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Feedback For Feedback Forms

April 25, 2018
- Aman Nayak, Nikhil Arora, Sudhang Varshney

For the average student, the course feedback form is something that connotes rapid, indiscriminate clicking of arbitrarily chosen checkboxes, arising out of the impending deadline that looms over a his/her head. It gives rise to some creative patterns of filling in the MCQ reminiscent of an academically-broke student randomly attempting a subject he doesn’t know anything about. This casual attitude exhibited by a majority of the Roorkee populus is indicative of the ineffectiveness of the feedback system, and how it doesn’t have the required impact.

Given how the system isn’t high on transparency and has a lot of uncertainties associated with it, we spoke to Professor B. K. Mishra, Dean of Faculty Affairs, to gain insight on how it functions and how its inadequacies can be rectified.

The current picture

Before the existence of the college intranet, the feedback exercise was carried out by the professors in the class itself, at the end of the semester. Several years ago, the form moved online with a revised set of questions and categories. From the vantage point of a student, the feedback form consists of two parts: a course evaluation form and a professor/instructor evaluation form. The two sections contain a set of related statements with the student having to align with them, along various degrees, via selecting the appropriate response. An optional text box is provided for additional comments for the same. The format remains consistent across all courses and the respective professors. Submission of the form is mandatory as the subject registration portal becomes available only after its completion. While being an important mechanism for the professor to get the occasional, valuable feedback and ways in which he can improve, a cross sectional analysis of the system reveals several inadequacies and areas in which the process can improve in.

Situation in other institutes

From the information we could gather, the tedious nature of the feedback form in common in several other IITs. However, significant professor accountability is associated with the feedback. In IIT Delhi, the feedback form is very comprehensive and can take upto two hours to fill, for all courses. Some professors use a mid semester evaluation too. There have been cases in the past where a professor has been forced to drop a course as a result of negative feedback. This results in both the students and the professor taking the entire mechanism extremely seriously. In IIT Bombay too, the form is lengthy and time consuming.

(Insight IITB, the student media body of IIT Bombay, wrote an article on the same issue, which can be found on this link.)

Where does the feedback go?

Due to the absence of any information regarding the fate of these forms, the hazy situation poses a lot of questions. Where does the data end up? Who scrutinizes it? Are our feedbacks incognito? The answer to the question “What impact does my feedback have?” is the paramount metric governing the attitude of a student during the process.

Once the form is filled in by the students, it is sent to the professor teaching the course. The forms and reviews are also accessible by the HoD and the Dean of Academics, but the system is currently only intended as a means for the professor to assess themselves, which means that there is no carrot or stick involved in the process. Until last year, The Institute Best Teacher Award was given to the professor with the highest rating on these forms, but this practice has now been discontinued.

Suggestions such as making the form responses public or having a minimum rating requirement to teach courses are unlikely to be accepted.

It is worth emphasising that the anonymity of the forms is maintained throughout; no authority can find out who has filled any particular form.

After our conversation with Prof. Mishra, it was evident that without any ramifications of a positive or negative response of the process, the utility of the current structure is debatable. A concrete process to measure a professor’s teaching performance in some quantifiable way is non-existent, preventing them for being held accountable for their teaching. Any instructor is not accountable for overwhelmingly negative responses in the absence of any negative ramifications put in place by the administration. It is a common observance that many professors who are rated poorly year after year, continue teaching the course. This lack of incentivisation to improve performance anulls any significance of a student’s submission and practically renders the feedback system obsolete.

However, another aspect that needs to be addressed is the fact that students who don’t attend the classes are also compulsorily asked to fill the feedback forms. These responses, in all probability, do not hold the same merit as the ones which come from students who are fairly regular in their attendance, and might skew the results in an unfair manner.

Ambit of the questions is questionable-

The questionnaire itself has some inherent weaknesses and flaws, the most glaring of which is the complete omission of the evaluation of the practical labs and the lab instructors associated with a course. Practical aspects of a course are where a student exercises the knowledge they gain from it, and hence should be incorporated in the feedback mechanism. For example, in a course like Engineering Drawing, which is a compulsory course for most students, a majority of the contact hours are spent in the Drawing Hall. These omissions result in the stagnation of the course components which go unevaluated by the students in the feedback form.

The courses a student undertakes vary a lot, from the Communication Skills and department-specific Introductory courses in the first year to core departmental courses in later years. Yet the feedback form does not reflect this, instead barraging the student with the same questions for all courses. While it is necessary to keep some questions the same for the purpose of assessing different courses, and statistical analysis of all student responses; the current format induces a sense of monotony in a student who has to fill several such forms all at once.

Authenticity of data

A major chunk of students delay the submission until the very last days of the deadline. In a majority of the cases, the response is a set of rapid clicks on a computer without any real thought on their part. This dwindles the credibility of their input and greatly decreases the overall validity of the data so collected. The anonymity of responses grant the student free will to approach the form without the trepidation of any backlash. Although this sounds reasonable, in principle, a sizeable number of responders take advantage of it to vent frustrations which pollute the database. The unreliable responses somewhat invalidate the entire dataset and it is difficult to evaluate the course or the professor on the basis of these responses. In view of this, professors not taking these comments seriously is not surprising.

Our two cents

While the feedback form is certainly facing some issues, it is an irreplaceable asset to both the student community as well as the professors. With a few improvements to the form and the procedure, we are optimistic about the results this improved procedure brings about.

We hereby suggest the following changes towards helping these forms actualize their potential :

  • Overhauling the form

    The first line of reform should be of the form itself. Omission of vague questions and admission of specific and clear questions would not only enhance the readability of the form, it would also be conducive to genuine responses. A collection of questions in different formats-some eliciting a score, some MCQ’s and some demanding subjective responses can contribute to the same. Analysis of these forms can unearth revealing data about the cause of negative feedback(if any): an ineffective teaching mechanism or a flawed course structure.

    While some common questions are required to grade the professor statistically, perhaps some personalised questions, specific to the course, need to be included. Not only will this elicit greater engagement from the student, it will also provide more effective feedback.

  • Statistically differentiating individual feedback

    In our discussion we came up with a way to validate the authenticity of the feedback from different students, based on their GPA or attendance in the particular course. Although the formula for the same might involve whimsical approaches, this method or other statistical models could be used to weed out the extreme responses, both positive and negative.

  • Introducing a mid-semester feedback

    Apart from an End-Term feedback, a post mid-term feedback should also be introduced. Slightly less comprehensive than the final questionnaire, it can contain suggestions and criticisms of the flow of the course without any impact on the final score an instructor gets. What this would do is provide wiggle room to the professor to make amends if required and get critical information about how their delivery is perceived. Students would also be able to see tangible impacts of their submissions during the span of the course, indicating that their responses did indeed carry weight. Consequential increase in the authenticity of their replies and decrease in the volume of retorts would follow.

  • Making some feedback for elective courses public

    While making course feedback public is not considered appropriate, the institute may find it more palatable to make elective course feedback public. If this feedback is taken over several years, so that course feedback cannot be inferred from it. This will prove helpful to students making deciding which course to pick.

Epilogue

There shall be a committee meeting in the Main Building soon to discuss the future of the response form and the appropriate way to select the ‘Best Teacher’ award. However, from our talk with Prof. B. K. Mishra, we realised that the best suggestions could only come from the student populace. We encourage the reader to send us their suggestions to watchout.iitr@gmail.com so we could forward the same to the concerned authorities.