In a small group feedback session (SGFS), a trained observer visits class and conducts a group discussion alone with students during the last twenty minutes. The observer then produces a confidential report and discusses it with the instructor.
The SGFS is similar to a midterm student course evaluation, except that it can be performed at any point in the semester. It also has several significant advantages over traditional self-assessments or observation protocols. First and foremost, student feedback is more candid when made anonymously (as the observer does not share student names with the instructor). Additionally, because the observer can ask follow-up questions, this form of feedback tends to be more consistent and clear. Finally, the activity of discussing (and possibly brainstorming about) class with an outside observer provides students a sense of ownership in the course, and allows them to learn from one another about what strategies work for them and their peers.
Example / Recommended Protocol
- Design Questions - The observer and instructor should agree on three to five discussion questions to ask students. The instructor should suggest data / information they’d like to collect, and the observer can recommend typical questions.
- (Optional) Conduct Pre-Survey - The observer gives students the questions in advance of the class visit via an anonymous online survey, and examines the results.
- Observe Class - Class is observed to give context to the survey responses. Note that this step is not strictly necessary and can be skipped, although class context can help interpret student responses.
- Lead Discussion - Discussion with students can take a variety of forms. If class is small, during the last twenty minutes of class the observer can pass out sheets with the same survey questions and ask students to discuss by drawing on what they’ve previously written. Alternatively, if the class is large, the observer might divide the students into smaller groups, with each group then sharing its consensus-based responses to the questions with the whole class. Finally, the observer can lead a whole-class discussion, taking comments from volunteer students.
- Clarify and Categorize - As the discussion nears its end, the observer identifies and records general categories of feedback, takes any additional feedback (oral or written) from the students, and clarifies any seeming contradictions among student comments.
- Write Summary - The observer writes a summary report of the survey and discussion data by analyzing and synthesizing written evaluations, discussion with students, and (if available) classroom observations. This report should be a balance of compliment and critique, both praising successful and favored strategies and recommending areas for reflection or new approaches.
- Discuss - The observer meets with the instructor to share feedback, discuss ways to respond to students, and brainstorm possible paths forward. The observer may send the report early, giving the instructor time to read and digest before meeting to discuss.
Collaborating with Students on Gathering Feedback - Northwestern Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research
Feedback on Teaching - Yale Center for Teaching and Learning
Gathering Student Feedback - UWashington Center for Teaching and Learning
Small Group Analysis - Vanderbilt Center for Teaching
Student Feedback Sessions - UDenver Office of Teaching and Learning