Closing the Loop with Student Feedback

July 29, 2014 Kristen Hicks

Every program or institution-wide change that you make has the ultimate goal of helping your students succeed. The performance of individual students plays a key role in the larger success of the program and institution you’re a part of. Nothing that happens at your institution happens in a vacuum. The goals you’re trying to achieve at every level support and depend on each other.

What Is the Loop?

You may have never thought about it in these terms before, but every institution of higher education takes part in some variation of this loop of assessment and achievement. Closing the loop means successfully connecting all of your goals so that they support and improve on each other.

The loop usually consists of the following cycle:

Part 1: Figuring out your goals for student outcomes and committing them to writing. This can show itself in your school or program’s mission statement, or be developed in internal documents. In either case, putting it in writing puts people in the program on the same page and leads to the next step in the cycle.

Part 2: Creating and executing a plan to accomplish those goals. The strategy here could mean changes to your curriculum, a greater commitment to embedded assessment, or any other tactic you feel could help your students better achieve the goals determined in part 1. The trick here is making sure those changes work, which requires part 3.

Part 3: Tracking the success of your plan. You can’t know if what you’re doing is working unless you measure student progress as you go. Developing a culture of assessment helps you gather more data and evidence of student progress, which ensures you can accomplish part 4.

Part 4: Using your data on student progress (or lack thereof) to improve your goals and plan. Knowing how students respond to your current curriculum and educational tactics gives you the insights you need to refine and strengthen the goals and plans you developed in parts 1 and 2. As a result, you can repeat the cycle and continually strengthen the education your institution provides to students.

The Role That Student Feedback Plays

The individual parts of the loop are more complicated than the simplified descriptions above. Somewhere within the second half of the loop—between tracking student success and refining your approach to helping students—you gain a very powerful tool for bringing students more directly into the process of improvement.

Oftentimes student failure has less to do with a lack of trying and more to do with a lack of understanding about how to tackle the challenges of higher education. The data you gain through tracking student progress can be handed straight to the students themselves to give them the knowledge they need to improve. An easy-to-follow breakdown of which subject areas they excel and need improvement in can drive a more efficient study plan that leads to greater success.

Faculty members can make good use of the data as well, providing personalized student feedback or refining the focus of classroom time to better fit the needs of the students. They can also identify those in need of some extra attention sooner and develop effective plans for student remediation to help them out.

At each step, the goals and objectives of the larger loop depend on the focus and planning of individuals. Helping students achieve their educational and professional goals is really at the root of all the parts of the cycle. In doing so, an institution also achieves many of its broader big-picture goals of improved retention rates, improved enrollment rates, and a higher rate of happy graduates.


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