Stop, start, continue: getting feedback before a course finishes

Here’s a way of getting useful feedback on a course before formal feedback forms are circulated in the final week of term. I normally do this about halfway through a term.

I got this tip from my colleague Cathy Elliott. The approach is widely used in business/management circles. I’ve adapted it for a seminar context, but it can easily be done in different ways, e.g. electronically.

  1. Circulate three pieces of paper, one marked ‘Stop’, one marked ‘Start’, one marked ‘Continue’. The sheet marked ‘Stop’ is for students to write down things about the course which they would like to stop or have changed. The sheet marked ‘Start’ is for things that they want which aren’t currently being done. And the sheet marked ‘Continue’ is for things which they like and want to continue. Obviously, these categories are not perfect, but they work pretty well.
  2. Ask students to put a tick beside previous suggestions if they agree with them, and a cross if they don’t (or nothing if they don’t have an opinion). This will give you a sense of the number of students who feel a certain way – otherwise, you just get a list of suggestions with no idea about how many people agree or disagree.
  3. Don’t start all of the sheets in the same place: this slows things down.
  4. The sheets should go round at least twice, to make sure that people who wrote on them at the start have a chance to put a tick or a cross beside later suggestions.
  5. This takes up to ten minutes, depending on the size of the group. I start the actual seminar after about five minutes,and let the sheets continue to circulate for the first few minutes of the actual seminar discussion. It’s not ideal, but otherwise I feel one loses too much of a 50-minute seminar.

Here’s an example from a second-year undergraduate course in research design (click to enlarge):

Start feedback sheet

The second point, which is hard to read on the above scan, says not pushing people to participate – some just have nothing to say 🙂 . A fair point! Interestingly, the above students disagreed on what kind of group interaction they wanted, but appeared to agree that the format I was using wasn’t right. All of the students found it hard to digest one method we covered on the course: process-tracing.

This kind of feedback helps me to improve things before it’s too late. Sometimes, if I disagree about a proposed change, or if nothing can be done, I can explain why. But any kind of interim feedback session shows students that one cares about their views.

Simon Usherwood of Surrey University uses a similar approach, using PostIt notes. I might try Simon’s version of this method too in the future, to see if it works better or worse for me.

Does anyone else have useful tips on getting feedback partway through a course?

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2 Comments

  1. Interested to see the different approaches. In particular, Cathys model means that students see what others have written. In my experience, students tend to follow any and all cues they recieve, hence individual PostIts help to open up new ground for reflection, which is more useful in an scoping exercise, if less so for gauging the pervasiveness of views.

    I’d be very interested to see what you find.

    Reply
    • Thanks Simon. And I agree. I can see pros and cons of each approach, and definitely want to try out your approach next time to see how it works for me.
      I tend to do the independent/individualised comments at the end of the course: I amend the formal feedback forms by asking students to list up to three things they like about the course, and three things they don’t like. It always gives me deeper feedback than a 0-10 scale. I got that tip from my colleague Scott James.

      Reply

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