A friend posted this article from the Guardian Higher Education to Facebook this morning: Academics Anonymous: student feedback is a waste of everyone’s time. The article had the byline “Collecting feedback on courses benefits neither staff nor students – often it’s biased, sexist or simply unrealistic” and was written, of course, by an anonymous academic.

The TL;DR version (it’s not that long, seriously, read it for yourself) is that the author has not received (much) useful feedback, and the students treat feedback as a pointless exercise. There are a few excuses for not being a great teacher, and a few attempts to suggest that students don’t know what good teaching looks like.

Interestingly, the article finishes with “My door is always open… [to receiving real feedback from students]” but the author is anonymous so this statement is worthless.

Given that “monitoring learning and giving and receiving feedback” is the number one indicator and expert skill or any effective teacher, I do think feedback is important… If it’s used appropriately.

Teachers should not be expected to continuously entertain students (and in the details, I’m not convinced that Prezi is any better than PowerPoint for content delivery, if that’s your style of presentation), but at the same time, the expectation that good researchers are good teachers and vice versa is largely unrealistic. The two practises have different, barely overlapping skills, and it takes someone very special who can be good at both. Perhaps student expectations of this need to be adjusted (not sure how) or perhaps universities need to acknowledge the failure in attempting to force a system that employs brilliant researchers to deliver mediocre classes (and produce brilliant research).

I absolutely agree that our students are (generally) not good at identifying the value in learning the content of our subjects, that they (generally) don’t value expertise, and that there is a group who don’t understand that learning is a social enterprise that requires attending classes to interact with teachers and fellow learners (even when they’re studying education! Gah!). But I do appreciate that our students demand that there is value in something before they invest their time and efforts in working for it. And I do believe some of the responsibility lies with us as university teachers, who occasionally have low expectations, don’t make explicit the expectations and objectives of the course, and often, across the campus, don’t necessarily have great teaching skills in the first place. 

I also believe that our School of Education has many fantastic teachers AND researchers – we’re largely an exception to the cases described in the article. But I don’t think our university collects and manages feedback well at all, and this is reflected in the feedback we receive. 

Personally, I appreciate the time my students take to give me feedback about the course and my teaching. Although I occasionally receive sexist, thoughtless, or baseless comments, and it’s hard not to take this personally, the feedback always includes useful and valuable comments that help me to improve my practise and make changes to the course that benefit future students.

I would *love* to know what you think. Keep the comments constructive, folks.

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