bridges, D. N. Sattler, M. L. Signorella, & M. Munson (Eds.). The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning (pp. 82-97). Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: https://teachpsych.org/ebooks/useoftech

Resource prepared to help support a themed conversation about designing active learning in online environments:

Brown, B. & Ayala, J. (2018, February). Active Learning in Online Environments. Teaching Academy Themed Conversation, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. https://prism.ucalgary.ca/handle/1880/106409

Videos about teaching online created in Adobe Connect transferrable to other programs used for synchronous sessions:

  • Schroeder, M., & Brown, B. (Producers). (2016). Adobe Connect in Action, Part I: Teaching in an Online Classroom, in collaboration with Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. https://vimeo.com/151657311
  • Schroeder, M., & Brown, B. (Producers). (2016). Adobe Connect in Action, Part II: Teaching in an Online Classroom, in collaboration with Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. https://vimeo.com/151659058

 

 

Designing Group Work in Blended Learning Environments

Brown, B. & Vaughan, N. (2018). Designing group work in blended learning environments. In R. J. Harnish, K. R. Bridges, D. N. Sattler, M. L. Signorella, & M. Munson (Eds.). The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning, pp. 82-97. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: https://teachpsych.org/ebooks/useoftech

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss a framework that can guide the development of promising learning designs intended to promote group work and collaborative knowledge building in higher education, specifically in blended learning environments. Today’s learners need newly designed learning experiences leveraging collaboration technologies (Vaughan, 2014). Learners expect to work collaboratively and experience engaging learning experiences (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011). Some argue that professors are ill-equipped to shift from conventional styles of teaching to new technology-rich forms (Becker et al., 2017; EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2017). We argue that using the five principles of the teaching effectiveness framework (Friesen, 2009) to design blended learning environments along with collaboration technologies, instructors can provide students with opportunities to work in groups, collaborate with each other, and amplify their learning experiences. The five core principles of the teaching effectiveness framework include: (1) Teachers are designers of learning; (2) Teachers design worthwhile work; (3) Teachers design assessment to improve student learning and guide teaching; (4) Teachers foster a variety of interdependent relationships; and (5) Teachers improve their practice in the company of their peers. The Teaching Effectiveness Framework provides a lens for designing and assessing learning designs (Friesen, 2009).

Facilitating Online Courses

The Teaching Assistantship Preparation Program (TAPP) is designed to provide educational development for graduate students about the role and responsibilities of the work as a graduate assistant in teaching.

I was invited by the Office of Teaching and Learning to lead a session for TAPP on Wednesday, February 25th from 11 a.m. to noon. The session will focus on how to facilitate online courses. Topics in the session include instructional design, synchronous and asynchronous communications, tools for student interactivity, cultivating a scholarly community of inquiry, organizing online spaces, developing instructor presence, and formative assessment strategies.

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Common sense for some and new and inspiring for others

I came across a blog post that was written in response to an article I co-authored in 2013 – Instructional Design Collaboration: A Professional Learning and Growth Experience. It was great to see that Stephen Downes read our article and also took time to post a critical, if cryptic, commentary. Too bad it took more than six months for me to see this post and associated comments before I got a chance to respond. This blog is a response to some of the ideas raised in Downes’ blog and a comment to his blog.

The brief commentary by Stephen Downes (2013) discusses the idea of relevance. I admit the content of our position paper (reflection of practice) might be considered common sense for some audiences familiar with online learning. The topic may not be as timely or important to some audiences, especially those who are expert in teaching online, collaborating with others in course design and using frameworks for updating online curriculum such as Hai-Jew’s (2010) fourfold approach discussed in our article. However, the topic of post secondary instructors collaborating on the design of online courses is relevant to a broad audience. My educational background and experiences are primarily in K-12 with over 20 years teaching/leadership. My own online learning and teaching experiences started in about 2008. I was surprised when approached by a colleague to consider co-writing about our experiences with instructional design and collaboration. At first, I questioned who would be interested in our reflections? Isn’t collaborative course design a common practice already in higher education?  Turns out, the majority of instructors in higher education work in isolation, do not have any foundation in learning theory and instructional design, and many do not have the benefit of collaborative design and teaching experiences with others. As I reviewed the literature, and observed practice across campus, I realized that disciplined reflection on our collaborative work in the context of the professional programs in which we teach would make an important contribution to the existing body of literature in the field. We sought an appropriate journal for a reflective or positional paper on the topic. Despite my own reservations about making my teaching and design work public, I decided to take time to collaboratively reflect on my design experiences, take a risk, and make my early learning and design work visible for others.

