Departments can request LES assistance in areas related to effective teaching and learning. Possibilities include facilitation of conversations about pedagogy as part of program reviews, designing effective peer review structures, mentoring, and getting feedback from students in the program.
Departments most frequently use LES to conduct focus group interview with their majors, using the Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID). Although this tool is typically used to create structured feedback for one faculty member in one class, the LES team has adapted it to provide high quality information on student perceptions of departmental programs or majors.
Once a department decides it wants LES to conduct an SGID with its majors (or other students), the designated LES facilitator meets with the department (or a representative) to get a fuller sense of the issues the department wants assessed. Our experience has been that the process is the most useful if the questions posed to the students are kept quite open (see below), however, if the facilitator is aware of particular departmental concerns s/he can seek extra clarification of student views in those areas as they occur in the general conversation.
The second stage of the process is primarily logistical. The department needs to identify which students it wants included in the SGID (all majors, senior majors, a sample, etc.) and how they are to be gathered (as a part of a class meeting or at another time). Finally a time and place must be set and invitations sent (if necessary).
Students participating in the SGID are told that the process is entirely confidential; the LES team will prepare a report for the department, but nothing will be included that identifies an individual student. Students are also urged to be as concrete as possible in their comments and are reminded the department is asking them for this information as part of a voluntary effort to make the major/program as strong as possible.
In our experience, the best results come from two open ended questions: "what do you like most about the department/program" and "what changes would you recommend in the department/program." Departments have also gotten useful information by asking a third questions. The most popular alternative is "what advice would you give to a student entering the department/major/program." Another useful question is "what could students do to improve the department/major/program."
The particular variant of the SGID we use at the Learning Enhancement Service takes the students through a four-step process.
In the first stage of the SGID, students are asked to write individually on the two or three questions the department has chosen.
Students are then assigned to small groups (3-4 people) and asked to choose a recorder. Starting with the first question, each member of the group states his or her responses before there is any discussion. This gets everyone's opinions on the table and tends to prevent a dominator from controlling the group's agenda. After each group member has contributed, the group discusses the possibilities and arrives at a consensus on which three responses they value most. These conclusions are recorded by the recorder. They then repeat this process for the other questions. The LES facilitator listens to these small group discussion in order to be more able explain the results to the department, but s/he does not interfere, except to ask for clarification.
In the third stage, each small group reports the three items chosen as the most significant for each question, one question at a time. The LES facilitator puts all the comments on the board and then leads a large group discussion to help the group arrive at a consensus on which three points, in each category, they see as most significant. Another LES team member takes notes on these conversations.
In the final stage the students are asked to indicate, through a numerical scaling device, their level of agreement with the class consensus of each category. This segment allows for analysis of the strength of the consensus and the number of true outliers.
After the SGID is completed, the LES facilitator provides the department with a written report, including summaries of student comments at the various levels (individual, small group, large group) as well as the individual scaling. The facilitator then meets with the department, or its representative(s), to interpret the results.
The SGID technique offers a number of benefits, many of which are not available in less structured forms of feedback. The SGID process of funneling student views toward a central consensus gives the department a clear view of the most critical issues from the perspective of the group as a whole. This significantly decreases our very human tendency to obsess over one or two idiosyncratic comments. It also provides a much more manageable range of issues to think about. At the same time, the numerical scaling system can be especially helpful in revealing divisions and by showing the strength of feeling associated with each of the points.