Feedback and its Place in Academics

R Jayaraman

Author: R Jayaraman

Date: Tue, 2016-11-22 14:35

When I was thinking about topics on which to blog one stood out like a sore thumb, or as a Pandora’s Box. Depends on which way you are looking at it. But look at it, one must. It will not go away, it will not lose its bite, and it will not lose its relevance, its ability to make the world a better place.

Continuing on the “depends” idea (one has been told that depends is a defensive word, but on the other hand, of what use is an economist with only one hand?) let us see the various facets of this phenomenon which has been praised by Bill Gates as an activity, without which, American teachers are missing a great opportunity to improve themselves. Fair enough, after all, one has to listen to Gates as he opened the gates for wealth to thousands of Microsofters, of whom many have gone on to become Hardcurrencers!

Feedback is a process, the intention of which is to provide opportunities. I think this is culture-specific. If we turn to Indian stories, there is no mention of how Lord Rama gave feedback to the great sage Vishwamitra under whose tutelage he learnt the three R’s and many other things. How did the great archer Arjuna give feedback to Dronacharya from whom he learnt the art and science of aiming and hitting the object. How we wish that both Valmiki and Vyasa had spared some thought to the future management education which seems to be critically dependent on this activity.

How did the young Adi Shankara give feedback to his illustrious guru Govindapaadaa? Adi Shankara completed his education in his early teens and in the remaining part of his 32 years of life he used his education to achieve things which can only be imagined.

However one theme runs pretty strongly in these puranic stories – filial obedience. For example, the most famous is that of Ekalavya. With some exceptions, like that of Karna, who was cursed by Parasurama for obtaining tutelage by lying under oath. It reminds one of modern courtroom goings-on.

This background is not suitable for modern views on feedback. The current times misuse the concepts of egalitarianism. Adi Shankara’s views on the “contextual validity” of research propositions will surely negate the concept of student feedback to teachers. But then, these are days of “customer is king”, despite a lonely voice from the likes of Nayar from HCL who holds employees as kings before the pretender to the throne, the customer.

To carry on with the subject of feedback, it is an outcome of the PDCA view of life, instilled into the operations management curriculum, and hammered into practice by TQM and BE (Business Excellence as exemplified by the Malcolm Baldrige and the EFQM, and many other similar performance excellence models of recent times, i.e. after 1987). The feedback was applied through the mechanisms of customer satisfaction measurement, employee satisfaction measurement and so on. The leadership feedback methods were then introduced, perhaps with the idea of bringing “leaders” at par with other employees. 360 degree feedback, peer feedback all became popular. All these developments took place in industry where the relevance and context was competing with others to obtain business. Feedback will lead to continuous improvement, which in turn, will lead to higher market share, premium prices and hefty profits. These are the positive outcomes which were emphasised, providing the “context” as referred to by Adi Shankara, to make feedback acceptable to both the feedbackers and the feedback-receivers.

Now when we transplant this method to the teaching industry we need to define the context. Is it that professors are competing with each other, vying to get to teach as many students as possible? Or is to enable deans to keep a hold on the teachers by making it a part of the evaluation mechanism? Or is it to enable the customers, the students (this is a misguided application of a terminology, an outcome of the capitalistic view of all life as “business as usual”) to get the suppliers (the teachers) up to standards?

With a multiplicity of objectives, each constituent giving feedback uses the instrument as suitable to the objectives as defined by the constituent and not necessarily as a way of improving the overall atmosphere prevailing in an academic institution. So what needs to be done to improve the method of giving feedback?

As usual there will be as many views on this subject as there are practitioners. However the best practices could be : provide training in giving and receiving feedback ; hold open sessions between the feedbackers and feedback receivers, in a transparent way, to exchange views of what went right, did not go OK and what can be done; feedback receivers to discuss the overall situation with the programme heads in institutions; compulsory video recording of all teachers of their sessions (or at least some of the sessions, randomly chosen without prior intimation) and specific sessions devoted to discussions by faculty using the summarised issues identified by the Programme Heads. I think this process will succeed in what Bill Gates wanted – to create the best teachers.

