Feedback as the path to constant improvement


As you might’ve heard, Chalmers had very favorable results in the Swedish Higher Education Authority inspection this year. In the months that I have been here, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not always about the most notorious, explosive things. Sometimes it comes to the little details.

As my first study period progressed, I noticed a curious pattern. It started when we were introduced to one of the courses’s evaluation method. We were explained that each project carried with it an opposition, a previously unknown concept for me. Oppositions consist in making a short report about a project submitted by a group that is not your own. It includes the project’s weaknesses and strengths, and poses critical questions that might lead the project to more concrete conclusions. During oral presentations, every group receives a synthesis of the opposition, which gives the opposed group the chance to answer questions and rectify any possible error in the written work.

While it might seem a little bit intimidating to have your work nitpicked in public, and not only by teachers but also from fellow students, I actually found it to be a very useful concept. Constructive criticism provided from a higher number of eye pairs leads to interesting places. It presents you many different perspectives that might be important to take into account, but also prepares you to discriminate which outside ideas can or cannot be useful to your project. Objectivity can go both ways.

From the beginning, a few students are also appointed as Course Evaluators. They are randomly selected to work as representatives of the students and voice their opinions about the course. A reunion with the teacher is held the very first class day, where mainly the expectations about the course and relation to the program are discussed. The second meeting is held at the middle of the period, where the progress of the course is evaluated. This one I appreciate highly, since in my previous studies these surveys were done right at the end, which of course meant that nothing could be done about ongoing problems. With mid-term evaluations, there is the chance to resolve issues while there is still time. A final meeting after the exam is held, where everything is recapped and measures can be decided for the next time the course is taught. Transparency is present all throughout the process, as the meeting conclusions are posted in an online platform for all students to see, and there are third parties present in the last meeting.

The rest of the students also get a say in the evaluation, as they are encouraged to voice concerns to evaluators during the quarter, and receive a personal online survey after the course. All of this process is organized by each Study Sections belonging to the Student Union, which doesn’t come as a surprise being it catalogued as the best Student Union in Europe.

Having now recognized the pattern, I identified more occasions where this feedback phenomena appeared. More general matters are also taken into consideration, such as online surveys for Welcome Week, the general impression about the Master Program, and even about the functioning of the Student Restaurant! On a smaller scale, some teachers take matters into their own hands; providing evaluation slips after exercises to gauge the level of usefulness and difficulty of the activities in the course.

And of course, this not only extends to Chalmers, but I think it is deeply ingrained in Swedish culture. For both of the seminars I have been able to attend so far, the Swedish Institute Scholarship Holders Kick-Off and World Water Week 2013, I received surveys shortly after, asking for input into the development of the activities and suggestions to make it more beneficial for everyone involved next time.

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This means I have been incessantly receiving emails and papers to fill out surveys. When altruism into making things better is not enough incentive, there is generally an outside motivation: Many times attractive prizes are offered for filling the surveys or taking part into the process🙂

Different settings resulted in the same final output, which slowly points towards the approval of my little hypothesis: Sweden, with its love for statistics and honest consideration for everyone’s input, takes advantage of feedback as a path for constant improvement.

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