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WYLES: Instructor feedback needs revamping

University policy currently makes comprehensive feedback rare on major student assignments

I want to recognize a need for more cohesive and comprehensive feedback on major student assignments, particularly those at the end of the semester.
I want to recognize a need for more cohesive and comprehensive feedback on major student assignments, particularly those at the end of the semester.

In May, my friends and I got together for one of our final dinners of the school year before we drove or flew back home. As always, someone was bound to drop some baggage or complaint from the day’s events — only this time, we seemed to all share a similar complaint. One of us mentioned not receiving any feedback from a professor on a major final assignment. A few nods and confessions later, it turned out nearly all of us had similar experiences. This was weighing on my mind for a few days, and I mentioned it in an internship meeting a week later during the quick check-ins that begin our meetings. The internship consists of ten students, and when I noted I was a bit frustrated with receiving little to no feedback on my final papers and exams, nods of agreement appeared across my Zoom screen.

Seeing this shared experience, I knew this initially-personal frustration — professors and teaching assistants giving minimal feedback on major essays, presentations, projects and exams — was a substantial problem. After the many hours of hard work and dedication students put into their finals, it’s disappointing to receive just a single letter — though sometimes not even that — to signify the effort we put in. I couldn’t help but feel that I had sent all my work off into a void.

With this in mind, I want to recognize a need for more cohesive and comprehensive feedback on major student assignments, particularly those at the end of the semester. There is no single student experience around this — I’ve had professors give consistent feedback all semester, some give absolutely none and some give quality feedback during midterms but not during finals. Moreover, the relationship between students, teachers and University guidelines are complex. I understand that students can be frustrating and unappreciative of quality feedback, but I hope my recommendations below recognize and make room for these tensions.

University policy currently requires professors and TAs to have all grades submitted within 48 hours of the final exam. This time frame provides almost no time for comprehensive grading. This policy may assure students that their grades will be submitted quickly, but the University should prioritize helpful feedback over timeliness. For instructors with a hundred or more students, it is simply impossible to provide substantial commentary on every assignment for every student, especially when they are receiving hundreds of pages of essays and projects to grade. Regardless of instructors’ individual grading policies — such as those who make major assignments due earlier than the final exam — this policy is ridiculous. Professors and TAs should have a week, at minimum, to complete grading after the final exam.

Again, I recognize not all students will appreciate or even read quality feedback. For professors concerned with this, I recommend asking students if they want feedback prior to assignments being turned in. While this shouldn’t result in instructors and TAs being more careful graders for students requesting feedback, it should result in graders at least writing out their reasoning for the grade. This would save students from the hassle of having to email multiple professors and TAs at the end of the semester asking for feedback. Though many professors offer this latter option, it is difficult for many students — especially at the end of an academic year — to add another task to their list. Thus, instructors should, at the very least, allow students to opt-in to feedback.

It was a difficult year for a lot of us in the University community, no matter what role we play. My peers and I appreciate the work of professors and TAs to keep class going in virtual environments. I think we’ve all reached a stage of burnout over a year into a pandemic, and it’s not my intention to undermine the exhaustion instructors also feel right now. However, if we want to be a good University — one of engagement and not unfulfilling checklists — feedback is a crucial step. When writing papers and completing projects become chores rather than points of development and growth, learning halts.

When grading is subjective — as it most often is — our instructors should explain to us where we’re falling short. Perfect scores are a rare specimen, meaning that points are almost always being taken off somewhere. Perhaps students will email for clarification or expansion on their feedback, but feedback itself should nonetheless be provided. Ultimately, too many students pay far too much money for feedback to have to be a special request of graders.

In tandem, I also call upon students themselves to complete course evaluations to the best of their ability each semester. These forms are our way of providing feedback to our instructors, and while I’m sure there are some instructors who disregard them, they nonetheless remain the primary way teachers reshape their classes. Feedback and growth are processes of synthesis and mutuality — we should all grow together, and our educational journeys provide the chance to do so.

Bryce Wyles is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at b.wyles@cavalierdaily.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.

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