All power to the feedback process, may it thrive and succeed.

 

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Sir, The statements were absolutely right. Feedback is essential in all type of fields in order meet the customer demand in terms of quantity and quality. It is the best tool for measuring customer satisfaction. Feedback plays a vital role in improving our own performance. I would like to add some points to your valuable information regarding tools for structuring a Feedback. Tools are mainly three factors. 1. Situation - Defining the situation by two questions "where" and "when". This puts feedback into context and gives other person specific setting as a reference. 2. Behavior - Describe the specific behavior we want to address. Making assumptions on behavior may undermine our feedback. So, it has to be a measurable information. 3. Impact - Use of "I" Statements to describe how other person's action has affected us. As you mentioned, "Customer is King" especially for a construction company like L&T. So, Feedback is necessary for customer retention and satisfaction. Thanks, Balaji L

Very well said, sir. Feedback is nothing just an opinion about something. It can be either about a person, method, or a situation. In today’s era, feedback has gained a lot of importance because of the promising results that people have witnessed in one or other forms. It has become a tool or technique to improve something or to create better opportunities for future. I do not remember if it was ever a part of teaching during my school days. However, it has become an essential part of current teaching system that I have experienced in last 10 years. I firmly believe more than feedback what matters is the method of giving or taking feedback and most importantly why feedback is required and how it would make a difference. If we are sorted with these questions in hand, I think we can simply apply this tool or technique to any system that we live in for the betterment.

To me feedback is the response to any product or services. As you have rightly pointed out the enormous importance of feedback in educational institutions, I would like to point out a few obstacles in the feedback process. The most important and true from the beginning of civilization is the fear of the outcome of negative feedback. One typical example would be that from Gopal stories (The court jester in the cabinet of King Krishna Chandra of Bengal). The King asked Birbal how much he loves him; to which Birbal replies that he loves him like the salt in food. The king ordered beheading. How he saves himself is a different story and irrelevant here. In educational institutions of our country students are literary terrified of the teachers especially in colleges and universities. Mostly people are averse to negative feedback. But if you want to improve your teaching quality or the quality of the product negative feedback is far more effective. Positive feedback might result in complacency as may be the case that most are relying on “Option Buttons” or general rating score of 5 stars. If a car company relies on the feedback of a high percentage of 1 star & 2 star ratings the only option remains for that company is to discontinue the model while the actual reason may be a very simple problem like starting problem resulting out of a under-rated battery. The only way out is to open up to negative feedback and welcome criticism coupled with listening to the customer/student. That might involve reading a thousand mails but I think it is worth a try. That would actually give the seller/service provider/institution to remove the shortcomings which is synonymous to product improvement.

Sir this blog is absolutely impressive. The simple understanding of feedback system has been represented in robust manner. Feedback is a quantitative as well as qualitative measurement tools that is applicable to any industry even in education system. This is self-reflection of our own performance and can be treated as report card received from our customers. Feedback opens the inner eyes and mindset of top executives in any concerned area and it creates area for improvement. It helps the measure the expectations from customers in terms of quality, quantity and performance. However feedback from competitors and collaborators are also equivalently important to improve the overall perspective in the organization. However the relevance of feedback is highly important factor. Any irrelevant message in the feedback system change the focus of feedback. The point of discussion and area of concern should be highly specific, else the same can misguide others. In this context, I would like to emphasize the feedback system of SPJIMR, which is very crucial platform to translate the message of students to the professors for betterment of the course curriculum.

For an effective learning the feedback is an essential part of academics. It helps in both the ways to improve learning’s of the students as well as to improve teaching. Feedback to the students gives clear guidance, awareness and confidence in leanings, while for institute or to teachers it helps to understand expectations of the students. Feedback plays vital role in aligning teaching, learning and assessment. The feedback system should be meaningful and effective enough to take care of all the aspects and dimensions of opinions received for improvement.

