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Four effective ways to give students a say in your education

Last updated on 15 May 2023
Students were asked for their opinions on their education much more often during the corona pandemic (Charlotte Meijer wrote last year) and would like to continue doing so. But what are effective methods for teachers to engage students in their teaching? Below you can read the tips of the students from different faculties of the VU and UvA that we interviewed on this subject.

Most teachers ask students for their feedback on the course during course evaluations. Students do want to give their opinion, but they need to feel they are being heard and that it makes a difference. So, how do you achieve this? Students give four tips.

Tip 1: make use of contact time

Spend at least part of your teaching sessions on asking for feedback from the students on the subject. One of the interviewed students shares their experience: “One of my teachers pays attention to our opinions about his subject during class. He always asks three questions at the end of his course:

  1. What did you find most interesting to learn?
  2. What was best during this subject?
  3. What can be improved about this subject?

Students first answer these questions anonymously. Everyone is given some post-its to write down the answer and stick it to the right question. But my teacher didn't stop there. He went through all the answers, focused on some specific answers, and asked if anyone wanted to give additional clarification. This made us feel like we were heard and that our opinions really mattered. We then had extensive conversations about what went well and what could be improved."

Just asking a question is not enough. To really make students feel heard, ask follow-up questions and engage in the conversation. When doing so, ask for specific examples and concrete solutions. As long as students feel safe and heard, they are happy to give their feedback.  

Interested in a different way? Check out Tip 3 of a former education tip about exit-tickets from teacher Jaap Boter.

Tip 2: organize panel discussions

Another way to involve students in your education is to organize panel discussions with them. Invite a number of students to talk about the programme or course in detail. It’s important to ensure an inclusive atmosphere. Therefore, start these panel discussions with simple questions to spark the discussion and create a safe atmosphere, and then follow with more complicated questions. Make sure everyone is heard, and every opinion is respected. Ask for examples and clarifications, so that it is clear to students that their opinions are truly heard and matter. Even better, if students start complementing each other, but make sure they don’t interrupt each other. 

But even for panel discussions, few students may show up. How to increase their attendance? Schedule the discussion immediately after a lecture or workgroup and bring some goodies! For example, offer croquette sandwiches during the talk.

Interested in a different way? Check out Tip 1 of a former education tip about student advisory boards from teacher Ines Lindner.

Tip 3: show up, and involve students from the start 

One of the interviewed students is following a course with high student engagement. How was this managed? "It was made clear right from the introduction week that it is appreciated if we give feedback and that we should let our needs be heard. The programme director and everyone else involved in the programme constantly show their faces, so they are very approachable to us. And we even reflect entire classes on how our education is designed. We are also called on if we give too little input. We are involved in every subject, and the programme as a whole is also considered. Students really feel that they are heard and there is a very open atmosphere. It makes everything so much more fun."

Tip 4: implement changes immediately

If you have received feedback, make sure to implement the changes to your teaching as soon as possible. It is important that students see and experience the change. If students don't feel their opinions are being acted upon, they are unlikely to provide feedback a second time. An example from a student: "For instance, we proposed different deadlines for the thesis, we now consult in smaller groups before discussing things in class, and we organized a whole day to give presentations on our assignments. Based on our feedback, the lecturer introduced this immediately. That was very nice."