Feedback is the lifeblood of a quality MBA program, the source of which is most often the curriculum’s own students and alumni. As a program improves and its reputation grows, the value of the degree also grows for all degree holders, even for those who graduated years ago. Unfortunately, when MBA students and alumni provide feedback, the quality is lacking, so they do not make as valuable a contribution as they could. Sometimes, quality is lacking because of the timing of the feedback request; or because respondents take too little time to prepare their response; or because respondents fail to recall the details necessary for providing quality feedback. MBA students and alumni can do many things to improve the quality of their feedback. For example, the most important element may be finding ways to improve their recall of events and activities in sufficient detail to be useful for providing feedback.
Last month, I recommended that MBA students adopt one, some, or all of ten New Year’s Resolutions about which I wrote. I recommended in Resolution 5 that MBA students reflect after a class period or class weekend and make notes about the one or two most important things learned or about what went well or needs improvement for any instructional period. The most important thing about reflection and making notes is that notes are far superior to memory. This is especially true when it comes to thinking about learning what went well or what needs improvement, especially as time passes. Quality feedback requires specifics, details, examples, etc. that we cannot always recall clearly later on.
Take a Minute to Reflect
All too often at the end of a class session, students immediately switch their focus. It may be to ask the professor a question, to meet with the team or to get home to be with family. No matter the reason, students generally do not take time to reflect on the just-ended class session. In the context of student feedback about a class period, devoting one or two minutes to reflection is usually sufficient, especially when the focus is on answering the following two simple questions:
- What went well? This can be as simple as how the professor explained a concept or how much a guest speaker added to the discussion. Two or three bullet points are usually enough.
- What needs improvement? Answering, this question is a bit more complex. While two or three bullet points may be sufficient, the challenge is making a suggestion about how to improve. The recipients of the feedback need insight into why something is in need of improvement; and in most cases, suggesting things to do to improve will provide that insight.
Convert Reflection into Notes
Converting reflection into notes means recording answers to the two questions. Recording or documenting can take many forms and is usually a matter of personal preference. My favorite way is to use email. I send my self an email with the answers to both questions. I put keywords in the subject line, such as Feedback, Feedback – Program, Feedback – Accounting. In other words, something that uniquely identifies the notes to what they relate. Thus, the email’s subject line identifies the content; and more importantly, it allows me to create an Outlook folder and filter that automatically transfers incoming email into the folder(s) so I never see it in my inbox. I can create as many folders and subject identifiers as I want or need. For example, with three classes I may want three folders or perhaps one folder per semester. Note taking is easy; however, keeping track of notes over time is not easy for most people. This approach makes it less of an issue.
Turn Notes into Feedback
When the time comes to provide feedback, start with the folders containing the relevant emails. Open the appropriate folder to see a chronological listing of the emails you sent yourself with the notes made during the reflection period. Now, it is a matter of aggregating the bullet points from the emails. For some of you, a review of the emails is enough for creating substantive feedback. Others may want to cut and paste email content into a word document and use that as a starting point for creating feedback. Either way, you are no longer relying on memory.
Benefits of Providing Quality Feedback
MBA faculty members and program administrators want quality feedback on which to act. However, it is the MBA students and alumni of the program who are the beneficiaries of their actions. The following diagram illustrates the cycle and the connection between continuous improvement, reputation, and increase in the value of the degree. Again, as a program improves and its reputation grows, the value of the degree also grows for all degree holders, even for those who graduated years ago.
MBA students can contribute to their degree’s value by providing quality feedback when asked to do so. However, providing feedback that is part of a continuous improvement program requires more than a superficial effort if it is to enhance a program’s reputation and the degree’s value. Taking a few minutes at the end of each class period to reflect, make notes, and save those notes in a way that helps facilitate the development of quality feedback is necessary.
Do you find providing feedback about a program or class a challenge? Do you have a system for collecting information that allows you to provide quality feedback when asked to so? Please share your thoughts by making a comment.
Rodney G. Alsup, D.B.A., CPA, CITP
Professor of Accounting
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net