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Is feedback a tedious obligation or a student's right?

...the right to participate in improving and developing the quality of education, the right to express their opinion about their learning experience, the right to be involved and heard, or obligation that needs to be quickly done so that more important and pressing matters can be tackled.

It's a bit of a double-edged sword, but perhaps this article will help you better utilize your right and deal more easily with the imposed obligation. After all, student feedback is crucial for the university - it's the only source of information about the student experience, and students are the ones for whom lectures, seminars, practicals, field trips, and all other parts of the learning process are designed. However, feedback has raised several questions among students. Hopefully, this article will provide answers to some of them and even debunk some myths.

Why is feedback collected at the university?

Often, it is thought that student feedback is collected because it has to be done. In reality, it's not about obligation but desire. The university staff wants to hear the students' opinions to find ways for instructors to better support, inspire, and encourage students in their learning journey, making the time at the university meaningful and beneficial. Additionally, student feedback is essential to understand whether strategically important innovations in teaching are moving in the right direction and where there is a need for further push (e.g., development of project and problem-based learning highlighted in the development plan, alignment of evidence-based and learner-centered teaching, or improvement of curriculum coherence, etc.).

Who sees student feedback in ÕIS?

When feedback is received, the entire machinery starts working to calculate averages for academic management, faculties, program managers, instructors, and more. Once the feedback period is over, and ÕIS has finished all calculations, relevant parties can review the results. At TalTech, students can see average scores for courses. Instructors themselves (both averages and comments) can naturally see their results on ÕIS. Program managers can see all responses and comments for courses in their curriculum. Institute directors have access to the results of their institute's instructors, and of course, feedback can be utilized by deans and the academic affairs office staff responsible for monitoring educational quality, making improvement suggestions, and supporting instructors' development.

Is giving feedback at TalTech anonymous?

This is regulated by the rector's order "Regulation on the Collection and Consideration of Feedback on Educational Activities," according to which the university has an obligation to ensure the anonymity of respondents. The system separates respondent data from responses, and it cannot be traced back later. Feedback giving is anonymous, and responses are used only in generalized form. Of course, there are exceptional situations where only a few students participate in a course, making it relatively easy for the instructor to identify the feedback provider. However, this is definitely not the purpose of analyzing feedback. Feedback should be courteous, honest, and constructive, helping both the instructor in reshaping their course or teaching practices and the student in analyzing their learning experience.

What is good and constructive feedback?

TalTech has many active students dedicated to improving university life through enhancing educational quality. They have taken on the task of encouraging fellow students to write meaningful, well-thought-out, and useful comments. For this purpose, a set of guidelines for good feedback has been established, stating that good feedback should be:

Based on self-analysis: Recognizing one's contribution is crucial when assessing teaching. Instructors can facilitate learning, but the actual learning takes place in the individual's mind.

Polite: Criticism, insults, etc., do not help instructors or program managers improve course teaching and curriculum.

  • Justified: "...because...". The points given in the questionnaire are good indicators, but for quality improvement, explanations are the best.

  • Objective: Emotions should be left out of feedback. Sometimes it is useful to wait a bit with giving feedback and analyze one's own actions parallel to the instructor's activities to get to the essence and make meaningful observations and suggestions.

  • Constructive: Instructors and program managers use feedback from students to enhance their work. This can be done if feedback provides opportunities, is based on observations and facts, and is precise (comments written about the chosen instructor's activities, etc.).

  • Praising: Acknowledging an instructor's good work encourages and motivates them to put in even more effort.

What is done based on student feedback? Is it even used?

Incredible, cool, and useful instructors can serve as an example to others and provide an opportunity to learn how to structure and conduct their course to provide students with the best learning experience while being motivated and happy. Regarding instructors with modest feedback and comments highlighting weaknesses, the university offers various opportunities to update and develop their knowledge and skills. Various parties review all aspects brought out in feedback that caused low feedback (e.g., course structure, organization, curriculum relevance, materials, methodology, instructor's self-expression and presentation skills, e-support usage, feedback provision, and assessment), and plans are made accordingly to change or do differently. Sometimes this also means collecting additional feedback.

Why don't students see changes when feedback is read and used?

Often there is no quick and good solution to address arising problems, but for the purpose of improving educational quality, TalTech focuses on supporting instructors' personal development, which is preferably done by highlighting good examples and positive experiences. The culture of learning and teaching does not change overnight, but I assure you, progress is being made. For example, the recently approved Code of Good Practice in Learning and Teaching:

Feedback is one part of the dialogue between students and instructors. One should not hesitate to ask instructors what previous students have suggested, noticed, and what instructors have decided to change or develop. Not all suggestions can be implemented or even reasonably applied, and one should trust the instructor, who is a specialist in their field and knows what students might need in the job market, for example. It is important to cultivate a learning culture that values feedback and strengthen the partnership between students and instructors. In the higher education landscape, the term "forward-looking feedback" has also become common, indicating a focus not so much on what was wrong and disliked but rather on what to do in the future.

Can students participate in the creation of feedback questionnaires?

Any feedback on the feedback collection process from students is always welcome. The ÕIS questionnaire is not set in stone, and good suggestions are always listened to. Representatives of various interest groups were involved in creating the current questionnaire, including program managers, academic deans, and students. However, there is a well-known saying that tastes differ, and even in the creation of feedback questionnaires, it was concluded that differences in preferences cannot be objectively resolved. A middle ground must be found, and changes must be approached step by step. The academic affairs office is working on a plan to modify the feedback (perhaps already called forward-looking feedback 😊) form and procedure to encourage students to analyze their learning more and direct instructors' attention more towards supporting learning.


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