We learn a lot about musical artists from their lyrics—their emotions through life experiences and even their struggles navigating life’s turning points. What’s special about so many classic songs is that the artists themselves were involved in the songwriting process, which helps directly reflect their walks through life. One of my favorite albums is R&B legend, Lauryn Hill’s, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I often contemplate how different the time-honored tunes would have been had another songwriter penned Lauryn’s unforgettable lyrics only to tell a second-hand account of the singer’s life growing up in New York City’s Boogie Down Bronx. The album just wouldn’t be the same! Certainly, for a song to be a true intergenerational classic that reflects the true passion, pitfalls and perseverance of an artist, the artists themselves need to not only be holding the mic, but also helping to write the song.
Designing learning experiences specific to students and writing songs specific to artists are incredibly similar. When designing courses, one might begin by considering how students should learn based on our own expert-knowledge; however, this approach may not always resonate with the realities of the students’ learning processes and experiences. By incorporating students into the design process and allowing them to help “write the song,” we can more effectively understand and design based on their personal navigation through the course, content and narrative.
Getting in Tune with Student Feedback Sessions
We can integrate student input by creating student feedback sessions. These sessions are a powerful way for instructors to get insight from students’ first-hand experiences with their course and to gain a unique perspective on design choices that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Here’s an example: I recently collaborated on a module to welcome students to their course, learn the importance of calendar planning and create their own semester plans using customized calendars. We quickly realized the module did not clearly address the students’ needs as much as we initially anticipated since it was too focused on extraneous information rather than the act of planning itself. So, what did we do?
- We rallied a group of 3 students to be our resident “artists” in a series of student feedback sessions.
- We scheduled 30-minute sessions where each student answered a set of questions about their general calendaring experiences and their thoughts on our module.
- We analyzed their feedback to develop design solutions that were more conducive to their needs as students.
- We iterated the module to better reflect their lives and journeys as students who needed to plan, but also needed support throughout the process.
This is the Remix
One student told us the module needed a smoother rhythm, or a better flow to more effectively demonstrate how planning either one week or an entire semester doesn’t have to be overwhelming or stressful. Another student informed us that the module needed more bass, or specific instructions found on the same location of each page to provide a consistent area for further support. Our last student said the module needed more freestyling, or ways to use the strategies presented with students’ own calendar tools and planners beyond those listed in the module. Overall, this feedback was helpful to identify areas of improvement from the students who would be the ultimate performers.
Pump Up the Volume
Student feedback sessions do not only have to happen in the course design. In fact, you can obtain student feedback on any project that involves students—even classroom activities! Here are five helpful ways to gain student feedback in order to create more meaningful learning experiences:
- Utilize structured focus groups or informal chats with students by either scheduling sessions to ask specific questions, distributing student surveys or having informal chats before, during or after class. Take into account everyone’s schedules to have effective conversation.
- Inquire with multiple students at various points in your design process. While getting student feedback earlier in the process allows for a more targeted design, obtaining feedback throughout your design process will allow you to stay on course with your project to ensure that students are always at the center of design.
- Be transparent on the scope and purpose of your course or project to help students understand exactly how the material will be distributed and used with students. Fill students in first so that the focus will be on improvement.
- Prepare a few questions in advance for focus groups so that the conversation remains focused on the areas of improvement and so students can reflect on the questions ahead of time.
- Reflect, revise and implement to ensure that the valuable insight from students can truly shape the teaching and learning experience.
Student feedback sessions allow us to pass the mic to our students for greater voice, agency and inclusion in the learning experience. We also gain valuable insight into our designs to create learning experiences that are in sync with student needs.
Morgan Nixon is a Learning Experience Designer at CETLOE. In her free time, she provides emotional support to a needy beagle, pit-bull mix.