July 8th, 2018

“What Were You Thinking of When You Decided on That Rating?”

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Most student rating instruments include a question related to the feedback provided by the instructor. It may ask whether it was constructive, actionable, delivered in a timely manner, or some combination of these characteristics. Most teachers are conscientious about giving students feedback. Because they devote so much time and effort to providing it, they are often disappointed and frustrated when students don’t rate the quality of the feedback very positively.

That’s what was happening in the faculties of arts and social sciences and of law at the University of New South Wales. The question on their student rating form asked students whether they were given helpful feedback on how they were doing in the course. “Members of the staff [faculty] whose courses have been rated lower on feedback than on other factors have been puzzled as to just what it was that they would have to do in order to score really well on the feedback question.” (p. 50)

Article author Shirley V.  Scott conducted a series of focus group conversations with students in these two programs. Her approach was direct. She gave students a copy of the question from the student rating form, asked them to think of a course they were enrolled in now and a course they had already completed, and rate both on the feedback question. Then she asked them to reflect and write about what aspects of those courses shaped their answer to the feedback question. “What were you thinking of when you decided how to rate that course?” (p. 51)

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