Small Group Instructional Feedback
The technique of Small Group Instructional Feedback (SGIF) had its beginnings in Seattle at the University of Washington under the guidance of Dr. Joseph Clark. SGIF arose out of a recognized need for an alternative to course evaluation questionnaires. The SGIF uses a process of small group and large group consensus and provides more meaningful feedback to both faculty and students. Since the feedback is presented to the instructor in a completely anonymous form, students feel free to make honest assessments of the class. In addition, the students feel that their comments have some real impact and that they are making a useful contribution to the course.
The SGIF process is formative and, as such, is best carried out three to four weeks into the semester, thus allowing for any changes to be implemented. The facilitator should not be a member of the instructor's department. The facilitator's skills are central to the SGIF, but much of the success of the SGIF technique lies in the very structure of the process itself.
The facilitator meets with the instructor prior to visiting the class. This meeting has two goals: establish the trust to ensure an effective working relationship, and gather information such as that listed below.
- Outlining the SGIF process to the instructor and ensuring that the instructor has informed students of the upcoming SGIF
- Obtaining course name and number, course objectives, number of students
- Identifying specific areas in which the instructor is seeking feedback
- Arranging for a feedback interview time with the instructor
2. SGIF Session (approximately 40-45 minutes)
The instructor introduces the facilitator and leaves the classroom. The facilitator gives a brief introduction and asks students to form groups of five or six, choose a scribe or spokesperson to record the group's comments and to focus on answering the following three questions:
- What do you like best about this course?
- What is the most important area you can identify for improvement?
- What suggestions(s) can you make for bringing about that improvement?
The facilitator reminds the groups that they will have about 10-15 minutes for this activity and that the group should reach consensus on all points brought forth. The facilitator moves from group to group making himself/herself available should any questions arise.
The facilitator calls the class together and gets two volunteers to act as master scribes to copy everything that the facilitator records on the blackboard. The scribe/spokesperson from each group, in turn, contributes one point under the first question in an additive manner until all comments are exhausted. The facilitator should record the students' exact words and ask for clarification when necessary. The facilitator can summarize and paraphrase for the whole class, checking for clarity as well as for any further comments or feedback. It is useful for the facilitator to get a sense of consensus for each comment and, if there is not consensus, to record a fraction after the comment to help later in giving feedback to the instructor.
Using the same technique, the facilitator proceeds with the second and third questions. This feedback usually comes in tandem with students commenting on areas that need improvement along with the strategies for improvements. For clarity it is useful to arrange comments and strategies side by side on the board.
Before ending the session, it is important to check if there are any issues that were of concern to the instructor during the interview which have failed to come up. The facilitator thanks the class and informs them of his/her plan to meet with the instructor to review the feedback. The facilitator collects the master scribes' notes as well as those of the small group scribes/spokespersons and completely cleans the boards before leaving class.
The facilitator types a summary of the feedback as soon after the session as possible in a format that assures confidentiality (see page 4 for a suggested format).
3. Feedback Interview
The facilitator and instructor should review each point, clarifying as necessary. Although some instructors will want to focus on questions two and three, it is best to maintain a balance between positive and growth feedback. An overview of the feedback and a "sense of the class" is a useful way to begin closing out the interview. The facilitator should remind the instructor of the value in discussing the feedback with the students and should keep in mind that the feedback is the instructor's to do with as he/she sees fit. Sometimes the instructor will need to be cautioned to make only those adjustments that he/she can realistically handle at the time. The facilitator thanks the instructor for his/her interest and involvement and can offer to be available to the instructor to explore strategies for improvement in the future.
The SGIF technique provides a situation in which the facilitator acts as a bridge between instructor and students and through which the instructor gains access to the perceptive and valuable feedback that students can give. By allowing the students input into the instructional process, the technique recognizes the value of their perceptions and acknowledges their role as agents of change.
The role of the facilitator is to manage a process, not to prescribe ways of becoming the "ultimate instructor." The only real changes will be in areas that the instructor perceives as valuable to him/her in his/her unique instructional setting. What is especially worth considering is that a safe, positive SGIF experience can provide a springboard to further one-on-one work, to explore and implement strategies for improving instruction.