Closing the Feedback Loop Within an Academic Setting

Written by Raluca Druta, Senior Professional Services Consultant, Explorance.

Simply put, a feedback loop is a system that ideally serves to improve a product or process by collecting and reacting to users’ experiences. Closing the feedback loop is an approach that has been gaining popularity amongst academic institutions, as students are now seen as co-creators of teaching and learning processes and not passive recipients of teaching methodologies. In addition, what students say on public forums about academic institutions can critically impact the school’s overall efforts to attract and retain new students. Therefore, capturing and tapping into these crucial unstructured conversations and connecting them with solicited feedback can help close the feedback loop and lead to deeper insights.

Closing the feedback loop allows academic institutions to follow up with students and show them how their feedback has impacted teaching and learning processes. It shows them that their feedback is valued, which in turn can lead to higher student success, engagement, and advocacy. In this article, we’ll show you the steps of establishing an effective feedback loop that leads to increased student satisfaction.

Data collection and analysis

The essential component of any survey or evaluation is the feedback provided by its participants. Consequently, collecting and assessing student feedback is of critical importance to ensure a successful process of improvement and accountability. It responds directly to students’ needs within an academic environment. Throughout the academic year, students are surveyed about their learning experiences regularly. This ongoing process of student feedback collection and assessment ensures that this critical input will have a direct impact on building pedagogical methods that are ultimately delivered back to students.

Institutions may use various tools and methodologies to analyze student feedback data. A popular approach in recent years is Student Journey Analytics (SJA). With this methodology, academic institutions can present a cohesive set of action items that clearly and unequivocally reinforce and address the issues that the students themselves believe to be essential to improving their learning trajectory. SJA provides a centralized feedback gathering platform that aligns the top priorities of both students and academic institutions. With a connected experience management process, continuous listening strategy, and decision support capabilities, SJA gives a full view of the student story through feedback.

Traditionally, the loop was considered closed when the aggregate results of student feedback surveys made their way back into academic circles and provided recommendations for improvement of pedagogical effectiveness. This approach defined an early approach to student feedback that lacked direct accountability to the student. However, in time, the student evaluation questionnaires acquired additional significance in their role in providing recommendations for improving the quality of teaching and positively influencing a student’s perception of their academic experience.

Student Journey Analytics provides a centralized feedback gathering platform that can be aligned to the top priorities of both students and academic institutions.

Given the increased focus on the role played by student evaluations, it was no longer feasible or instructive to close the feedback loop by incorporating improvements to teaching methods without informing students of the impact of their feedback on these critical changes and improvements. This enhancement to the cycle of improving teaching methodologies is no small accomplishment. It implies that a significant amount of power to improve a student’s academic outcome rests with the student.

Sharing the data with students

Without effective communication with students about how their feedback was used to improve the educational process, students live with the perception that their voice does not matter. Closing the feedback loop is an approach that returns the feedback to where it originated – with the student. Once the data collection and analysis are completed, course directors or module leaders can share a summary of the conclusions and action items that stem from the results of student feedback surveys.

While not all information can be disclosed due to confidentiality concerns, student feedback can be summarized in a manner that is meaningful to them. Here are a few tips on how to design a student facing report which closes the feedback loop:

  1. Start with overall experience question results. These can be represented as frequencies or aggregate frequencies, as shown in the graphs below. In an environment that encourages rating and commenting, most students like to see the frequency of responses.
    Example of frequency distribution (Blue frequency report block)
    Example of frequency distribution (Blue frequency report block)
    Example of aggregate frequency (Blue scale distribution report block)
    Example of aggregate frequency (Blue scale distribution report block)
  2. Add the course director/ module leader summary of student feedback results and ensuing action items. This is the most important piece of information that you can provide, so it is best placed at the very beginning of the student-facing report.
    Example of a course director/module leader summary of student feedback and ensuing action items (Blue comment report block)
    Example of a course director/module leader summary of student feedback and ensuing action items (Blue comment report block)
  3. Display a text analytics word cloud of student comments – if there are enough student responses. This is a catchy representation of open-ended feedback, which preserves confidentiality.
    Example of text analytics word cloud (Blue text analytics report block)
    Example of text analytics word cloud (Blue text analytics report block)
  4. The rest of the questions which may cover aspects such as teaching methods, academic support, or university resources may be added at the end.

The value of closing the feedback loop

Research has shown that an academic system that engages in an ongoing commitment to gathering student feedback, analyzing the data and coming up with a set of responsive points for action, improves the overall functioning of that system. The process involved in closing the feedback loop is what ultimately imparts meaning to the exercise of conducting student surveys and evaluations. It is a transparent and meaningful way, which not only builds the credibility of the institution and its staff but critically strengthens and validates the relationship between the student and the institution. 

Without effective communication to students about how their feedback was used to improve the educational process, students live with the perception that their voice does not matter.

 


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