UK instructors show the value of responsive teaching

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (September 12, 2022) A common refrain in educational circles is that we don’t teach the course; we teach students in the room. This suggests that in addition to adopting evidence-based and ‘best’ practices for program design and delivery, it is equally important that we get to know our students as learners. This idea is reflected in the first principle of the University of Kentucky’s current strategic plan put students first.

With this mindset, the classroom becomes a dialogical space where we collaborate with students to make their learning meaningful, useful and successful.

Our student body is wonderfully diverse, with unique identities, interests, perspectives, and goals. No two classes, it is often said, are alike. Instructors have always known the value of better understanding their students, but since the disruptions of the pandemic in 2020, they have increasingly looked for ways to refine their lessons and teaching based on student feedback. Among the strategies instructors have employed, many have approached the Center for Improving Learning and Teaching (CELT) for its mid-semester student feedback service.

Prior to 2020, CELT typically facilitated the mid-semester feedback process for 40–50 course sections each academic year. For the 2020-21 academic year, however, CELT facilitated feedback for 131 sections, and for the 2021-22 academic year, that number increased to 171 sections. Along with the DIY methods other instructors have employed, these numbers tell a larger story about how instructors seek to involve student voices in decisions about curricula and teaching strategies, while inviting students to intentionally reflect on their own classroom learning strategies. .

A voluntary and confidential process, CELT mid-semester feedback can take three forms: a classroom visit on campus or Zoom/Microsoft teams and an out-of-class survey. CELT staff work with instructors to determine the best questions to ask students, with students to make sense of their learning experiences and perspectives, and with instructors again to debrief feedback and identify actionable or useful information. In addition to providing feedback with ample time in the semester to make adjustments, another benefit of the process is the rapport and transparency it cultivates between students and instructors.

Reflecting on his experience with the feedback process during the 2022 spring semester, Savio Poovathingal, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said that “even if you tell students they can give you suggestions , I think they are generally hesitant to speak directly. But when you say “hey, we’re having this feedback opportunity with CELT” and offer a more formal way to receive feedback, students are more willing to make suggestions.

For Poovathingal and his students, the process was essentially about communication.

“Afterwards, I went back to them and said, ‘These are the suggestions I got and these are the things I’m going to do.’ This allowed the students to see that they can really offer suggestions and feedback without sounding negative. Even if some suggestions did not correspond to the design of the course, he took the opportunity to be transparent with the students about his educational choices. “For the things I couldn’t change, I told them, ‘I hear you, but here’s why it has to be this way,’ and that gave them more context for their learning.”

Poovathingal added that “student feedback, in my experience, has been positive.”

The spirit of communication and collaboration was also evident for the students. Abigail Lanter, a junior mechanical engineering student and student in Poovathingal’s class, said the feedback session “changed class morale. During the discussion, we were all brainstorming and sharing all sorts of comments and ideas. We were very excited. We felt very heard.

Lanter said subsequent class reunions were “more like a conversation. We felt more comfortable asking questions. And that made the lessons more enjoyable. It showed that he cared enough about our learning to change some elements of the course. These changes have had a positive impact on our learning and grades.

While feedback sessions have a positive impact on the ongoing course, they also influence instructor teaching over time as well as overall student success in a program. Poovathingal’s long-term goals include strategically improving courses and supporting students in fundamental ways.

“I hope to use student feedback a few times to refine a given course over time,” he said. “I also hope to inspire more students to enter my discipline. They will take many more on-the-job courses and I hope these changes will have a positive impact on their learning in these courses as well.

All instructors in the UK are welcome to request mid-term feedback from CELT. Learn more about the process and submit applications on the CELT website.

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