Brookfield discusses in Chapter 2 the importance of getting regular feedback from the students on how the teaching and learning experience is unfolding during a class. Ultimately we want our students to learn so it is best we ensure our methods are working along the way. I’d rather know in a timely manner how I could improve my teaching rather than find out at the end of a course that there was a better way to meet the students’ learning needs.
In reading this chapter I honed in on the word anonymous feedback. Must it be anonymous feedback?
This got me thinking about a nursing workshop I attended last Spring and was asked at the end of the workshop to complete a feedback form but to “please put your name on the form.” I was shocked and many questions reeled in my head. The facilitator, an experienced nursing instructor of 20+ years went on to explain that they have found that when people place their names on the forms that it provides them with more meaningful information so that they can more appropriately tailor the course and its delivery. I felt more conscious of the feedback I provided but I didn’t feel I would have said anything different had it been anonymous. I felt safe to provide constructive feedback because I felt that the facilitators had a done a great job of creating trust in the group. I knew my feedback wouldn’t be held against me or affect my relationship with these individuals.
Months later I still wondered about this non-anonymous feedback. Was this something that others were doing in the teaching world? What was the benefit of this form of providing feedback? I think like many other teachers we cringe at the idea of our students scrutinizing our work. We care about what we are doing and what if the students say we are doing it all wrong?
A latest trend is that people are becoming cruel when they are faceless in the online environment. Just look at that mother whose child died from meningitis largely because she chose to practice holistic health practices before Western medicine. A hugely tragic event. What do people turn around and do? They say the most vile, judgmental and uncaring remarks to the grieving mother. Would they ever say this to her face? I doubt it. But the anonymity of the online environment gives people fair game to say some of the cruelest things I have ever bore witness to. As if the person on the receiving end has any less of an emotional response to these remarks than if they are being said to their face. So who is to say our students will be any more candid, professional and helpful in their feedback? One article looked at over 17, 000 student surveys and noted that only 0.15% were deemed “unprofessional” (Tucker, 2014). Okay so perhaps the majority won’t be as unprofessional as one might think. But will the feedback be helpful? If a student for instance to provide feedback saying “the teacher did not value my opinions in class.” I’d really like to know who that may be so I can reflect on my encounters with this student and perhaps change my behavior to better help this student. It would even be helpful to invite this student to talk to me about this further and ask for more clarification so I can better tailor my behaviour. If this feedback remains anonymous then what I am to do to change my ways? I haven’t a clue what I have done to not allow this student to feel her opinion is valued and no idea on how I can change it. I can try to apply general changes to my behavior but this may not indeed hit the intended target. If I ask for clarification on anonymous feedback I am being a hypocrite and breaching anonymity and likely breaking trust in the whole process of asking for anonymous feedback in the first place (Schwarz, 2013).
Asking for non-anonymous feedback or otherwise called ‘personalized feedback’ may also provide the added benefit of higher quality feedback. Of 307 personalised feedback forms in the study it was found that “students in the personalised feedback group tended to provide more details in their written answers” (Scherer, Straub, Schnyder, Schaffner, 2013, p.1). More meaningful feedback can yield more meaningful action that the teacher can take to improve the teaching and learning experience.
Increasing a student’s accountability in feedback responses, teaches students how to provide professional, critical yet responsible and respectful feedback (Scherer et al., 2013). In nursing this is a very important skill that we teach our students. They will consistently provide peers feedback throughout their four year nursing program and also out in the workplace after graduation. As a higher education institution should we not be teaching our students the important skills they will need in the workplace?
Anonymous feedback or not, the key thing Scherer et al. (2013) found to this whole process of eliciting feedback from students was that the teacher share the results of the survey with the students. Further to this was that the teacher should collaboratively discuss ways in which the feedback will be utilized and create a plan to implement the changes. This transparency and collaboration demonstrates to the students that their voices are respected, heard and trusted. In our nursing program, collaboration is a fundamental concept we teach the students to do with their patients, and therefore this has the added benefit of modeling the process of collaboration for the students.
Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Scherer, T, Straub, J., Schnyder, D, Schaffner, N. (2013). The effects of anonymity on student ratings of teaching and course quality in a bachelor degree programme. German Medical Science Journal for Medical Education, 30(3), Doc 32. Retrieved at http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC3778528
Schwarz, R. (2013). What anonymous will (and won’t) tell you. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved at https://hbr.org/2013/06/confidential-surveys-undermine.
Tucker, B. (2014). Student evaluation surveys: Anonymous comments that offend or are unprofessional. Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning, 68(3), 347-358.