Do you really know what your students think about your teaching?

In the UK, every year nearly half a million final year undergraduate students complete the National Student Survey. The survey has 23 questions and asks students their opinions on their chosen university course. Questions focus on the learning experience and student satisfaction. Emphasis is very much on satisfaction at course level.

The National Student Survey is one of several evaluation tools used by universities to collect student opinions. Other examples include module evaluation forms, focus groups and student meetings. All of these have their merits. But being ‘evaluation tools’ they tend to take place towards the end of a course or module.

What about asking students for their suggestions earlier? This allows an educator to make changes for the benefit of an existing cohort. I’ve found that a Suggestion Box is an ideal way of doing this. Unlike large-scale surveys, it’s straightforward to implement and gives feedback that is personal to you.

I recently introduced a Suggestion Box as part of my own teaching. Students offered some excellent suggestions, particularly in terms of content and delivery. I’ve now introduced some of their ideas into future teaching sessions.

Introducing a Suggestion Box

It’s simple enough to make your own Suggestion Box. I use an old cardboard box! Place the box at the front of the classroom and invite students to drop their completed suggestion cards into the box. Inviting students to do this is a good way to check for 100% class participation.

Questions to include on your suggestion cards

The following questions capture all the information you need:

What are you enjoying about the course/module?

What would you like to see covered in the course/module?

Any other comments:

These questions are easy for students to answer. They are all you need to find out what students think about your teaching. Also, they give the qualitative feedback you want to reflect on your own teaching delivery.

Here are 5 reasons why you should bring a Suggestion Box to your classroom:

1. Time to make changes

Introducing a Suggestion Box mid-way through a course or module allows time to make changes. Typically, the suggestions you receive from students can easily be implemented during their course/module.

2. Student Anonymity

Although surveys are often anonymous, placing a card inside a box clearly reinforces that fact that the task is anonymous. If you were to collect questionnaires from students, this would not promote the same level of anonymity.

3. Control over implementation and analysis

Organising and implementing your own Suggestion Box allows greater control. The whole process is very easy to do. From the point of making the box through to reading the suggestions, time spent should take no more than half a day.

4. Focus on qualitative feedback and suggestions

The benefit of suggestion cards is that they are simple for students to understand. They take little time to complete and give qualitative feedback. Conversely, large-scale surveys tend to focus on quantitative measures of student satisfaction and take time to administer.

Qualitative feedback is great for finding out reasons ‘behind the numbers’ but doesn’t receive the same level of attention in surveys. Why? Because it’s quantitative metrics that are included in universiy league tables!

5. An important part of being a reflective teacher

A Suggestion Box is an excellent way to find out what your students really think about your teaching. It’s easy to carry out and makes a change from the traditional survey method.

Being a reflective teacher is an important part of striving to be a better teacher. Asking your students for suggestions by bringing a Suggestion Box to your classroom will allow you to reflect on your own teaching delivery. It offers valuable insights and is a refreshing change from typical large-scale surveys implemented at University level.