Feedback

This is the third in a series of three interviews with Prof. Frieda Gufthausen.

Frieda Gufthausen

CC: Professor, you've written about the importance of feedback. Could you talk about that?

Gufthausen: Certainly. Feedback helps the student and the instructor know whether the student is keeping to the path. With skills courses, it's the only way to do this effectively. The instructor gives the student a task, the student does it and submits a solution, and the instructor checks the work and gives feedback.

CC: Isn't that what grading normally does? Is this any different?

Gufthausen: Yes, it is different! In three main ways.

First, feedback is formative. That means there isn't just a grade, but an explanation of what is good and what is bad about the solution. The purpose of giving the student the task is not to assess the student, but to help the student learn.

Second, the student gets to resubmit his or her solution as many times as necessary until it is right. This is essential. The student gets a chance to improve.

The third difference is frequency. In a typical course, a student might complete four graded assignments per semester. That is not what I mean. I am talking about four smaller exercises per week.

CC: Why should there be so many?

Gufthausen: There is continuous data about student performance. Students know whether they know. Instructors can tell which students are having problems early in the semester, and offer to help.

CC: But this must take a lot of the instructor's time.

Gufthausen Gufthausen: A very good point. The instructor must do three things. You notice I like lists, no?

First, the instructor should stop lecturing. Give students good material to read, and let them do it.

CC: But isn't an instructor's job to lecture?

Gufthausen: No! Most definitely not! Just because there is a lecture, does not mean there is learning.

CC: Yes, that's true. I've attended some bad lectures.

Gufthausen: Conversely, when there is no lecture, when students are working on a problem, for example, there can still be learning.

CC: Hmm, yes, I see.

Gufthausen: The second thing is that instructors should be very efficient in their feedback. For example, they should prepare a rubric for each exercise ahead of time. This will make their reviewing go more quickly.

CC: OK. What's the third thing?

Gufthausen: Instructors should change their teaching schedule. They should get used to spending 30 minutes every morning giving feedback.

CC: In addition to classes?

Gufthausen Gufthausen: No, instead of classes. Drop from three meetings per week to one.

CC: What happens in that one class?

Gufthausen: What I do is give students a problem to work on in pairs. Then I walk around and watch them do it. I stop and help them as needed. They get one-on-one help, focused on their particular difficulties.

CC: Thank you very much, professor.

Gufthausen: You are quite welcome, my dear.