Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Satisfaction in Learning

My friend, Erik Ellefsen, recently tweeted this one to me:

Interesting thought, isn't it?

To what degree should we be concerned with student satisfaction? As an instructor in higher education, I am acutely aware of my end-of-term evaluations, and sites like Rate My Professors (I don't look at my reviews there...yikes...) that allow students to sit in the evaluator's seat and give the instructor a "grade." It's a tricky dance; it certainly feels good to have students give you accolades about your teaching...but does that mean catering to what they want, to their whims? Or does that mean challenging them with what they need...even if they don't necessarily want it? What is the mark of satisfaction in learning?

And how about it K-12 schools? Should we care what our students think about our teaching? Let's be real about this: even kids know good teaching from poor teaching. By the time they were in my 7th grade homeroom, the middle school students were keenly aware of the quality of their teachers--and not just based on something as ephemeral as the teacher doing what they liked. For example...very few kids like homework, right? But kids can tell the difference between crappy homework and thoughtfully-crafted practice.

Kids are aware of the teachers who just keep photocopying the same worksheets and tests that they used 15 years ago, or recycling the same PowerPoint slides, or showing that same VHS tape that they were using in 1998. Not that there is anything wrong with re-using things you've done in the past--we can't reinvent the wheel every year, nor should we have to!--but kids are definitely savvy enough to tell when the teacher is coasting, and when the teacher is carefully, thoughtfully creating a learning environment with an atmosphere that invites the students into exploring.

I wonder which teachers would cry the loudest if an administrator would want to implement a student satisfaction system like the one pictured above?

Would it be the teacher who is striving to really meet the needs of the students? Or would it be the one who is just putting in time?

The teacher who wants to improve and get better? Or the teacher who is pretty sure s/he is doing just fine?

Who would want the feedback? Who would be willing to rethink their teaching based on the feedback?


If questions like these are making you feel a bit uncomfortable...

Where does that place you?

Do you want to know how satisfied your students are with your teaching?

Are students our customers? Should we be concerned with their satisfaction?
Image by agaumont [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]


  1. No comments yet???? I see this, and I get worried. Worried that I'm not doing enough for EVERY student. I'll see the negatives, and either be defending the lesson, or upset about how I didn't get to every child. I think teachers would be resistant, but seeing how they'd respond to the responses each day would be a sign of how they're using the feedback. I'm responding as if we'll actually GET them! Really - if we would, we'd have to give them a month or so of kids getting used to them before we look at the feedback seriously, I think. If/When we make it a normal, every day event, they would be more thoughtful about what they put as their feedback, and we can then look for trends with our lessons - which ones had the highest feedback - to try to find what works for them and what doesn't. (We could try it with non- or low-tech ways, first, by the way... ) ;)

    I rambled, Dave, and I hope that's okay! Thanks for posting!

    1. I love your point, Joy, about the need to help students get used to giving feedback. I think you're right--some would not take it seriously at first. I wonder if that would prevent some teachers from taking the whole idea of soliciting student feedback seriously as well? I imagine some might try it once, see some of the silliness that comes out of their students, and think, "Well, that was pointless...not doing that again." (Which makes me wonder if that is how some of our students feel with the feedback we provide to them on their work sometimes...? "Well, it looks like my efforts didn't pay off...maybe I won't try next time..." Hmmm...)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Joy! Always thankful for your feedback/pushback. :-)

  2. When I try a new (usually art) project with my class, I usually tell them that they are the first class to try it with me, so afterward I ask them if they think I should try it again next year. Granted, I teach Kindergarten, so generally things are met with resounding enthusiasm, especially if they are the first to do it. :) Sometimes I ask them to tell me which project or book they preferred. They love helping me figure out the best activities.

    1. I love that you actively solicit this kind of feedback, even from K kids! I always surveyed my middle school students periodically too--I wanted to know what their impressions were of my class, and whether there were things I could do to make their learning experience better. One suggestion the class had for me: stop using PowerPoint for lectures. (Here I thought they appreciated my slides!) I went for the lower-tech "chalk and talk" option for my lectures, and they became much more interactive--more of a discussion than a lecture, really, which was fascinating to me.

      You never know what great suggestions the kids might have for you. And, since they are the ones who are there with you every day, they might actually the best qualified to give you feedback on how things are going!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. This ties in well to the first week of EDUC 561....

    In the Dordt graduate program, the first week of EDUC 561: Supervision of Instruction is now under way. We had to respond to a forum that asked how often we as teachers, coaches, or school leaders were evaluated so far this school year. Along with the question was a video of Bill Gates giving a TED talk (link included below). The point of the video is that teachers are not given NEARLY enough feedback as they need in order to improve upon their teaching and succeed in what they need to do --- teach for understanding within students. Students are dropping in achievement because teachers are not given enough opportunities to hear feedback on their teaching so they can improve. If a teacher has no one coming in their room to provide input or is not able to go out to other rooms to see new ideas, it would be tough to improve on their teaching. I am not saying teachers cannot seek out ways themselves to improve through reading different books or learning new methods online, but face to face conversations and feedback would be the most formative way of improving teaching. I do like the idea of using students for feedback, as I do it from time to time, but having a trained educator who can dive into some topics with you is much more valuable.

    I am not pointing fingers at any person or group of people, but with Bill Gates I agree: the system is a little flawed and a more efficient way of providing teacher feedback is needed in order to improve instruction, and in turn, STUDENT LEARNING!

    Thanks for the post, Dave.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, my friend! Grateful for your willingness to share your thinking, and I'm glad you're again enjoying learning at Dordt. :-)

  4. Student satisfaction is an important factor in a classroom. A dissatisfied student is unlikely to be learning (at all?) at optimum capacity.

    Personally, I began moving to a more student-centred classroom so that I could interact with students enough that I wouldn't need such a device to measure satisfaction. Through relationships fed by plenty of face-to-face, individual attention I feel a teacher should be able to successfully measure satisfaction and effectively address dissatisfaction.

    More personalized feedback and tracking my interactions with students also helps me see bigger picture patterns of satisfaction and progress. I think we have these machines in our classrooms; they just look like Google Forms and index cards and one-to-one conferences.

    Do teachers want to know if their students are satisfied with their teaching? If the goal is to maximize student learning, then the answer has to be, "Yes." We have the machines; let's support one another in plugging them in and responding to the feedback.

    1. My friend, I'm grateful you took the time to reply! I fully agree with you about the existence of these kinds of tools in our classrooms already. Imagine the power of providing a simple Google Form to collect feedback every few weeks? Or, as you say, an exit slip on a notecard for some low-tech feedback?

      I have often said, "Who says school needs to feel like prison?" It's not that it has to be fun and games all the time--though fun is not a bad thing, and we can learn many things by being playful! However, I get the feeling sometimes that if students never have a voice about the classroom happenings, and some sense of ownership in the learning process...well...it's only a few steps to school beginning to feel like "prison."

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!