Feedback Skills: Balanced Feedback - Try and make positive comments. If there are negative ones, they may be clubbed along with positive ones to ease the pain Feedback should be given on things possible to be changed. It is incorrect to expect people to be super human. Everyone has certain personal characteristics that are hard to change Rather than telling, ask people how they might improve. This is a good way of giving feedback A feedback doesn't have to be always verbal. A smile, an appreciative nod or applause can be a positive feedback. Feedback can vary in Strategy and Content as described below: Strategy includes the following: 1. Timing - When to give and how often to give - It is recommended to give immediate feedback for knowledge and delay the feedback for a more comprehensive one. However, it should never be delayed beyond to when the student will lose interest 2. Amount of feedback - How many points and how much on each point - It is recommended to pick the most important ones & keep in mind the student's developmental level 3. Mode - Oral, Written Visual / Demo - It is recommended that the best mode be selected. Make it interactive. When someone has missed the session, a demo may be good 4. Audience - Individual or Group - Recommendation - Individual tells the learner that the teacher values my learning. Group - If class has missed the session Content includes the following: 1, Focus - On the work, process, on Student regulation or on student personally - Recommendation - When possible describe both. Describe student regulation if it will foster self efficacy. Try and avoid personal comments. 2. Comparison - Criteria for good work, to other students, students' own past performance - Recommendation - Use criterion reference to give feedback on criteria, Norm reference when it comes to comparison with other students and self-reference when it comes to giving feedback on students' past performance 3. Function - Descriptive or Judgemental - Recommendation - make it descriptive, don't judge. 4. Valence - Positive or Negative - Recommendation - Use positive comments. Accompany negative comments with positive suggestions 5. Clarity - Is it clear to the student or unclear - Recommendation - Use vocabulary clear to the student. Consider the student's developmental level 6. Specificity - Nit picky, just right or overly general - Recommendation - Don't Nit pick. Give feedback enough for the students to know. Identify errors, however, don't correct everything. Make students wonder 7. Tome - Implications and what students will hear - Recommendation - Show respect for students. Offer comments that will position them as a Change Agent.

Thank you sir for writing robust understanding of feedback combining the past and present events to provide a holistic picture. I whole heartedly agree with you sir that feedback is the most necessary ingredient for one’s personal growth. Feedback provides a medium for student to show their appreciation towards a faculty or to raise their concern to the appropriate committee for any issues in teaching. It allows students to mould the teaching as per their necessity enabling them to acquire knowledge to the maximum extent. It enables students to become responsible for their studies and gives a sense to the student that their voices are being heard. On the other hand feedback allows teacher to reflect on their method of teaching. A person grows when they reflect back on their actions to make note of their strengths and weakness on which they can work upon to improve. Each student is unique and the teaching method which may have been a success in the past may not be appropriate for the current batch of students. It provides data for the teacher to work upon their skills and understand the issues in their teaching methods. It provides data to enabling faculty to put efforts in the right direction and helping students to reach their full potential. The feedback is also significant to the managing committee of program since it give them an indication of the changing needs of the student. This enables them to modify their curriculum or bring in replacement lecturers so as to not only to their bring value to their current student but also become enticing prospect to attract better candidates in future. Hence I believe feedback has a very important position in academics since it helps to change the entire education scenario of an institution and helps to improve each of the stakeholders.

The oxford dictionary defines feedback as “Information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement”. Every product or service sees improvement through the process of feedback. Without feedback it is a difficult task to understand where to start or where to look. Many products and services excel in today’s market because of the improvements made from the feedback given by users. But the minute feedback is ignored or unused the product or service starts to stagnate. Similarly like all other industries, academics require the process of feedback to instil improvement and progress. Feedback for academics come from various sources – recruiters, students, fellow academicians, articles from magazines or internet. The goal of every institution is to instil sound education and teachings to its students. In order for any institution to excel in their goals, feedbacks need to be worked upon.

