Edited by Neha Cherian
Design by Siri Chandana
Offering honest and authentic feedback is an effective way for the recipient to adjust and improve their current actions for better results in the future. Even though this fact is generally valid, it takes particular significance in the classroom, where the only way to gauge the quality of teaching is by its effect on students. Professor feedback forms are intended to help teachers make more informed instructional decisions and enhance their relationship with students.
In insti, professor feedback forms are collected every semester. But how receptive are professors to these suggestions and how often are students simply indifferent to the process? Do they merely take it as a means to vent? Let’s look at what the process is, why it is essential, and how the surveys impact students.
Teacher evaluation is a standard process that is used to review teachers’ performance and effectiveness through a series of questions.
In insti, the Academic Section collects feedback through the TCF (Teacher Course Feedback) app just about a month before the endsems are slated to start. Although students are warned that their grades will not be released unless TCF is completed, this is known to be an empty threat. In addition to TCF, professors often request feedback from their students in between classes. This routine review was somewhat effective offline. However, during online classes, it is not unusual for such questions to be met with a deafening silence. A few professors float their own feedback forms at the end of the course, but this is not a common practice across the board.
The HS Department is wired slightly differently. Apart from the mandatory TCF app, they have a separate system of feedback collection before midsems. These used to be collected through physical forms and now, because circumstances are such, Google forms. The advantage of a midsem review is that professors can immediately adapt their methods in ongoing classes. Changes that followed from midsem reviews have included modifying the workload to reduce stress on students, slowing down the lectures and altered evaluation patterns.
The quality of teaching cannot be addressed without first understanding the areas that need improvement. The goal of teacher evaluations, particularly feedback forms from students, is to collect insights that professors could use to take action. Ideally, a teacher evaluation system will assess the professor’s effectiveness in communicating key concepts. The idea is that professors use this feedback to repeat successful strategies and rework flawed ones. Also, if many students consider the workload of a course to be too much, the course structure would need to be amended. Feedback on the grading system helps students express the difficulties they face during exams.
Apart from the impact on students, the feedback affects the professors directly as well. Positive feedback is indeed a form of praise, which could motivate the professors to go the extra mile for their students the next time around. The feedback on TCF for each professor is stored for future reference. It plays a crucial role in deciding how professors are promoted. If a professor wishes to move on to a more prominent role at insti, the TCF reviews are taken to measure their calibre according to the Dean Academic Courses. According to the HS Branch Councillor Abhirami Girish, “If a professor is trying for a higher position, the TCF reviews are one of the many ways they are evaluated. It is one of the first steps and is followed by some more like an evaluated teaching session.”
While the advantages are fairly self-evident, as seen above, we need honest and comprehensive feedback for this to happen, which is not necessarily the case. First, students are largely sceptical of these forms as they are filled during the final stretch of the semesters and hence deemed inconsequential. Second, there is the statutory warning for the feedback forms, which puts everyone off — filling these forms are mandatory to get grades. After reading this, students often think of the form as just another task to be done before its deadline.
A third point of contention is anonymity. Students are assured that their feedback is anonymous and they can express their views freely without fear of retribution. However, the flip side is that students often make mean comments about professors for various reasons. Sometimes, it may be because they find the course difficult personally or they have had an unfortunate personal experience, and sometimes it’s just because they can. Venting in the comments section (often unrelated to the teaching experience) is a widespread phenomenon. But mostly, all this ends up accomplishing is getting the professors to ignore the comments altogether, including any constructive feedback.
Fourth, the form uses the Likert Scale for rating, which does not accurately capture students’ impressions. Systemic exaggeration when offered a scale of responses is a much recognized characteristic of the Likert Scale that offsets the meaning of the responses. This is largely because the options lying in between “neutral” or the mid-value and the extremes are ambiguous to the respondent, who simply opts for the clearer extremes .
A fifth issue is the lack of clarity in comments. Hazy feedback that includes emotionally charged comments are not particularly useful. It would better serve the purpose of the form if students described specific actions of the professors. A statement that goes “the professor is caring” or “the professor sucks” is not helpful. Instead, if a student mentions that the professor took time to clear students’ doubts or that the professor threw complicated terms at them instead of plain English, the comments would be more instructive.
A separate area of concern is that while conveying the general consensus of the class to the professors, the course representatives often side with professors. Granted that the role of course reps might be a thankless one, but conveying the students’ views to the professor is crucial in ironing out any troublesome issues. Similarly, teaching assistants often do not inform professors about the students’ concerns. All this serves only to reinforce the importance of a good feedback collection system.
How receptive are professors to the suggestion?
As far as changes are concerned, there is currently no way to gauge whether professors act on the feedback received. Since professors receive the reviews by the time the semester ends, adaptations are made by them only for the next batch. Due to this reason, we cannot make clear before/after comparisons to check out the immediate after-effects of the TCF app. Engineering Design Department Legislator Surya Kumar M puts it like this, “The consequences of the feedback impact the teaching of future batches. The only ones who have an accurate gist of the changes implemented are the professors themselves.” On the other hand, comments made in a midsem review, as with the HS Department, enjoin immediate and tangible changes.
Considering the barely functional status of the feedback forms, changes are required and soon. An obvious point of improvement is to frame and ask questions tailored for each course. These questions could be prepared by students who have actually taken the course, thereby avoiding some seemingly irrelevant questions on the TCF app. Another idea is to set benchmarks for professors to meet. Also, the feedback collection could be initiated after a month or so of classes, so that the changes can be applied right from the current batch and some of the apathy towards filling the form is obviated. Furthermore, questions should not be such that respondents must choose from a scale of responses. Instead, the form should ask “agree”, “disagree” or “neutral” questions with an ‘other’ option that allows respondents to type in their answer to minimise mindless responses or exaggeration. Some open-ended questions with text boxes for unstructured responses may also be useful both in terms of the meaning of the response and its usefulness. Apart from the changes that could be brought to the feedback forms, some improvements can also be made to the system of feedback collection in general. One such idea is to explain the purpose and goals of the survey to the students.
The system of professor feedback collection, as it is now, is no more than a meaningless bureaucratic exercise that both students and the administration are indifferent to. The process has to be revamped, beginning with outlining the objectives of TCF. Students cannot be expected to furnish honest reviews unless they believe that it makes a difference.
- Cavaillé, Charlotte, Daniel L. Chen, and Karine Van der Straeten. “Towards a general theory of survey response: likert scales vs. quadratic voting for attitudinal research.” Quadratic Voting for Attitudinal Research (January 10, 2019) 87 (2019).