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Academic development and the social dynamics of facilitated multi-source feedback among university teachers

The separation of students’ and teachers’ voices in the feedback to teachers about their teaching may hinder the integration of knowledge and experiences from a range of agents. Student evaluations are criticized as being unreliable for assessing teacher competencies. Without formative purposes, student evaluations seem to have a limited effect on teachers’ academic development. Thus, many universities employ formative peer-to-peer conversations and peer observation among teachers to support academic development, but the impact of these activities is highly dependent of local organizational cultures. How to ensure that academic development is supported and nurtured?

Recent research suggests multi-modal approaches, i.e. formative feedback from multiple sources, agents and voices, to enhance university teachers’ academic development. Nevertheless, the potential of research-based multi-modal feedback models for academic development among university teachers has not been fully explored. Multi-source feedback is a ‘rare bird’ in educational development, and much more research is needed to guide educational developers and academic development initiatives about 1) how to employ multi-modal feedback models such as the FMSF-model, and 2) the social dynamics of multi-source feedback among university teachers.

With the purpose of integrating students’ and teachers’ voices and reflections on teaching as a source for academic development, we develop a multi-modal feedback model: the Facilitated Multi-Source Feedback model (the FMSF-model) to provide formative feedback to university teachers on their teaching.

The FMSF-model includes three phases. First, the teacher invites colleagues and students to provide feedback on his/her teaching. Then, the teacher and the recruited teachers and students fill out an online questionnaire about the teacher’s pedagogical work. Finally, the teacher and a trained feedback facilitator meet in a face-to-face session to talk about the feedback and its implications based on a feedback report conveying the narrative comments and the ratings from the questionnaire.

In this project, we set out to investigate

  1. the potentials and barriers of the FMSF-model as an academic development approach for organizational learning in order to enhance formal frontstage conversations about teaching, and
  2. the positionings of university students and teachers when they participate in such conversations

The research project is a qualitative interview study using a social constructionist approach to explore both the voices of students and teachers, and storylines and positions of university students and teachers when they employed the FMSM-model as part of an academic development program. 

Method

We conducted semi-structured interviews with 15 participants who had completed the FSMF-model at Aarhus University. Seven participants were teachers (two teachers were feedback receivers and five teachers were colleagues providing feedback), and five participants were students who had participated in lessons conducted by the two teachers receiving feedback.

Themes guiding the interviews included the participants' experiences of providing and receiving feedback through the facilitated multi-source feedback process.    

Perspectives

This study contributes to a new understanding of how facilitated multi-source feedback supports continuing professional development among academic teachers.

The first results (Pedersen et al. 2020) showed that the implementation of the FMSF-model was a a hard pill to swallow. On the one hand, the model’s call for transparency and shared feedback processes was challenging to the existing teaching culture. For example, defensive communication among the teachers was a recurring theme in the results. On the other hand, all participants (both teachers and students) appreciated the structured and focused feedback resulting from taking part in the FMSF-model. Thus, the FMSF-model could probably support academic development as well as organizational learning.

The preliminary results from further analyses of the data showed that the FMSF-model disturbs a local order of rights and duties in feedback processes:

  1. By including students and colleagues as partners in providing feedback to teachers’, it establishes a more democratic mode of conversation.
  2. It challenges traditional hierarchical conversational structures and constructs new positions, which evokes conflicting emotions within the participating students and teachers.

Read more

Pedersen, I.M., Pedersen, K., Stentoft, D., & Christensen, M.K. (2020). Faciliteret Multi-Source Feedback som pædagogisk kompetenceudvikling – et dansk casestudie. Dansk Universitetspædagogisk Tidsskrift, 15(28), 124-148. https://tidsskrift.dk/dut/article/view/115654

Christensen, M. K. & Pedersen, I. M. (2019). Facilitated Multi-Source Feedback: exploring a new model for professional development of academic staff. Exploring new fields through the scholarship of teaching and learning, peer reviewed papers, Third EuroSoTL Conference June 13-14, 2019. Bilbao: Universidad del Pais Vasco * Servicio Editorial, 469-477.

Link to course for teachers about facilitated multi-source feedback and teaching portfolios 

Collaborators

Co-researchers in the project: