Dr Fox and effective feedback

Today’s Conversation with Cake involved a look at a recent paper reappraising the Dr Fox phenomenon. This led onto a discussion of meaningful student feedback – that is, feedback that informs and improves our teaching

The original Dr Fox paper suggests that a charismatic lecture may ‘seduce’ students into erroneously thinking they had learnt something. Peer & Babad (2013) suggest that while the Dr Fox effect is real, students are generally quite aware of the fact they have not learned anything. Thus the typical student evaluation measures (crudely) entertainment rather than learning.

This led onto a discussion of the methods we use to obtain meaningful student feedback that informs our practice. Some methods discussed include

  1. Don’t ask students ‘how was the teaching’ or even ‘have you learned anything’. Instead ask them ‘what (key point/single thing) did you learn’. This has the added benefits of (i) revealing unintended learning outcomes and (ii) making the student think while completing the feedback, thus providing an additional learning benefit.
  2. Ask the students directly – either as academic reps, a focus group or ideally the whole class (as a scheduled, timetabled session). This allows rich conversation rather than the short comments on an evaluation form which risk being misinterpreted
  3. Calibrate against your own reflection of the teaching. Ideally I reflect briefly on the teaching after every session, building up to a short (often <2 pages) document for the unit. I invite my co-teachers to collaborate, but to encourage frank self reflection this is not shared with the students.
  4. Collect reflective feedback – ie after a whole semester. There is some value in ‘instant’ feedback after a single session (see point 1), but often the true value of learning is not apparent until the student has had time to reflect on the learning, and ideally applying it.
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