Negative Feeback & the Search for Cause and Effect

Posted on January 23, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I’ve already posted on how I reacted to the positive feedback that I received from the course evaluations from my U-Engage course, but I also want to spend some time reporting on the feedback that wasn’t so positive and reflecting on my thoughts regarding this information.

Approximately 25% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed that the course helped them become more involved on campus. While I know that the benefits of involvement were discussed and the experiential activities and mid-term paper were designed to help students start brainstorming and experiences a few ways to increase their involvement, they were not intrinsically going to facilitate prolonged involvement-nor do I think a class of this nature should have such a learning outcome. I would suggest rewording this question to whether or not U-Engage helped them recognize the benefits of involvement or exposed them to various ways to get involved on campus.

It was very interesting to see that over 40% of our students disagreed or strongly disagreed that the course was sufficiently challenging. This was surprising particularly because I found it  challenging  to convey to students the amount of time and energy that is required to succeed in college courses. There were quite a few times when I remember receiving feedback from recitation leaders and students that they were having difficulties with the amount of reading and the number of assignments. Having looked over data from this section in other U-Engage sections, I see that ours was not unique. I think that there are a number of variables that could have influenced the students’ perspective on how challenging the course was. In comparison to their other new college courses, U-Engage was geared towards addressing their transition to the university and guiding them into the college classroom slowly and therefore may have seemed less challenging. In all likelihood some students in our course were more prepared for college than others and therefore found the reading and assignments less challenging. Other students may have chosen to focus most of their energy on other courses and therefore perceived U-Engage as less challenging. There is also a question as to how students define “challenging”. Some students may have viewed challenging as something that completely exceeds their ability to succeed and not seen the course in these terms. Given the number of variables at play, I cannot recommend any specific ways to improve the course. I would have been interested to see the breakdown whether students found the course sufficiently challenging along side the grades students expected to receive in course. I think this may have helped in the analysis.

Approximately 18% of students disagreed that we provided clear expectations. I am willing to concede that if I were to teach this course again, or any course for that matter, I will have scoring rubrics available for assignments that are more subjective in nature. Other than that I am confident that the other instructors and I were very approachable and would have been more than willing to clarify expectations at any point. One of the greatest challenges for first-year students is learning what professors expect and that may also help to explain this data.

Having spent some time looking at some of the less positive numbers, I am actually feeling better about the way things went then I was looking at the positive numbers. Perhaps this is because the variables that influenced negative feedback vary a great deal and leave me feeling as though there is no simple solution for what was reported. I think this ambiguity may be another weakness of raw data. It leaves the assessor with a clear understanding of the effect the course had, but no clear path to the primary cause(s).

If cause(s) were important, I would recommend adding comment sections to certain questions that historically lead to lots of possible causes. I would also suggest using focus groups as a way to get more context than raw data provides.


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One Response to “Negative Feeback & the Search for Cause and Effect”

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Great points, Ruth. I think that you raise some good issues with how we ask questions and what information we really want. One of my questions is always “…compared to what?” If we ask if the class was challenging and the student is in their first year, are they comparing the level of difficulty to their high school classes or Chemistry 101? When we ask if they feel that faculty are approachable, is that compared to their high school teachers or other OSU faculty?

I also think that we can be more critical of the negative feedback and more assuming on the positive side of things.

How do we get more insight to the student experience and at the same time, not lose the perspective that we may know best what they need?


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