As instructors think about examining their teaching, they frequently seek insights into a variety of pertinent questions. For instance, does the course organization provide for optimal student learning? Is the presentation enhancing or detracting from the content? What material is seen as relevant or irrelevant? Are the assignments achieving the desired goals?
A Student Focus Feedback Group (SFFG) is a formative assessment commonly conducted at midterm that is designed to help instructors diagnose problems during the term rather than after. It empowers both students and instructors to make changes when they are most useful. The method uses class interviews with students to provide suggestions for strengthening the course, increasing communication between students and the instructor, and generally improving instruction. Besides identifying areas where change may be needed, and the SFFG also identifies ways in which these changes could be carried out.
Conducting an SFFG requires an IDS consultant to work with the instructor and the students. It is important that the person who conducts the SFFG is someone both the instructor and the students can see as a “neutral party” and who can, therefore, be trusted by all. The instructor and consultant first meet to discuss the class and determine how the class interview process can best be used to provide feedback for instructional improvement. Then on a day agreed upon by the instructor, the consultant meets with the class in the absence of the instructor to conduct the evaluation. Students are given 2-3 questions to answer. Although questions may vary according to need, the following are typical of the kinds of questions generally asked during the evaluation process:
- What are the strengths of the course that assist you in learning?
- What changes could be made in the course to assist you in learning?
- How would you recommend that those changes be made? (This helps students think proactively rather than reactively, seeking solutions that work for them rather than complaining about what they don't like.)
First students are asked to reflect individually for 1-2 minutes. They then are put into small groups where they are asked to discuss the questions and come to a consensus about the answers. After 8-10 minutes, each group is asked to report the results of their discussion to the whole class. The consultant charts the answers on the board and the class then engages in a discussion of the similarities and differences that result. The consultant then feeds back his/her synthesis of the results to the class. The process is over when the class feels comfortable that the consultant understands their issues and concerns. Because of the ensured anonymity and need for shared dialogue and consensus, the information students provide is generally comprehensive and well balanced, and they gain a greater understanding of the strengths of the class as well as any possible changes that could be made to facilitate their learning as it affects the entire class. Finally, the consultant meets with the instructor to discuss the student feedback and help the instructor to develop a plan of action regarding the implementation of student feedback.