- 01 What is feedback?
‘Feedback’ is a modern word. It has its roots in electronics, and refers to outputs returning to inputs. We use it as a metaphor for response, probably because it has a solid, non-abstract feel to it, although it smacks also of management-speak and edu-speak. Sometimes I think it sounds strong, but like many strong gestures, it masks a kind of denial of the two-way process of human communication and of the need to seek to connect with learning in anything but a ‘customer’ or spoon-fed kind of a way.
[Back to top]
- 02 Having a feedback-friendly attitude
To really engage with feedback directly at university, you probably need to change your attitude before you read your essay comments. These comments are the main, official place where feedback is available, but if you want your education to be a two-way process, you need to start before that.
Because university involves academics (who research and write, as well as teach) and students (who sometimes seek degrees, for their CVs above all), the ‘us and them’ attitude shows little sign of changing, despite things like all calling each other by first names. In a novel by Philip Roth, an academic character insists on calling his students Mr and Ms. Maybe acknowledging the gap like this might make people more likely to bridge it. I haven’t quite gone so far, but I do wear a suit for teaching, to try to challenge the orthodox expectations of the academy. I try to break down the gap in the way I teach, but I don’t pretend it doesn’t exist by wearing my leather jacket in class.
So, given these reservations about both the term ‘feedback’ and the gap that needs to be minded, how can you, as a student, get and use more?
[Back to top]
- 03 Getting and using more feedback: 10 steps
1. Be pro-active. Take what you study seriously and find a way to see its significance. Then the flow between you and your topic will happen.
2. Talk to your teachers. Most of them are human. If you show interest, they are often delighted and will suggest useful approaches.
3. Look all the tutors up on the staff profile bits of the departmental websites and find out who the experts are in the areas you are interested in. Ask their advice, perhaps about the best book on an aspect of a topic.
4. Turn being at university into a two-way thing, not as just another institution to get through.
5. Talk to other students, form study-groups, hang out in common rooms, go to departmental seminars and talks.
6. Learn how to change your mind. Try on different opinions like hats. The ability to change is the ability to learn.
7. In the professional world, those who can change, who can take feedback, become successful. Writers, especially successful ones, have editors and work closely with criticism.
8. When you have done all the above, read your essay comments. Then put them away for a week to cool down. Then read them again with a calmer mind. Criticism is personal and you need the wisdom, the time, the mental space to take criticism on board.
9. If, after the cooling down and the calm reflection, you still don’t understand what your tutor means by ‘diffuse and sesquipedalian farrago’, go and ask them.
10. So, after all my reservations, feedback is about having a life, a learning life, at university, as well as any other life you have or look forward to.
[Back to top]