Anonymous Feedback *

Feedback Patterns

This is a rewriting and extension by Joseph Bergin of Anonymous Mailbox [VF].

You are teaching a course and you value the opinions of your students. You want your course to be as good as possible and to improve over time.


Often your students know things about your course that you do not. Sometimes they have definite opinions about the things you do, some positive and some not. If you don’t find out about these things you can’t respond to them. In particular you cannot dispel student misconceptions. In addition, some students will feel uncomfortable about expressing their views in public for fear of recrimination or ridicule.


Therefore, provide an Anonymous Feedback channel through which your students can communicate with you. Encourage them to say whatever is on their mind.

The best Anonymous Feedback channel is a public one. This seems counterintuitive, but it actually works to your benefit when some students are dissatisfied. Students can and will defend you from the occasional attack that is not justified.

There is web technology that can be used to provide this. A form on a web page can be used to send you arbitrary information. An even better solution is a specialized web server called a wiki in which every visitor can edit every page. Here a student can post a comment, praise or complaint, at any time, and have it answered by others. Some online chat facilities can provide anonymous feedback.

A simpler technique is just to request anonymous messages from students in your regular mail, or to provide a special box in which to place anonymous messages.

If students point out problems in your methodology it is, perhaps, best not to respond in words, but in actions, changing your techniques and materials. In particular, don’t adopt a defensive attitude in responding to suggestions. It will probably not help your image. However, if students ask you to do something that you know you can and should not do (make their lives easier, for example) you can devilishly point them to your Pedagogical Patterns, which explain in detail why it is good that you work them so hard.

Of course, most universities and many companies have a form in which the students can comment in a structured way on the course. Encourage written comments on these forms that go beyond the standard questions.


If you get a lot of negative feedback this way, you should rethink your presentation style. Perhaps you are not open enough to your students. Perhaps you need to improve your pedagogy. It can be humbling, but it can also be a powerful way to improve your teaching.

Joe Bergin uses this technique in each course (a wiki). He also uses a list server in which participants are not anonymous, however, a student can comment to the list from an unknown email address. One very dissatisfied student once posted a scathing attack on the course and on the professor’s teaching techniques. Joe didn’t have to respond to this as many other students came immediately to his defense, suggesting that the student had ignored clear instructions.

The original wiki is the cyberspace home of the patterns community. It is driven by a set of Perl scripts. Others use Java or other languages to implement the web server.