Student Feedback Can Improve Equity, Boost Course Engagement

Getting honest feedback from students can provide professors with guidance on improving their courses and instruction and give students a chance to voice their opinions and express frustration. Feedback can enable teachers to ensure they’re supporting students and can help students feel more involved with their classes. 

Korah Wiley, Learning Scientist with Digital Promise, outlined a program that addresses equity and aims to achieve equitable student outcomes during the REMOTE: Connected Faculty Summit recently. The work is part of a research practice partnership organized by a team of researchers from Digital Promise, in collaboration with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and Achieving the Dream, with sponsorship from the Every Learner, Everywhere network.

The project, the Equity and Digital Learning Research Practice Partnership (RPP), addresses the problem that one out of three students from racial minoritized groups and/or those impacted by poverty don’t earn course credit in some high-enrollment introductory courses. These courses function as gateways into upper division courses.

“The partnership between the Digital Promise research team, our partner organizations and several higher education institutions are redesigning several gateway courses aiming to improve the course success rates of one or more of the effected student groups,” Wiley said. This demonstrates the efficacy of redesigning gateway courses for equity and use of digital learning and offering tools that other colleges can use to support equitable digital learning in their own courses.”

The project involves several higher education institutions, Borough of Manhattan Community College, New Mexico State University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Jackson State University and Harper College. Each school agreed to undergo at least one high-enrollment introductory course.

“We recognize that to achieve the goal of equity, much of the learning needs to come from the students, because they are the experts of their own experiences and have valuable information regarding the access, support and resources they need to be successful,” Wiley pointed out. “So we asked students what they need.”

Jackson State University used a formative assessment measure in its classes, reflections. “As you know, reflections are a meta cognitive and formative assessment strategy that requires students to think about their thinking and learning,” explained Dr. Shirley Burnett, interim chair/instructor of mathematics at Jackson State University. “It helps students determine their strengths and weaknesses as well as think about ways in which they can enhance or improve upon them.”

Jackson State uses formative reflections in both in-person and online classes. Students not only self-reflect, but provide feedback that allows instructors to modify instruction. “While it started slow, students became eager to share their reflections. And through these reflections, we were able to create a partnership and improve learning,” Burnett notes. “Students felt included and we could embrace strategies that were applicable to each student.

At Harper College, a course redesign for an English composition course involved Small Group Instructional Feedback (SGIF) in the middle of the semester to get information on the students’ perceptions of learning and find out if there was anything that needed clarification or need to be changed, said Stephanie Whalen, Academy Chair, at Harper College. “The SGIF process was pioneered at the University of Washington and is used widely at colleges across the country,” Whalen explained. “We adapted what they did and made it our own.”

SGIF is a voluntary, non-evaluative process for collecting student feedback on their experiences of a course mid-way through the semester. A faculty peer conducts a session in a colleague’s classroom in which they ask students to respond to four questions individually, in small groups and as a whole class. The faculty peer provides a confidential, written report following the feedback session.

“We created a process where we brought faculty together to review the literature, consulted with people who’ve already done it at other schools, formed and initial pilot, created materials and guides for faculty members and partners about how to conduct the focus sessions as well as how to handle the debriefing session,” Whalen pointed out.

In the initial pilot, the school got a lot of feedback from students who felt like this process was an opportunity to voice their concerns. “The students felt like faculty cared about them,” Whalen said. “After the SGIF sessions, students participated more in class and were more engaged in the learning process.”