In this Northern Times investigation, we’ll hold a mirror up to the University of Groningen to ask: “How can you do better?” (constructively)
By Adriana Dancu
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” No, that is not a quote from an overzealous lecturer, but a pearl of wisdom from none other than Bill Gates. If for an icon like Bill Gates feedback is important, just imagine what it means to me and my fellow students. After all, if a global expert is teaching you, personalized feedback is why you try so hard to get into a university like the RUG. Thus, as a RUG student, it is exceptionally disappointing to find that more often than not, the university does not provide useful feedback, or any feedback for that matter.
Firstly, I want to make it clear that what I am trying to raise awareness over is not the total lack of feedback on the part of instructors, but the lack of quality of that feedback. We do receive feedback…sometimes. But the issue is that when we receive it, it is either short and vague, or short and barely feedback. What I mean by this is that, no, we do not expect ten pages of comments, however, it would be nice to get clear corrective information; not some broad aspect, but something specific that we could have focused on. Likewise, what students want to see in a feedback is ways to improve, not appraisal for what they did well; you cannot improve what you did well.
For Anderson (a pseudonym), another student at the RUG, the lack of useful and concise feedback is a recurring problem as well. She said that her “expectations for the RUG were higher quality in education, and broadly, [she] did get what [she] was promised, except for the feedback.” She argues that even though the RUG is better rated than her previous university, in terms of feedback, this was not proven to her.
“The first year consisted solely of vague feedback, where we were being adhered to some standard, we were unfamiliar with, because no one ever explained it to us. I think the main problem with this is that this way of teaching is not really a conversation between student and teacher, it is not a way of understanding each other, but rather a way of talking past each other,” argues Anderson.
Moreover, the most frustrating thing that can happen, in my opinion, is being promised a (detailed) piece of feedback, and then never getting one. Unfortunately, in my experience this has happened several times, and all of these involved final projects or papers. Similarly, Anderson said that she experienced this as well: “in my time at the RUG I have received concise and detailed feedback precisely twice.” Furthermore, she states that “the lack of clear feedback, the lack of a clear model of expectations beforehand, made it so much more difficult for [her] to figure out what to do in [her] first year; this can definitely be done better.”
I, and I am sure many other students, expect a reasonable level of feedback for those final projects, as they are the most important, and require a lot of work and research. When you work many hours for a paper, put a lot of effort into it, and are promised a thorough raft of feedback to justify the given grade, you do not expect weeks and months to pass, with no feedback at all. I do not think anybody can blame students for being disappointed and annoyed.
Furthermore, as if lack of effective feedback was not enough, students are deprived of their opportunity to give teachers feedback as well. Whilst doing a Minor in the first semester of this year, completely unrelated to my BA studies, it seemed that the quality of teaching was lacking. However, I hoped I will have the opportunity to express my thoughts in the course evaluation. But guess what? There was no course evaluation. Oh, and no thorough feedback for the final paper either, even though it was promised.
After two and a half years of being a student at the RUG, you would think that I got used to either not getting useful feedback, or being promised feedback and not getting it. However, the more it happens, the more frustrating it gets. I cannot stress enough how important feedback is for a student-someone who is working on themselves, trying to become academically skillful.