Feedback as rightly quoted by Sir, provides an individual with opportunities to bring out the best in him. There has always been a misconception that feedback has two sides to it i.e. positive or negative but if you look at it from different perspective negative feedbacks can be constructive to bring out necessary changes. In this way, these feedbacks become more positive than negative as they are the ones which compels to make alterations. From the business perspective, the idea of feedbacks gives us a leverage of getting to know our target market in a better way. Before implementing any solution in the form of product, a firm always try to test its created value as to whether it is desirable enough or they still need to act to create a desirable value for the consumers. In service industry too, where your consumer is constantly evaluating your services, the scope of feedback is very broad and comprises mostly of abstract attributes which needs to be looked upon critically in order to do continuous improvement. In the modern world, most of the businesses have started realizing the importance of feedbacks in order to incorporate PDCA in their operations & strategies. In our everyday lives, we as consumers are allowed to give our feedbacks against a value we consume, which not only empower us as a consumer but also gives an opportunity to express our desires & expectations from the value itself. Earlier we are more familiar with the concept of teachers giving their valuable feedbacks to students in order to improve but with the changing mindset, teachers are also inclined towards improvement and seek honest & constructive feedbacks from their students in order to get firm or bring about a change in their pedagogy. This surely can get the best out of a teacher for the students and make learning much more effective where students & teachers both equally involved by the means of feedbacks.

The term feedback is used to describe helpful information or criticism about prior action or behaviour from and individual to another, who can use the information to adjust and improve current and future actions and behaviours. Feedback should have following elements for its effectiveness – 1. Specificity: Feedbacks are more effective if they relate to a specific goal. A more general feedback proves less effective to objective feedback which is both tangible and powerful. 2. Timelines: A timely feedback should be given for best improvement. A late feedback may not be that effective. For example, if a student does not perform well in the tests, a timely feedback from the teachers would help him focus on the areas he is weak at. 3. Manner: Feedback should be given in a manner that best help improve performance. Most people respond to information presented in a positive way. Despite change in tone, feedback should be accurate and factual. It is often seen that a negative tone is not taken well or fall upon deaf ears. In the recent times, all the major companies have realised the importance of feedbacks and have been incorporating policies that require managers to give regular feedbacks to their employees and on the same time employees giving upward feedback to their managers. Feedbacks in academics is still new. Many schools are now adopting feedbacks from students about the course and teachers (in addition to the traditional teacher to student feedback). It is important that the feedbacks are taken with an open mind and that the receiver tries to improve based on the received inputs. Otherwise the whole objective of feedbacks fails.

Good to know the views of a professor on the feedback process as we follow this practice at SPJIMR for all the faculties. The blog is quite insightful and what caught my attention was the sentence quoted by Pro. Jayraman “ to make feedback acceptable to both feedbackers and feedback receivers”. This truly explains the difficulties that goes in hand while designing a ‘just’ feedback process. It very important to make clear the purpose of feedback, only then it can be put to its correct use. For this, the modern feedback system is quite crisp and clear. For example, if you are using an app, you’re asked to rate the app as well as the product or the service you chose. Associating numbers removes the “generalization”. Also, categorizing the feedback as negative and positive is incorrect because as mentioned in the article, its a tool to create opportunities for both parties. It is a learning process where the feedbacker must understand what he is evaluating and the receiver must digest it and work towards improvisation. Ironically, not all feedbacks can be considered while improving or changing a particular product or service or methodology as ultimately that is subjective. One will opine according to his or her belief and convenience , but this might not be true for most of the sample who gave the feedback or it might actually not be feasible from receiver’s end. The success of feedback process lies in its continuity and the ability of the receiver to filter it rationally.

