Zoom presentations online are definitely not anyone’s favorite way of presenting to an audience! But one positive thing about an online presentation format is that anyone, anywhere in the world, can participate, without having to board a plane or pay for a hotel stay. In some ways, the shift to online presentation formats has democratized our ability to interact with and learn from each other—even if it’s not as fun as networking in person! 

Northwestern University organizes an amazing annual event, TEACHx, which showcases innovation in teaching and learning. I have been lucky to attend two TEACHx events in person (by receiving institutional support to fly from Qatar to the US), where I presented on authentic learning through undergraduate research (2015) and teaching about climate change through an in-class simulation (2019). But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, TEACHx moved online in 2021, which enabled me to participate virtually!

One of my presentations for TEACHx 2021 centered on formative feedback mechanisms for teachers. What are formative feedback mechanisms? In normal-speak, they are regular opportunities throughout the course for teachers to check in with students to get feedback on their teaching. Most professors at universities get feedback on their teaching through the end-of-class (otherwise known as “summative”) course evaluations. Of course this summative feedback is important for future improvement in your teaching, but you can’t go back in time to improve the classroom experience for your students in that particular semester! Hence why formative feedback is so important. 

Formative feedback for teachers is the same concept as formative assessment for students. Would you think it would be fair if you didn’t get any feedback on your efforts or learning throughout the entire semester, and your entire grade in class depended only on the final exam? I know I wouldn’t enjoy this kind of learning! Formative assessment is a common teaching strategy to help our students learn better by giving regular opportunities throughout the course for our students to identify their learning strengths and weaknesses. This as-we-go feedback enables both students and teachers to address any learning gaps immediately. It just makes sense! So, just as we add formative assessments alongside our summative assessments for our students, I suggest in this presentation that teachers should also add formative feedback mechanisms for ourselves alongside our summative course evaluations.

These formative feedback mechanisms are especially important in an online classroom environment, where it may be harder to gauge the reaction of our students to the learning environment and where taking care of our students’ mental health is as much of a priority as teaching content. But formative feedback for teachers can make a difference in all classrooms, and can be implemented everywhere, whether in-person, hybrid, or virtual!

In my presentation, I outline four feedback mechanisms that I implemented in my Fall 2020 classroom: (1) multiple part-time TAs, (2) learning system Exit Tickets, (3) an always-available anonymous Qualtrics survey, and—to check on the success of these mechanisms—(4) custom questions in the course evaluation on the success of the class in creating a “safe and respectful learning environment,” “positive connections with peers,” and a “positive relationship with your instructor.” Together, these formative and summative feedback structures made me feel more comfortable knowing that I could be alerted if there were any issues of cultural sensitivity or other concerns—and that I could then improve the learning experience for all!

To learn more about these formative feedback mechanisms and how you can build them into your classroom, please watch my video and slideshow presentation!