Tag Archives: education

Student feedback: What it can and can’t tell us

Posted by: Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

As we move towards the end of semester we begin the process of collecting student feedback via the Course Experience Survey (CES). Student feedback on teaching is a complex topic and it typically raises a range of issues for academics.

Get any group of teaching staff together to discuss student feedback and you will be guaranteed a lively discussion. In addition to the many hours clocked up in our staff rooms on this topic, it has generated thousands of articles examining the validity of student evaluation tools; the best time in the semester for such feedback; how to most effectively close the feedback loop and how to communicate with students about changes made as a result of their feedback.

Lecturer showing a mindmap on an overhead projector.

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

Previous tomtom posts like this one and this one have effectively captured the ups and downs of the process and both make mention of the importance of putting the CES in context for students.  The phenomenon of “survey fatigue” too (as we know from our own lives) is a risk in any drive to increase response rates, particularly as we move to online administration of the survey.

There is one issue, however, on which there is widespread agreement: student feedback is only one source of information available to us about our courses and our teaching. Triangulation is crucial. This means complementing student feedback with information from:

  • assessment tasks, giving due consideration to the learning your students demonstrate
  • peer observation, such as via Peer Partnerships, in which you invite colleagues to experience your teaching and provide feedback and your own reflections on what seems to work and not work and why.

The CES can provide us with useful information, but we do need to remember what it measures, namely student experience. In his useful summary of research on student evaluations, Terry Doyle (2004) reminds us that while student feedback can provide valuable information, there are a number of aspects about which students are not well qualified to provide feedback including:

  • if the teaching methods used were appropriate for the course
  • if the content covered was appropriate for the course
  • if the content covered was up-to-date
  • if the assignments were appropriate for aiding student learning
  • if what they learned has real world application
  • if what they learned will help them in future classes
  • if the type of assistance, help or support given to students was appropriate to the learning goals of the class
  • if the difficulty level of the course material was at an appropriate level.

What Doyle also provides here I think is a structure for a teacher or lecturer to speak to towards the end of her or his course. A quick reminder about each of the elements above would also be an appropriate introduction to students before they complete their survey.

RMIT TAFE Students in class.

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

Before making changes in response to student feedback, we need to be confident in the validity of the data provided and this brings us to response rates. This semester the Survey Services Group has developed a reliability band calculator. During the administration period of the survey (May 6 – June 2) you will be able to check how your own response rates are tracking against the reliability bands (good, sufficient and insufficient). You can check the response rates by program and school here (RMIT Staff login required). Contact your L&T group if you’d like to use a short presentation that has been designed by the Survey Centre to be displayed in a class so that students can follow the links and complete any outstanding surveys.

The RMIT Academic Expectations have set expected and aspirational targets for the Good Teaching Scale. In the coming years there will be more pressure on academics to provide reliable snapshots of the student perspective on their teaching. The vast majority of academics have always used the surveys as a tool for self-reflection.

I’m confident that we can continue a culture at RMIT that puts an appropriate emphasis on major surveys like the CES as one way in which we identify both evidence of excellence and areas for improvement.


  • Read more about Terry Doyle’s research into surveys and teacher effectiveness at his blog Learner Centered Teaching.
  • For more on the CES, read this FAQ published by the Survey Services Centre.

Share your thoughts about the CES in the comments section below!

Education vs/and Entertainment

Post by Ruth Moeller
Image by: Lost Albatross

I can not believe I am saying this but I am inspired to learn computer programming! As someone with a love/hate relationship with technology (love it when it works/hate it when it doesn’t), you should wonder what has brought this on? I have been cruising Youtube, looking for ideas and resources for my education students (of which there are many, resources that is, but that is a post for another day) when I came across Richard Buckland, and was inspired.

Richard teaching teaches computer programming at UNSW and has posted his lectures online as part of an access project. By the student comments on each lecture, I can see I am not the only one impressed.

When you look at the lectures, and I encourage you to do so, you feel that he is talking to you, or at least a small group of students, not a full lecture theatre. Besides having a t-shirt collection worthy of Sheldon Cooper (see The Big Bang Theory), he exudes a passion for his subject, and sharing that with his students. Importantly from my perspective, he uses good teaching strategies to engage the students.

Watch the first lecture in the subject, and see how he starts to learn student names, cleverly deals with a lighting problem using a 20th century teaching icon, and links his subject to the previous one, even commenting on the students’ assessment from this subject. Can I say, that as a potential student, I would be hooked – he has passion that he wants me to share and is interested in ME, and this is all within the first 20 minutes of the lecture.

I am sure that this will cause many to say “that’s OK for him, but I’m not entertaining and my subject is boring”. Now we have the age old conundrum, entertainment vs education. I understand it would be wonderful if we all had a natural gift for entertainment but for most, teaching is a craft, a series of strategies and techniques held together by practice rather than an art for which we have a gift.

Richard is entertaining but he also uses a range of teaching strategies to engage his students with the content. In my opinion, entertainment can be a trap, you go to a lecture or presentation and it is fun, the presenter is amusing and sharp, has great technology and there is a buzz in the room. But what happens once you leave; what did you learn? Are you just left with a “feel good” factor – not content – sizzle without the sausage?

The trap is being teacher centred, making classes “all about me”, with student laughter being the ultimate reward. On the other hand, good teaching is student focussed, with the learning based on what the students are doing and the aim is to ensure they have achieved the outcomes of the subject. I think this view can be liberating for it values learning over entertainment, student achievement over the feel good factor. Don’t get me wrong, enjoyment and fun with learning is to be desired, not aimed for. For me realistically as an educator, if I can provide good learning by what I do and the strategies I use, I have met my contract with my students.

Having said all that, have a look at Richard, see what you think – consider not only what he is doing but how he does it. Are you as inspired as I am to take up computer programming? If so, I will see you at the lecture.


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