Business School Faculty Feedback: A Tool For Excellence Or Appeasement?

Business School Faculty Feedback: A Tool For Excellence Or Appeasement? Faculty feedback is supposed to be a great tool to assess the quality of education being imparted in an academic institution. For academics in general and business schools in particular, the faculty feedback mechanism is considered to be the vital component, key element, important parameter , an effective tool and clear indicator for assessments and appraisals.

For B-schools, the significance of feedback is even more keeping in mind the market orientation of MBA degree. Simply put, MBA degree is mostly result oriented with clear outcomes (job opportunities) for the consumers (students). Hence, students ought to have the real power to evaluate the quality of service providers (teachers).

Let us understand the importance of faculty feedback system in business schools. Most of the schools use the students' feedback to assess the faculty, courses, delivery, pedagogy and content; some schools connect it to evaluate faculty's yearly appraisal. There are several debates and meetings conducted inside the schools on how the faculty feedback system should be understood and interpreted. This is applied from top rated to schools to ordinary schools. Some schools evaluate based on students' online digital submissions using some software, while some schools believe in paper-pen based submissions. There are qualitative and quantitative feedbacks. There are also schools that take both subject feedback and faculty feedback to check correlation between a faculty and subject. Many B-Schools - which have started to place emphasis on faculty feedback by their students - do not know the application of the insights thrown by data. And primary reason for inaction is the faculty crunch. This provides a cocoon to faculty with middling performance. The B-Schools are as well happy to keep the feedback system going without any effort to infuse meaning in it.

Why should institutions worry about their faculty? B-Schools are still not able to come to terms with viewing students as consumers. The trends are clear enough to suggest that B-Schools are more as service providers than pure academic institutions. The curriculum is focused towards imparting employable skills, research efforts are invested in market-oriented problems and academic programs are designed to ensure that B-School remain attractive destination for students. B-Schools will be better off to envisage a detailed feedback mechanism of all aspects (including faculty feedback) of their academic delivery.

The faculty nurture and create future industry leaders. For that, they need to update their skill and knowledge and instill creativity, inspire and lead by examples. Hence this is critical. Faculty feedback should be taken as a feed forward mechanism to retrospect the students' comments and opinions towards further learning. These feed forwards can be towards enhancing their style, skill, delivery, pedagogy methods, ability to control the classes etc. One should not forget teaching promotes researching as well as learning process.

It is unfortunate that still today, some faculty believe that being friendlier (or being easy with student), may fetch them more numbers. This feelers might bifurcate them with other faculty in their internal networks. Such faculty become prison of their own reputation. The lust for feedback should not control the love for teaching. Due to this apprehension many faculty mutterings happen over this. There are many delicate intricacies involved in this process. Some school retain a faculty despite having a very low feedback for years. This may irk or disappoint students who expect remedial measures. If any faculty is alarmingly getting an all-time low feedback over a period of say 3 or 4 years, then there is a serious concern. This is where the good faculty comes into picture. The 'blockbuster' faculty (who get always higher numbers in feedback mechanism) need to help coordinate and share the tacit knowledge (also called tips) to instill confidence in his/her colleagues. After all business schools and corporate believe in team work and cohesive involvement. Business schools need to expand its perspective beyond the numbers got in feedback, it must give weightage to the innovation in pedagogy, curricula, content, delivery instead of instructor feedback alone.

The schools also need to conduct lot of faculty development workshops towards effective pedagogy, increased learning, new methods of teaching and learnings, and style of delivery or even the skills needed to teach a particular course. If a new course is taught by faculty it is natural that it's an evolving process. One may not drastically expect an outstanding feedback. The dean or director need to collectively assess and build confidence in faculty while addressing the issue. On the other hand, there should not be any vindictive measures by the faculty concerned towards students based on the feedback mechanism. Most of the schools have internal assessment marks and due to this some of the students may not come out in open to express that a faculty is a bad teacher.

When should the faculty feedback be taken in a school? There are many answers for this. Some school take during middle of the course. Some take are the end of the course. Some take during faculty's presence. Many schools select those students who attended all sessions in a particular course. Some take verbal informal feedbacks from students. There may be qualitative and quantitative feedbacks.

Faculty need to plan his/her list of sessions. During the initial sessions after delivering some sessions, he/she should ask the students about any changes needed in content, delivery, examples, style, coverage etc. this is one way of self-reflective measure from faculty. Industry experts join business schools after some stint in corporates. They may have initial hiccups in learning the tricks and tips. Some may be outstanding in delivery due to their previous involvements in lecturing or while addressing issues. Some may struggle for few years before they catch the momentum.

Let us accept it that there are challenging courses and more challenging electives. Some courses (e.g. Brand Management, Investment Management ) make immense sense to an MBA student and contribute directly to the employability. However some courses (read primary courses in economics or IT/operations) do not make so much sense to the students but are essential to the learning process. It will be better if B-Schools could cluster the courses as per their respective challenge perception. With clustering, B-Schools would be able to devise justifiable matrix to assess faculty performance. A starting point could be putting up acceptable feedback benchmark for each course cluster. Faculty members with consistently high feedback should be challenged to come up with new classroom ideas, pedagogical tools and electives. Faculty members inclined towards experimentation should be given a long rope as far as their feedback is concerned. They should be allowed to fail and rise again. This would ensure much needed dose of innovation that management education badly needs in India today.

Some teachers are great imparting executive education and class with considerable work experience but lousy with regular batches. Some teachers are great in courses where need for innovation is less but they perform poor when it comes to playing with new ideas. B-Schools should be able to correctly profile faculty after two years of tenure. Depending upon the school's strategic vision, faculty can be evaluated on the basis of contribution made across various domains viz. graduate programs, executive education, online teaching, workshop seminars, research lectures etc. Assessing teaching contribution should be a multi-dimensional approach rather just banking on feedback of regular courses; but the later trend is followed currently by most of the B-Schools in India. This is something like teaching competence Vis a Vis teaching contribution.

Change is constant. Faculty teaching methods, style, deliver, process need to change over time and period. This may be due to increased awareness amongst students, influence of technology and social media etc. if students are smart, the faculty need to be smarter. When faculty feedback systems are connected to faculty appraisal process then there is a chance that the faculty may land up in indulging cheaper or different means to get higher feedbacks ('Clever' teacher?) On the other hand there are many faculty who are very strict and disciplined and focus more on subject, content, delivery and course. They may be rigid on even extra few lines written in the exam than beyond the required, or not awarding attendance for being late by even one minute.

Few B-Schools are relatively better placed in terms of faculty quality and action-oriented mindset towards faculty feedback. However they run the risk of becoming too formulaic in their approach. A strict carrot and stick approach may ensure teaching excellence in short run but may hinder innovation among faculty. In the present scheme of things, feedback seems more like an incidental exercise rather than a contributory factor to institutional excellence.

At the end of the day, a faculty is mirror to himself/herself. She/he has to be known for his teachings and disciplines and not for short term benefits. He/she should never compromise on the delivery and teaching standards. There is still great respect received to faculty community based on their integrity, work ethics and no nonsense attitude, in India. These students go on to become industry experts, practioners, faculty and managers. They carry an impeccable memory of their teachers who taught him/her good lesions and life time values. They may also remember those faculty who took short term (cheaper) routes to be students' good books. These students become parents over time and these stories are passed on.

Read full story: BW Businessworld

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