Students' Evaluation of Teaching
This paper considers how formative and evaluative
information obtained through student feedback (SF) can
serve as a valuable guide to achieve desired learning
outcomes in a Singapore Studies module SSD1203 "Real
Estate Development and Investment Law" offered to
students from various faculties across NUS.
Based on my experience of teaching the module to
students from diverse backgrounds, this paper focuses
on the importance of obtaining SF and responding timely to students' concerns to improve their learning
Providing Avenues for SF
Teaching students from diverse backgrounds is
challenging. As it was my first time teaching a Singapore
Studies module to such a diverse cohort of students, it was
important to put some mechanisms in place for students
to provide regular and timely feedback. This way, I could
respond to their feedback quickly and make appropriate
changes to help them learn better. The following were
issues I had to bear in mind when getting SF:
- Finding the right time to obtain SF. It is important to
obtain SF soon after the first class so that I can know
students' first impressions, and how the pace, level
and methods of instruction have been received.
- Using a combination of avenues for obtaining
SF. Students could provide feedback through
the following semi-formal avenues: (a) short
questionnaires/surveys administered during
tutorials; (b) emails; (c) the Integrated Virtual
Learning Environment (IVLE); and (d) a class
representative appointed as the go-between between
students and me. The other informal avenues for
SF include: (a) chatting with students; (b) speaking
to individual students or groups randomly and to
group representatives on a regular basis; as well as
(c) encouraging students to slip notes under my door
or into my pigeon hole. I am not averse to the idea of
receiving anonymous SF; I would usually examine
them carefully to see whether there were nuggets of
- Providing a 'safe' environment. It is important to let
students know that nothing (well, almost nothing)
they say will be held against them! Any number of
SF mechanisms would be useless if students did not
feel 'safe' to voice their concerns. From the outset, I
make it clear to students that they should feel free to
approach me. However, these were merely words. I demonstrated to students through my actions that I
do indeed, take SF seriously.
Responding to SF
The following section outlines some changes made
specifically in response to SF received in the course
of teaching the module. Some changes were made in
consultation with my co-teacher while others were done
Types of tutorial questions
Based on my teaching experience, I had initially set
fairly complex case studies for students to analyse during
tutorials. However, after the first tutorial, SF indicated
that students were having difficulties with the questions.
The general sentiments were:
I'm from the Arts and Social Sciences. I find this
module very interesting and useful as it has given
me more insight. .So far the only difficulty
pertains to the tutorial questions. I don't really
understand [them] and find it difficult to sieve
through large amounts of materials to pinpoint the
This alerted me to the difficulty students have in
handling scenarios with complex legal issues. Tutorial
questions were quickly reformulated to provide a little
hand-holding in the form of structured questions at
the beginning before students move on to answer the
analytical questions on the case studies.
We are students from Arts, Engineering, Computing
etc. While the previous tutorial reinforced the
concepts we learnt.it did not equip us with the
techniques to answer legal questions.
This was a difficulty similar and related to the first one.
Thus, I promptly decided to provide students with a
bare-boned structure on the approach to legal analysis
with a particular focus on the rationale behind the legal
Collaborative/Peer learning opportunities and continual
My original plan was that students would work in
affinity groups prior to tutorials and then I would assess
them based on their tutorial presentations. However, SF
revealed that this approach was not feasible because
students' time-tables differed widely. Therefore, I
adopted the buzz group strategy where students would
do some self-study prior to tutorials and then form buzz
groups during tutorials to engage in collaborative/peer
learning and discussion. The buzz group strategy created
the following alternative situations for assessment that
helped students in the learning process:
- students' participation during discussion time
(including the informally appointed sub-group
leaders and scribes in each buzz group);
- students' participation in activities between buzz
groups (e.g. pitting up one group against another);
- students'/buzz groups' participation in pop quizzes.
Final assessment method
A typical assessment format in law modules is the case
study/essay question. However, since the module focuses
more on helping students understand the rationale within
legal positions, it was decided that the examination
CDTL Brief / October 2005, Page
format would include a choice of short structured
('breadth') questions followed by case study ('depth')
I generally avoid webcasting lectures as I prefer 'real'
time contact. However, upon receiving several requests
through SF and bearing in mind that students came from
various faculties across the campus, I relented to a few
Making the choice not to react
It is necessary to exercise discernment in responding
to SF. Being too responsive to SF can cause students to
perceive that they can 'bargain' with me. However, when
I decide not to react to certain SF, I let students know
my reasons. The following were some examples of SF I
chose not to respond to:
- Provide extracts of relevant readings. Students asked
that I make copies of the readings available to them,
but I did not want to 'spoon-feed' them. Instead,
I reiterated on the importance of self-study and
independent learning skills.
- Remove mark allocation for IVLE participation. SF revealed that students did not agree with the
10% mark allocation for IVLE participation as
many were not confident enough to express their
views in a 'public' domain. However, this feature
remained as I wanted to encourage students to learn
actively and develop their confidence through IVLE
- Provide 'model' answers. There were numerous
requests for 'model' answers to tutorial questions.
However, I firmly refused to do so as I did not want
to promote uniformity and rigidity in analysing and
writing creative arguments.
All the efforts outlined above would require the teacher
to put in extra time. In addition, I must be open to
suggestions and be prepared to be told that not all is going
well. Also, as someone who invites feedback, I must be
prepared to respond to feedback.
This paper has outlined the importance of obtaining
timely SF through various mechanisms. Some changes
which I have made in response to SF are also discussed.
It is crucial to exercise discernment when responding
to certain SF. Also, it is always helpful to consult and
discuss with a colleague if in doubt.
Braskamp, A.L; Brandenburg, D.C, & Ory, J.C. (1984). Evaluating
Teaching Effectiveness: A Practical Guide. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Smith, R. (2001). 'Formative Evaluation and the Scholarship of
Teaching and Learning', in Knapper, C. & Cranton, P. (Eds.). Fresh Approaches to the Evaluation of Teaching: New Directions
for Teaching and Learning, No. 88, Jossey Bass.
* This article has been adapted from Christudason, A. (2004).
'When to Move and When to Stay: Responding and Reacting
to Student Feedback'. Proceedings of the First International
Conference on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
(TLHE), 1-3 December, organised by the Centre for Development
of Teaching and Learning, National University of Singapore. pp.