Dr Lisa Alberici (Senior Academic Developer and Director of the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education programme) ran a workshop on “Responding to informal student feedback: creating a constructive dialogue” at the Academic Practice Network on Monday 11 June 2018.
Lisa opened by explaining the recent context of prioritising feedback at Exeter. Near the start of 2017/18, Prof. Tim Quine (DVC: Education) and the Education Executive had advised that all modules should solicit some kind of mid-term feedback. They had circulated a one-page “crib sheet” produced by the Academic Development team, which is available from this page.
Lisa launched a discussion considering the reasons why teachers should gather informal student feedback, and methods of gathering feedback. One key concern that arose was feedback fatigue, and colleagues shared ideas on how to introduce additional mid-term feedback mechanisms that do not add to this potential issue.
The next discussion considered what teachers should do with this feedback once received. A popular idea was to implement “quick wins”, but there was discussion around what to do with suggestions which (for whatever reason) cannot be implemented. One suggestion was to respond to students explaining why this cannot be done, which could help to build a constructive dialogue with students.
Lisa then ran an activity on what to do when receiving destructive feedback (defined as “negative feedback given in an unskilled way generally leaves the recipient simply feeling bad with seemingly nothing on which to build and no useful information to use for learning”, citing University of Nottingham (2012), Personal Development and Performance Review Guide: Principle of constructive feedback). Groups were each given a different piece of destructive feedback, and asked to think on how they would respond. Groups fed back to the whole, and discussion emerged along themes. One idea which was especially well received came from Dr Matt Finn (Geography), who shared his definition of “unconstructive” and “constructive confusion”. Matt introduces these concepts to his classes, and this shared terminology allows for expectation setting and constructive focus. For example, when a student feels confused by the topic of an essay, it is easy for the student and Matt to identify whether their confusion is actually “constructive” by thinking whether they have first used readily available resources to resolve their own confusion (e.g. by reading the essay guidance on ELE), before voicing that “they are confused” during a seminar. If they have consulted these sources and are still confused, voicing their confusion is constructive. If not, their confusion is destructive, especially to the seminar and their peers.
Lisa aims to produce a “quick guide” from the outputs of this session, and will be distributing it to those present at the session.