Brain matter and official feedback

I killed a man once.
Not a lot of people know that.
It wasn’t intentional or anything like that.
I told him something and his brain exploded.
It was in the middle of a workshop and we were talking.
I told him something and then next thing you know there was brain matter everywhere.
It was kind of gross and most unexpected.

What was this shocking and brain exploding information I told him?

I simply told him that I had never checked the official feedback from my university.
That’s all. No violence, horses, or weapons.

escalation station

Boy, that escalated quickly.

The conversation went something like this:

MG: You know? More and more I think it is important to collect feedback as frequently as possible and in as many ways as   possible.
I don’t think we need to…
OD*: Feedback? Ohh I just look at what my school collects at the end of the term.
MG:  Ahh yeah… Mmm hmm. I think I am seeing benefits from collecting my own.
OD:  Really? I just check what they give me at the end of the term.
MG:  You might not believe this but I have never seen the one from my school?
(I’d been there for 18 months to that point. I have actually seen it since)
OD:  What? You really need to check that!
MG:  Yeah, I just…
OD:  It’s really important. You know they make contract decisions based on that right?
MG: Yeah, I know, I just never really…
OD:  You can get someone to translate them for you.
MG:  I know that, I do. I think it’s just that I want to collect my own feedback.
OD: But!
[Brain explodes.
Orange brain matter everywhere.
MG Side steps it and walks away with a confused look.
Brain matter continues oozing out.
[End scene]

Thinking back, perhaps I was a bit too free in sharing that information with him. I could have expected some push-back and surprise. It might be rare for teachers to willingly ignore the feedback taken and valued by school admin. Maybe at the time I was the perfect mix of stubborn, clueless (about the website on which the feedback is shared), arrogant, optimistic, and naive. I certainly didn’t mean to kill anyone with my shocking disclosure. I did have my reasons for not checking the official feedback, though. Some fo these include:

  • The questions they ask on the official form are always not so relevant to me.
    I think I can (and did and do) create questions about what I want to find out.
  • Many of the things I am interested in knowing and I believe students are interested in sharing are not really so applicable to 5 point scales.
  • I am more interested in responses over time rather than filled out (in a rush with no particular reason to be honest?) on one particular day.
    I think just like tests for students this sort of “high stakes” feedback is open to many variables and so I think more feedback over a longer period of time is more likely to create a more clear picture.
  • I tend to think that if I am teaching in a way in which my questions and concerns are dealt with appropriately and to my own standards  the official feedback will take care of itself.
  • I think if I see the official feedback at the end of the term it is too late (at least for these particular students).  By too late I mean both
    a) too late to make changes
    b) too late to address their concerns. Sometimes complaints are just a matter of students not seeing the background for a particular decision/situation. I like to think of feedback from students as a way to initiate a conversation. By the time the end of course feedback rolls around there is no channel for communication.
  • I think many teachers have the impression students are more likely to be truthful in official questionnaires but I am not sure this is the case. My sense is that over time students will respond truthfully to such questions when they see the questions are actually asked to make their learning experience better.

I don’t want to say the official feedback is a useless endeavor created by faceless and mindless bureaucrats who couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag. I really don’t. I think it serves a purpose. I just think that purpose tends to be different than my purposes as a classroom teacher.

As luck would have it, I am just about to check out my official feedback from the spring term.
I have a feeling it will be in line with my expectations and what I collected throughout the term.
(Update: it was)

*Not his real name.
Also, maybe his brain didn’t actually literally truly non-metaphorically explode.
I may have used the #poeticlicense I received in English class in 5th grade.


  1. gotanda

    Like you, I find more relevant feedback from students over time much more useful. Feedback immediately after a particular activity can be great. Also, giving students a little time to reflect on an activity is helpful. The whole term in a set of criteria that often aimed at some other type of course seems pointless. I usually try to ignore the one-size-fits-all standard evaluations, but sometimes I have to read them. Let me try to help you with further cranial destruction…

    * One university required that teachers write a comment on the results and submit them to the Director. The Director was supposed to respond. He seriously considered ordering a special rubber stamp for those responses.

    * One term, I got the highest score on the evaluations in the university. Unfortunately, that same term I also received the lowest score in the university.

    * I know a part-time instructor who makes a point of never, ever distributing the evaluations to be filled out in class. He “forgets”. Every semester.

    * I was once tasked with taking the Excel data for every evaluation for half the members of a faculty, copying and pasting it into a special template, adding identifying info, then generating a PDF for each instructor/class combination. I did hundreds of these. I’m sure I never once copied the wrong data into the wrong evaluation template. I’m also sure I never looked at anyone else’s evaluations as I was doing this.

    * I once saw a student drop the completed forms in a trash can instead of returning them to the academic affairs office.

    * One university was disappointed with the low compliance numbers for online, out of class evaluations, so returned to paper in-class. Students spent 4 hours during the final week of each semester filling out the same forms for every class. I expect the data was consistently reflective and meaningful after the 2nd, 10th, or 18th iteration of the survey on a hot summer afternoon as the holidays were in sight.

    * I once received a free comment in English that was just two words, “Crystal Geyser”.

    Yes, I am aware that these evaluations can be used for hiring decisions.

  2. Ebefl

    Interesting! I’m writing a piece on student feedback at the mo. incredible amount of research showing a lot of very interesting things. You might actually be better off not reading student feedback!

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