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Gathering student feedback as a GA/TA

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Life is all about balance. When your body gets too hot, it sweats to cool its temperature; when it’s too cold, it shivers to create warmth. When your car is running low on gas, a dash light appears, signaling you to find the nearest gas station. Once you get to that gas station and start filling up your gas tank, you can feel the handle in your hand click, telling you your gas tank is now full.

Everywhere you look, feedback is occurring. But what is feedback exactly? We hear this term all the time, but do we really know what it truly is and why it’s so important?

In its most broad sense, feedback is “the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source” (Merriam-Webster, 2022). It occurs any time something (or someone) reacts to an action (or behavior) and thus it has applications across all interactions.

Within each discipline, more tailored definitions of feedback may exist. In the context of education, feedback has become a buzzword and is commonly understood as “information provided by an agent (e.g., supervisor, colleague, [students], book, self-experience) regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding” (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, p.81).

But again, why is feedback important? Why is it necessary for teaching and learning? Why would graduate or undergraduate teaching assistants (GAs/TAs) spend time collecting feedback?

Feedback is critical for personal and professional growth. Through answering the question “How am I doing as a GA or TA?”, feedback allows you to gage how close you are to reaching a desired goal (Hoessler & West, 2014). Feedback gives a sense of direction—without it, determining how to improve your performance in the future can be challenging.

Feedback is one of the most impactful teaching and learning strategies (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). When we think of providing feedback in higher education, it is often associated with instructors providing feedback to their students. However, it is also important for feedback to be given to GAs/TAs, particularly for those who are new to teaching. Gathering feedback on your teaching can not only help build confidence and motivation, but it can also be used to adjust your teaching practices based on how students learn the material (Richardson, 2005). For example, let’s imagine students noted a course concept to be confusing and overwhelming. To address this concern, you could revisit the concept and explain it in a more simplified form or perhaps use visual aids to facilitate understanding.

GAs/TAs can gather feedback at various points throughout the semester (e.g., mid and end of course feedback) from a number of sources (e.g., course instructor, students, teaching support center, peers, and colleagues). In an effort to help gather and appreciate the benefits of feedback, the GATA Network has developed an optional form that GAs/TAs can use to collect feedback from students in the courses they are assisting with. If you do plan on sharing this form with your students, we suggest discussing the most optimal time to do so with the instructor of the course to ensure that appropriate space is reserved. Once you’ve gathered feedback from your students, a great way to showcase their responses is in your teaching dossier. This can be a great source to provide evidence of your teaching effectiveness. For more support with developing a teaching dossier, check out these series of modules designed to assist graduate students and post-doctoral fellows with this process.

The GATA Network, in keeping with this theme, would love to hear back from you regarding what you like about the form and whether you have any suggested changes. Even more, you might consider sharing a testimony about how the process of gathering feedback has facilitated or improved aspects of your teaching and student learning (e.g., confidence, motivation, success). Feel free to contact the Network at gata@uwindsor.ca.

Happy gathering!

References

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research77(1), 81-112.

Hoessler, C., & West, K. (2014). How am I doing? Formative feedback for graduate students learning to teach. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal, 7, 1-20.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Feedback. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feedback

As a GATA Network Coordinator at the University of Windsor, Irene provides support, mentorship, and professional development opportunities to GAs and TAs. Irene is a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Human Kinetics, specializing in sport and exercise psychology. She has experience as both a graduate assistant and sessional instructor.

Paige Coyne is a GATA Network Coordinator at the University of Windsor. She is responsible for supporting graduate assistants and teaching assistants in their roles and assisting with professional development. Paige is a graduate of the University of Windsor’s MHK program and is currently a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Human Kinetics.

Elizabeth works to uphold the mission and vision of the University by supporting faculty, staff, and graduate students through education, scholarship, research, and engagement. She has a background in philosophy, pscyhology, and educational technology, and her disciplinary research focuses on critical thinking and argument education.

Laura works with faculty, staff, and graduate students to achieve the strategic learning and teaching goals of the University, and support the culture of scholarship in post-secondary education.

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