As a Graduate Instructional Developer at the CTE I spend a lot of my time observing graduate students teaching and providing them with feedback. I have also recently set up a peer feedback system for research presentations at the Institute for Quantum Computing (where I do my graduate work). Needless to say, I’ve been giving other people feedback on their teaching quite a lot recently. But the other day I was the one receiving feedback on my research presentation. I was nervous, and quite surprised by it. I’m confident about my presentation abilities, and I know very well that feedback is constructive, and that everyone can improve, but none of this seemed to matter. It reminded me of how terrible I feel when I get bad student evaluations (even one bad comment out of 100 students is enough to temporarily crush my spirits).
Now, I can understand why student evaluations are often upsetting (many students don’t know how to give constructive feedback, they sometimes pick on aspects of your personality, …), but why was I so scared to receive constructive feedback from my peers? Indeed, this fear was completely unfounded as the feedback I received was not the least bit scary – but the fear reminded me of something very important: many people get very defensive when they receive constructive criticism. For example, my mom gets defensive when I suggest a different ingredient into a familiar recipe, as does my partner when I suggest he drive a little further from the car in front of us, and it happens every once and a while when I give feedback on teaching or a presentation or an assignment. I know that there are things I can do to help prevent this response from my end, and as luck would have it, a few days after these thoughts crossed my mind, a helpful post was written on the Faculty Focus blog on how to give students better feedback. Although the post written with grading assignments in mind, the advice can be applied in a much broader context. I suggest you take a look: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/giving-students-more-effective-feedback/)
The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.