Receiving feedback as an instructor can be intimidating, especially if this is your first time teaching. Gathering feedback about your teaching performance is an essential component of effective teaching and can serve as a benchmark for growth throughout your career. At the November Starting TA Resource (STAR) group meeting, a number of graduate instructors gathered to discuss student feedback. What challenges and concerns do you anticipate for receiving student feedback?

What is feedback? At the STAR meeting, we discussed two types of feedback: formative and summative. Formative feedback can be gathered at any time throughout the semester and is used to guide and inform teaching for currently enrolled students. While instructors often use a mid-semester survey to evaluate the course and classroom environment, formative feedback comes in many forms. A quick survey after a new activity or general check-in at the end of a lesson can provide you with an immediate means to improve your instruction. Conversely, summative feedback is gathered at the end of a semester and, therefore, has the potential to improve the experience for future students. Summative feedback can also be used for hiring, promotion, and award purposes. The Student Evaluation of Instruction (SEI) administered at Ohio State is an example of summative feedback.

What feedback will SEIs provide? Students have demonstrated the ability to provide appropriate evaluation for three aspects of a course: (1) Instructor preparedness, organization of course materials, and clarity of presentation, (2) Rapport and instructor commitment, and (3) Student’s sense of their own learning. The Student Evaluation of Instruction (SEI) is composed of nine Likert-style questions designed to collect quantitative feedback specific to these components. Additionally, students are able to provide qualitative, free-response comments.

How can I elicit constructive student feedback? You don’t have to wait until the end of the semester to collect student feedback or to utilize University Center for the Advancement of Teaching (UCAT) resources! UCAT’s professional teaching consultants can meet with you at any time throughout the semester to discuss all aspects of teaching, including student feedback. Consultants will work with you to construct feedback surveys aligned with your course objectives or specific needs. UCAT also provides a convenient web-based survey generator, Feedback on Your Instruction (FYI), which can help you create an effective feedback tool to be administered during the semester. Don’t think a survey will elicit the depth of feedback you are interested in receiving? UCAT consultants can also conduct classroom observations and midterm interviews (Small Group Instructional Diagnostic or SGIDs) with your students during class time.

How should I approach student feedback? Before looking over your feedback, remind yourself why student feedback is essential to your growth and development as an instructor. Student feedback gives you a view of your instructional methods, course, and learning environment from the other side of the podium. You should make a plan to interpret feedback, especially if this is your first time receiving summative feedback. One plan is to refine comments down to those that are positive and constructive in nature. This serves to remove hurtful, unrelated, or unconstructive comments which may detract from the positive application of student feedback. Another approach is to have a trusted colleague skim through the comments and highlight those that are positive and constructive.

How do I interpret qualitative student feedback? As you review your feedback, remember that it is okay to be a human and have feelings. Keep in mind that while you may have an immediate emotional response, such as anger, confusion, or pride, it is critical to determine the constructive component of the feedback. Understanding specific components of the course or learning environment that may have improved or diminished a student’s experience will help you develop as an instructor. After my first semester teaching, I received a negative comment because the student could not always hear me and would have liked me to repeat questions into the microphone before answering. I was not aware of this simple problem and was able to easily implement a solution.

As you receive and interpret your feedback from this semester, remember you are not alone! Most instructors across campus share your anticipated concerns and challenges. The Starting TA Resource (STAR) group brings graduate instructors together each month throughout the semester to discuss many aspects of instruction. STAR meetings will resume for the Spring semester on January 17 with Impostor Syndrome.

Learn more about student feedback by watching the recording of this webinar.

Allison Foster is a PhD student and Graduate Teaching Associate in the Department of Biomedical Education and Anatomy, Division of Anatomy.