Writing the article with four others who bring diverse experiences to online education provided a valuable learning and growth experience for me as a new scholar and sessional instructor. I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on my practice alongside my peers. From the feedback received from the journal editor and reviewers, I realized the potential impact of this work. I realized there were other instructors and researchers who valued the paper, found the ideas useful and relevant and who might benefit from our work. For example, one of the peer reviewers was so excited about our work that she asked for permission to share the article with colleagues pre-publication. Apparently other faculties besides our own were also working on collaborative course design. Following the publication, we presented our work at two conferences and both sessions were well received by faculty from various North American higher educational institutions; participants commented on the value of this contribution to the field. Other scholars recommended that we should continue building a research agenda around this topic. The practice of collaborative course design and team teaching has been adopted across our graduate programs, and is influencing design work across our campus through various initiatives.  Furthermore, educators have also positively blogged and tweeted about the article. For example, Debbie Morrison (2013) posted a review – How Online Educators Benefitted by Walking-the-Talk with Collaborative Instructional Design.

Students enrolled in my school’s graduate programs also benefit from the backstory and practices around collaborative course design. Recently one student shared, “it was interesting to read about the development of the courses that I have been taking….I appreciated the description of the collaborative process that you engaged in to create the online course” (K. Hills, personal communication, June 2, 2014). In other words, the article was relevant for our audiences and also for audiences beyond our local context.

One aspect of the course we collaboratively designed is the goal of fostering a critical community of inquiry. It is important for graduate students in any program to critically and thoughtfully respond to the research literature. Downes (2013) mentions the article could have been written in the 90s in his commentary. Teaching experiences in the 90s were certainly not the same for everyone any more than they are today. For example, my teaching career started in the 90s so I just graduated from post secondary and did not experience any online or even blended course work in my pre service program at that time.  With an avid interest and enthusiasm in technology, I quickly embraced educational technologies of the day and adopted Apple II e’s that were available in my school. By the late 90s I was teaching in schools where using dial up connections, accessing basic information on the Internet and communicating via email with others was at the beginning stages. However, designing online experiences for students in collaboration with colleagues was not common practice in my work. According to Rogers’ (2003) diffusion of innovation theory, there is a range of adopters for any innovation. There will be categories of individuals readily embracing innovations as well as individuals rejecting the same innovations – at the same point in time. As such, in the 90s there were educators advanced in using educational technologies in K12 and higher education environments and there were those who were only at the beginning of these innovations.  So, it doesn’t surprise me that Downes, who is an early adopter, might think online collaboration is old practice and not relevant in the present. However, he cannot claim to speak for educators from across disciplines who are new to these ideas. Educators are not all at the exact same place or level of adoption with technologies and online instructional design, and each semester brings new educators into the online learning and teaching community.

A response to Downe’s post by Katrin Becker (November 26, 2013) questioned the use of the terms “signature pedagogies” in the article. I recommend that readers who are interested in the deep literature on signature pedagogies begin by reviewing Lee Shulman’s seminal work on the topic. Signature pedagogies are defined by Shulman (2005)  as teaching that is characteristic of the profession. Shulman also discusses the importance of learning “to think, perform and act with integrity” as part of signature pedagogies (p. 52). It is important the teachers and school administrators and individuals from across disciplines who are enrolled in the Master’s program learn to think, perform and act as educational researchers and writers no matter what their goals are upon graduation. As such, understanding ethics in research and ethics in academic writing is authentic and relevant to the discipline and part of the course assignments. In simple terms, the course was designed to emulate the work in the discipline of education, which is scholarship of the profession and scholarship in the discipline. In this case, the discipline is educational research. In this master’s level writing in educational research course, the assignments in the course were designed to engage students in writing and collaborative experiences similar to those of educational researchers. For instance, in the course described in the article, students wrote proposals to present a poster or paper at an academic or professional conference, which is a common task for educational researchers. The students worked with peers and provided peer review, making their own learning visible while learning alongside peers. Many students carried through with actual presentations at conferences making the assignment authentic and relevant for their studies and professional growth. Perhaps more exemplars are needed to help develop a deeper understanding of the processes of signature pedagogies in online classes– this might be a good topic for another article!

I would like to sincerely thank everyone that took time to read the article and provide feedback. In reflecting on the experience of co-authoring my first peer-reviewed article and reflecting on all the positive and critical feedback about the topic, I developed some related belief statements:

I believe early adopters should consider providing pathways to encourage advances in educational technologies and support late adopters. I believe reflective practitioners should be encouraged to take risks and share their practice. I believe that sharing signature pedagogies and making learning visible is needed to build and share contemporary knowledge in our discipline. I believe that what is common sense for some is also new and inspiring for others.

References:

Brown, B., Eaton, S., Jacobsen, M., Roy, S., & Friesen, S. (2013). Instructional design collaboration: A professional learning and growth experience. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(3).  Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no3/brown_0913.pdf

Downes, S. (2013).  Instructional design collaboration: A professional learning and growth experience. Stephen’s Web [web log]. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from http://www.downes.ca/post/61435

Hai-Jew, S. (2010). An instructional design approach to updating an online course curriculum. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 33(4). Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/instructional-design-approach-updating-online-course-curriculum

Morrison, D. (2013). How Online Educators Benefitted by Walking-the-Talk with Collaborative Instructional Design. Online learning insights [web log]. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from http://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/how-online-educators-benefitted-by-walking-the-talk-with-collaborative-instructional-design/

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations 5th ed). New York, NY: Free Press.

Shulman, L. S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 134(3), 52-59.