Course Refinement

A course refinement is a means of collecting useful, personalized and timely feedback about a course you teach while you are teaching the course.
During course design or delivery, you may have a teaching idea you’d like to explore or you may notice that an exercise or idea is not working as you anticipated.  Your students are in the best position to tell you what is and isn’t working for them, but how do you solicit honest feedback without arousing students’ concerns about how their comments will be received?  The process that we use allows us to collect student feedback on your behalf, anonymize it, and return it to you so that you can make decisions about how you may want to adjust the course at the midway point in the semester.  It is a highly successful process that has received very positive feedback from instructors and students alike.
The Course Refinement Process:

  1. An instructor requests a course refinement from the CLL.  An educational consultant will schedule a one hour meeting with the instructor to discuss the goals of the course and what feedback the instructor might like from the students in their course. 
  2. A team of two staff members from the CLL will attend a class and solicit feedback from the students to determine what is working well in the course, what is not working well, and what suggestions the students might have in terms of improving their ability to learn effectively in the course.  This takes about 20 minutes of class time.  During this time, we ask that the instructor step out of the class so that students can provide candid feedback that is anonymized prior to being returned to the instructor.
  3. All information and feedback collected is conveyed to the instructor.
  4. The instructor is encouraged to respond to the class by either:
    a) explaining to students why certain changes cannot be made; or
    b) stating plans for change and then acting on suggested modifications (about 10 minutes class time).

Advantages of this Approach:
This structured discussion approach has distinct advantages over a questionnaire:

  • Vague student comments can be probed to provide more useful information to the instructor (e.g., the textbook is useless vs. the textbook explanations are too complicated).
  • Full group discussions tend to filter out individual comments leading to a clearer group consensus.
  • Within a class, students often disagree with each other about key elements of the course. This refinement approach makes this variety of opinions public and helps to correct notions such as “everyone hates the textbook."
  • Course Evaluations done at the end of term are often not taken as seriously by students, for as some students say “nothing ever changes”. Students see a benefit to Course Refinements because they can see changes implemented right away in response to their feedback.

How to get involved:
To schedule a course refinement for your course, contact CLL at cll@mcmaster.ca or 905-525-9140 ext 24540.