Dear Sir, thank you very much for sharing such a valuable write-up and I completely agree with your notion on the importance of seeking feedbacks. Feedbacks are important to grow and mould ourselves because most of the times we tend to over-estimate our capabilities while making a decision, which blinds us from the realties. In professional life, feedbacks are important as a wrong decision taken by a manager can have multiple repercussions both inside and outside his corporate and feedbacks hold such importance in personal level also. Thus, it becomes imperative for us, especially as MBA students to cultivate the habit of taking feedbacks. Seeking feedbacks to improve ourselves also plays a pivotal role when working in teams to ensure the long-term sustainability and cohesion among team members. A new born child observes its surroundings to understand how the parents react when it cries, and learns to cry whenever it is hungry which is a typical example of how to receive and understand feedbacks to mould ourselves. However important might it be, we often tend to ignore it as we fear the possibility of confronting undesired feedbacks. Also, the ego of oneself, acts as a barrier in his/her approach for feedbacks, especially in case of a manager asking for it from his/her subordinates. This process of feedback seeking applies to everyone irrespective of age, profession and relevant experience etc. as there is room for all of us to improve on what we are today. Feedbacks are futile, if one cannot use them to improve himself. Irrespective of the barriers, assuming one takes feedback, does he/she receive it well? and once received do they use it to improve themselves? Most of us, take feedbacks just for the sake of it or under some compulsions, but do not give them the required attention. Feedbacks are very critical to teachers as they are to students as they can help in better bond, leading to improved learning for both. The culture of growing the necessity to take feedbacks must start from school level during the formative years of a student and once imbibed with this habit, it improves his/her ability to give feedbacks, which would trigger the necessity to accept them by the receivers. I really liked your mention of ‘Bill Gates’ theory for creating the best teachers’ and your views on various best practices to improve teacher’s capabilities. However, considering the teaching methodologies in most of the contemporary institutes in our country, the question that ‘can all these practices be applied and if applied will they yield the right results?’ remains. Current pedagogy focuses on delivering the content in books to students in most institutes and with the lack of basic infrastructure in most of the schools and colleges in the country, I personally believe, practices like compulsory video recording of all teachers of their sessions (or at least some of their sessions, randomly chosen without prior intimation) could prove difficult to implement. However, I believe other practices are very much implementable and in doing so, they should go a long way in making the best teachers.

Sir, Thank you so much for shedding some light on the importance of feedback in our day-to-day life by taking several relevant examples. This piece of work has truly been a revelation for me. I agree with you that feedback system is important for one’s personal and professional growth. I would like to mention its importance not only for students but also for corporates at both personal and professional level. Feedback is helpful when we highlight strengths as well as weaknesses. Feedback is often mistaken as criticism. In fact, negative feedback is the best way of feedback as it helps to increase our performance. As students, we have to take feedback from the teachers and work on the areas of improvement, if any, for our own benefit. The learnings from the feedback sessions are valuable for us while taking right decisions. These days, teachers are also seeking constructive feedback from their students to change their teaching practices, if needed. This helps in building effective relationship with the students. As budding managers, we should be focusing not only on our own professional growth but also on the growth of our subordinates. Employees feel valued and appreciated when they are provided with constructive feedback. At the workplace, feedback from clients, and other stakeholders can be used to motivate people and build better working relationships. The continuous feedback helps us to approach the problem in the right way and ensures key deliverables are met and delivered in time. Also, it is our responsibility to share the feedback to the team members individually for their own development at the workplace. Continued feedback is important to the entire organization to remain aligned to goals, create strategies, develop products and services, and much more. Every time we speak to a person, we communicate feedback. In reality, it is impossible not to give feedback. In fact, lack of effective communication and feedback is also leading the breaks-down of personal relationships. So, it is always advisable to take and give feedback to solve any kind of issues. The more specific the feedback is easier it is for the people to interpret it. Also, it is not good to tell someone about something that you did not like after a long time. Giving the feedback after a long time will lose its credibility, as people might not remember the event or might have moved on. So, sooner the feedback better is its impact on an individual. Therefore, I believe, feedback is one of the best ways to influence people to do something differently and help them grow in life.

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