Careers Clinic: how should I react to negative student feedback?

THE’s Careers Clinic series brings together the great and the good of higher education to answer a burning careers question

December 30, 2020
Student feedback
Source: iStock

Receiving student feedback can be a nerve-racking experience but, with the right attitude, it can provide an excellent opportunity for growth. We asked five experts to lay out the best ways to react to negative student feedback. Here is what they said:

“As educators, we embrace the opportunity to engage in lifelong learning. There is always something we can do to better support our students and their success, and we would do well to reflect on student feedback with an open mind and willingness to enhance our teaching practice. To be sure, we may decide to set aside some feedback after careful consideration. However, it is always wise to acknowledge feedback and seek opportunities to grow in our craft. Critically considering what suggestions we can implement, perhaps seeking input from trusted colleagues, is a hallmark of a dedicated and caring professional in our field.”
Flower Darby is a scholar and expert on inclusive and equitable teaching in higher education.

“It very much depends on the nature of the feedback and where it is delivered (individually in private, to a manager or in a forum or classroom), but I would say that the most important qualities of the response are respect and honesty. Acknowledge the student’s feelings and make it clear that you have listened to and thought carefully about their complaint. The student is not always right, but they always have a right to be heard.”
Ella Kahu is a senior lecturer in psychology at Massey University in New Zealand.

“It’s difficult to find ‘the best’ way to respond to critical student feedback as the nature and type of feedback that may be provided varies. It’s also worth considering who the recipient of the response to feedback is and whether there are any mechanisms that your institution may use to respond to feedback. One way would be to open up a conversation with students to understand what they have said and how you plan to address their feedback. Involving students’ ideas in developing your response means you may find a meaningful way forward.”
Julia Sargent is a lecturer at the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University, UK. 

“Keep in mind that all feedback is useful. Students are not going to see the same picture you see, but always ask yourself where the kernels of truth are or what you could do differently to change things next time. After all, the only part of the equation you can change is your part.”
Jennifer Lawrence is programme director, academic success at the University of New England in Australia.

“At the personal level, instructors need to take critical student feedback very seriously. It should be weighted, of course, in terms of bias (women often receive harsher evaluations than men, for example) and some students projecting their own class performance onto the instructor. Given that, students can share constructive feedback that can improve class design. It's best to encourage such responses by crafting evaluations carefully, while conveying to students that their feedback matters.”
Bryan Alexander is a futurist specialising in higher education and a senior scholar at Georgetown University in the US. 

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