TAPD mini-modules week 5: Closing the feedback loop

This semester, we’ve carved out time from the Teaching Assistants’ normal duties—a half-hour per week—to use for professional development activities. This post series tracks our weekly goals and activities.

As an instructor or TA, teaching evaluations are part of the job. As the end of the semester nears, students fill out university mandated evaluation forms, and a few weeks after the semester is over, you get the results. The trouble with this system is that it doesn’t allow you to make any changes during the semester—changes that could benefit that specific class.

Therefore, I run an informal midterm feedback survey, to get an idea of where my class is at and what things might be bothering them. This year, I had about 400 comments to sort through and think about. There was lots of good feedback, but one comment stood out: “Jared reminds me of a hipster dude in a coffee shop.” How could I continue teaching effectively had I not known this valuable piece of information? (Yes, there is some sarcasm here. But it’s not directed at the student; I love reading the funny or interesting comments students make.)

In their last tutorial, TAs solicited some informal feedback using Stop, Start, Continue forms. This week, we’ll spend a bit of time planning how to respond to these. The goals are for TAs to come away with concrete plans for how they will address the feedback in their tutorial and what changes they might make.

Mini-module outline:

  1. (10 min) I share how I responded to the midterm feedback survey I gave in lecture. Together, we build a list of goals you might have in responding to feedback.
  2. (5 min) TAs work individually, looking through their feedback and thinking about which goals they might want to hit when they address it with the class. They come up with at least one change they will pledge to make based on the feedback.
  3. (10 min) Small group discussions, sharing plans for addressing feedback, and specifically the changes they’re thinking of.
  4. (5 min) Whole group debrief of activity.

Post-meeting update:

  • Although I pitched the activity as time to work individually, TAs immediately started discussing with each other. This didn’t ruin the activity.
  • The small group discussions were lively, and some of the TAs who work together in tutorials naturally grouped together to decide how they might respond to the feedback.
  • In the whole group debrief, several people shared things they were planning to change as a result of the feedback, and several people shared pieces that they weren’t sure how to respond to. (An example is when you receive feedback which conflicts—some students say “more,” others say “less.”)
  • As in previous meetings, I believe that dedicating time to discuss teaching issues like these with others is important and valuable in setting norms that these are things you can and should talk about with your peers.

Next time: I might emphasize a bit more clearly (perhaps in writing) some key points for responding to feedback, like understanding that you don’t have to reply to everything, making sure to thank students for their feedback, and letting TAs know that they can blame the instructors (i.e., me) for course-level things students might have complaints about.


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