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Lack of instructor feedback can hinder student progress, experts say

Better communication required for student success

Langara instructor Keith Hughes teaches a class. Photo by Kim Lau.
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Reported by Kim Lau

Instructor feedback on assignments, midterms and exams are crucial factors for students’ academic success in college, something not all teachers excel at, say education experts.

In some cases, large classes can make it challenging for instructors to provide the in-depth one-on-one guidance that students need.

Quality advice matters

“You want to be encouraging. You want to be meaningful feedback. You want to give feedback that will give enough information to allow the student to improve,” Jim Rutley, Principal of Vancouver Learning Network said about teachers.

“The quality of the feedback, how precise it is and how targeted it is, does make a huge difference how effective that feedback will be,” Rutley said.

A 2017 U.K. study found that staff tended to consider independent study and critical evaluation as key factors in academic success.

Students tended to view feedback on drafts of work and support from staff as being more important.

Feedback from students

“Sometimes I feel like when you’re in a big class the instructor doesn’t really know you and that might be hard for them to help you,” said Alyssa Kuan, a health sciences student.

“If it’s distant, I feel like students have a hard time asking questions and stuff like that,” she said.

Other students say they want feedback tailored to their individual needs.

“I want actual feedback that I can improve on,” said one Langara psychology student, who asked not to be identified to avoid hurting her relationships with instructors. “I want to know what I’m lacking. If the instructor says ‘it’s a good start­­’ to everyone, it doesn’t really help. I’m actually struggling.”

“Sometimes instructors are busy and they are always outside of classes,” said one commerce and business studies student, who also declined to be identified.

How to fix it

Nathaniel Payne, a mathematics and statistics instructor at Langara, thinks one way to improve feedback is to make sure instructors are available to assist the students.

He also said they need to ensure they have constructive conversations when students need to discuss their progress.

Payne acknowledged the importance of providing a supportive learning environment to students.

“I think being there to talk to the students is really important. They want to feel that they are supported on their academic journeys,” Payne said.

 

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