MY TAKE: Instructive Criticism
Dustin Kidd, TRC Graduate Student Associate and Department of Sociology
think that anything worth saying is worth putting our name on. But some
comments work better when they remain unattributed, as I have learned
from using the Anonymous Feedback option on my Instructional Toolkit course
homepage. True, the comments aren't always 'spot on,' but the system accommodates
I found myself lecturing to 180 students, having never before taught more
than 20. I made a lot of mistakes, but also learned many lessons, thanks
to the students and their use of Anonymous Feedback. For instance, during
the first two weeks of class, students appeared to be frustrated. I knew
that my lecture delivery was missing the mark but couldn't identify the
problem. I tried something new each time, but nothing seemed to remedy
the issue. I wondered if teaching just wasn't for me. Fortunately, I received
an anonymous comment that read:
to become defensive, I could address the issue once I understood the students'
experience. It wasn't as easy to slow down as I first imagined, but it
was a fixable problem.
Not all such
feedback is useful, but it's a worthy tradeoff. The comments range from
the bizarre ("Orange is not your color!") to the downright
offensive. Some students use the Anonymous Feedback option as an opportunity
to complain. Often, their communications include no usable feedback but
may still possess value. The cathartic effect can have a positive result.
Moreover, I hope such mid-semester venting makes it less likely that students
will express negative sentiments on my final evaluations.
the Anonymous Feedback option you may want to give your students a lesson
in how to use it. Occasionally, for example, I received notes that should
not have been anonymous. Sometimes students asked about paper topics.
Brief reminders during class usually eliminated those types of misuses.
Let me close
with one last demonstration of the usefulness of this tool. After midterms
and mid-semester evaluations (Anonymous Feedback notwithstanding, I still
believe it is important to collect written feedback from the entire class),
I realized that my students struggled with how to take appropriate notes.
I started posting my lecture notes on my course homepage. I quickly received
the following note: "By posting your notes on the Internet you
are allowing people to skip your class. There is no need to read aloud
your notes if we already have them." Consequently, I produced
instead a rough outline, which proved useful only to those who attended
class. Shortly thereafter, I received this affirmation: