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Good intentions won't do

Eliciting feedback from students has its merits only if implemented the right way. Sushmita Biswal Waraich writes.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2013 23:38 IST
Sushmita Biswal Waraich
Sushmita Biswal Waraich
Hindustan Times

In a move to enhance the quality of education, the University Grants Commission has acknowledged the role of the student in the process and has proposed a student feedback system. Those who are in academics, especially at the graduate and post-graduate level, know well that students' feedback is one of the key dimensions of faculty performance. While it is an important measure of performance, the way it is designed and implemented matters to a great extent.

Looking at the positive side, the people who are being taught are the best judges to give feedback. Ironically, many a time it backfires. First, what sort of a format is being used to capture the information about a faculty member's teaching style? Is the format too complicated? If so, can the students understand it? Is it objective enough? Is the student thinking about one-class-one-teacher or making comparisons and then deciding from among an array of faculty members presented to her?

Even if the format is very objective and well structured, how it is administered to students matters to a great extent. Is it administered seriously or in the midst of certain other activities, like writing an exam? Are the students who are expected to give feedback capable of doing so? Are they at a cognitive level where they can understand the entire system? These are a few points which might work against the very purpose of the system.

Many times when the student is not satisfied with the content of the subject being taught it might rub off on her feedback about the faculty member. Is the student in a position to give her judgment on the content of the subject?

Since we cannot do away with the student feedback system, it would be best to implement it as objectively as possible. The format of the feedback form should be kept as simple as possible. The implementers may be trying to extract as much information about the faculty member as possible but the method might leave the student confused.

The format should be designed keeping in mind the comprehension level of students. If students cannot understand the feedback form their response will not be of any productive use. Apart from this, students should be given an opportunity to rationalise why they choose a particular view for their feedback. They should not use this as an opportunity to settle scores with faculty members and faculty members should not go out of their way to please students in order to get positive feedback.

Instead of taking feedback from the entire class at one go, it can be elicited through the entire semester from different groups of students. For example, if there are 60 students in a class, 15 of them can fill up the form at a time. The remaining students can be approached at different points during the semester. Another way would be to take the feedback only from those students who have attended classes on a regular basis (only students who have a particular attendance percentage can participate in the feedback process).

Can the feedback system satisfy the needs of each student? Faculty members have different styles of teaching - each differing from the other - and students have differing expectations. In such a scenario, it would be better to do a little bit of introspection before making any kind of judgment about a faculty member and ensuring that it serves its purpose precisely. The management should not conduct it as another ritualistic activity - let the feedback system not lose its sanctity.

Sushmita Biswal Waraich is

a Delhi-based academician

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jun 27, 2013 18:43 IST