Scott's Spiel

Rethinking Feedback: A Fresh Perspective

Glasgow University has an insatiable appetite for feedback. It seems that every event or course we attend demands our input and evaluation. On the surface, this commitment to feedback appears commendable, especially if it genuinely influences the course's future. But does it really? I have my doubts. Typically, our feedback involves a rather simplistic 1-5 rating scale, with 5 signifying "excellent" and 1 representing "poor." We're also granted a small free-text box to add any additional comments we can conjure up.

By the end of about week 5 in the first year, I'm fairly certain that most people can no longer muster the enthusiasm to provide feedback, despite the incessant emails on the subject. Personally, I believe I've stumbled upon a more meaningful way to assess the value of the events we're obligated to attend. It goes something like this:

Was <whatever> more useful than:

- Spending the time reading about the topic.
- Spending the same amount of time at the gym.
- Spending that valuable time in bed. Asleep. (Or whatever.)

The top-tier classes are the ones that surpass the experience of reading about the content. Classes that involve practical activities are almost certainly more valuable than simply reading from a book—they'd undoubtedly score highly here. Lectures, on the other hand, have to work a bit harder to earn the top rating. Regrettably, the vast majority of lectures I've experienced do not quite match the benefits of reading from a book. Thankfully, Problem-Based Learning (PBL) has spared me from relying on these lectures as my primary learning method. (Take-home message: PBL is a good thing.)

Going to the gym is a fairly productive endeavor, at least for most people. There are a few exceptions who would prefer to sit through any lecture than break a sweat at the gym, but they are in the minority. I could suggest that those individuals need more time at the gym, but that might be a tad harsh. A lecture that is superior to going to the gym (but not quite as good as reading about the topic) is acceptable. It has room for improvement, and that's where feedback comes into play, right? The majority of lectures (and non-practical classes) likely fall into this category. Does feedback make a difference? Who can say for sure?

A class that falls short of being as useful as spending time at the gym is in a bit of a pickle. This is when students begin to nod off.

Now, let's talk about the worst of all classes—the ones where you'd be better off sleeping, and, considering the quality of the lecture, you'd probably be better rested for it. There will always be a few who love every lecture, but they are the exception, and probably a minority within the minority I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, a disheartening number of classes fall into this category. Can't we make them better, please?

I believe it's entirely possible. I'm gradually becoming more interested in medical education, perhaps because I believe I can spot the issues, or maybe because I think things could generally be improved. There are numerous ways to enhance the educational experience, and I'll attempt to summarize some of the more obvious ones in a future post.

Out of curiosity, is this a universal issue, or is it unique to Glasgow? Do other students, both in medicine and beyond, suffer through dreadful lectures?

Isn't this a more valuable type of feedback? Rather than being assigned a numerical rating out of 5, wouldn't you prefer to know that students would rather be asleep than attending that class? It's a frustrating quandary!