Having made the case why I don’t believe in anonymous feedback, I am looking again at the other side to think about how and when it could be usefully employed.

I stand my ground that as a one-way activity (student to teacher) and especially occurring only once or twice in a course – particularly only at the end – anonymous feedback presents the danger of being unwise, unkind and irresponsible.

Here’s a model I discussed with a colleague this week that I think has merit.

The presuppositions are:

1)  the teacher and students are in an ongoing educational relationship in which learning to give and receive effective feedback is a part of the educational process;

2) the teacher has some level of control over his / her curriculum and is able to make at least moderate adjustments to their teaching, based upon feedback.

The process my colleague described, which appealed to me is this:

At regular intervals (every week, month etc. – but never only at the end of the term) the teacher elicits feedback from the students.  It can include rating/numbers/scoring of some kind.  The feedback also must include narrative comments and encourages the students to be specific about what teaching and learning activities they find useful and why; and what they don’t feel useful and why.  This feedback is anonymous.  Students are encouraged to be respectful and honest.  The teacher clearly states that criticism is welcome, as is positive comments.

The teacher takes time and goes through the feedback organizing it in whatever way makes sense.  This organization includes both putting together the ratings/numbers but also compiling the narrative feedback.

The teacher then presents this feedback to the class.  It can be in the form of charts or could be on a power point slide; it could be on handouts.  The teacher can talk through the feedback or simply put it out for the class to look at and respond to.

In small groups the students discuss the feedback.  They are encouraged to discuss together and to include disagreements or agreements with various points of the feedback.  After a period of time – the groups are invited to offer some thoughts to the teacher.  I think it would be most powerful if these were oral summaries from a spokesperson for the group.  If time is an issue, the thoughts could be written down.  Either way, they might be suggestions for changes.  They might also be noting where there were stark differences in the feedback (e.g. 4 students loved that activity and 4 students hated it).  The students are encouraged to think about their learning from the perspective of themselves, the group and the teacher.

The teacher can choose to respond to their reactions in the moment or to come back the next class with his/her suggestions for improvements and changes.  The teacher can also acknowledge if something is going particularly well and promise to build on that.

This, to me, creates a very different dynamic and tone, one that I would be most happy to engage with.  Give the students their own feedback data and let them grapple with it.  Share the responsibility for a class going well or getting better.  This feels respectful and educative to me.