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Improving Classroom Instruction With Participant Feedback
by Andrew E. Schwartz

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Instructor evaluation by means of participant feedback is neither new nor uncommon. Unfortunately, inordinate emphasis has been placed on this feedback as a source of instructor evaluation rather than as a source of information for improving instruction. Equally disturbing, educators have witnessed little if any significant experimentation or creative application of the feedback. This emphasis on evaluation as an end in itself has left many instructors fearful of feedback and unaware of its potential value and purpose. Hopefully, the following series of questions and the responses that follow them will shed some light on the benefits of participant feedback as a basis for self-improvement.

  1. What is the difference between evaluation and improvement of instruction? Few professionals have differentiated between evaluation and improvement of instruction. Although many of the reasons for this are unclear one fundamental difficulty is that people believe instructional improvement to be the outcome of the evaluation process ' a questionable conclusion. All too often, evaluation is merely that ' the process of gathering participant opinions to arrive at a value judgment about the instructor. The results of the participant feedback are then used to determine merit pay, salary increments, promotion, and/or tenure.

    A more logical and direct utilization of participant feedback is possible when the primary goal is to make the instructor better at what he/she is expected to do. Viewed in this light, the fear of judgment does not need to be a factor inhibiting the instructor, who can collect information and then draw autonomous conclusions about his/her training performance from it. Equally appealing, the instructor is not dependent on a supervisor or administrator for guidance.

  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of participant feedback? As a source of information, the input participants can supply is broad in scope and therefore represents a potential accurate sampling of the instructor's performance. In most other forms of feedback, one or two people alone are responsible for this information and opinion. Participants are primary sources. They observe the instructor regularly, whereas other observers view the instructor infrequently ' and visits are usually short in duration. The process of gathering participant input is also inexpensive and usually can be accomplished within the training program's schedule.

    However, assuming that instructors can and do acquire valuable information from participant surveys, the instructor faces the potential danger of modifying his/her behavior according to participant belief or opinion, without an objective third party. In a sense, instructors may offer participants the opportunity to create the kind of instructor that they 'like best,' not necessarily the one that teaches most effectively.

    Whether participants will reveal their true feelings however, is additionally subject to question. Since the instructor holds the power to raise or lower their grade, participants may be reluctant to reveal their honest feelings unless the feedback is given anonymously.

Andrew E. Schwartz, CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates of Boston, MA a comprehensive management training and professional development organization offering over 40 skills specific programs and practical solutions to today's business challenges.

Copyright, AE Schwartz & Associates. All rights reserved.
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