One of the classic texts on undergraduate teaching—Chickering and Gamson’s “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” (AAHE Bulletin, March 1987)—notes the importance of providing prompt feedback to students, giving students “frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement.” In many cases, this means providing low-stakes quizzes and assignments early in the semester, when they still have time to adjust how they are learning in the class.
It is also important, however, to give students feedback on how they are doing more broadly in a class, beyond specific assignments. One tool for doing this at IU is the Student Engagement Roster (SER). SER is an early feedback tool that allows faculty members to communicate with students about how they are doing in a class and make recommendations to improve or deepen their learning. SER isn’t a one-time tool, but rather it offers instructors the opportunity to post observations and recommendations throughout the semester.
How does SER work?
When you enter observations and recommendations into SER, the system sends the students an email that you have provided feedback, along with a link to go take a look. The email looks like it came from you, since students are more likely to open something from you rather than from some system. Basically, SER is saving you from needing to send all those emails individually. In the meantime, advisors have access to those records, and we are working on ways to get information out to other service providers (e.g., a tutoring center might get a list of all students referred to them, so they can engage in direct outreach).
Observations in SER can be positive, neutral, or negative on a range of items, including participation, assignments, quizzes, leadership, and more. While negative observations (like “Inconsistent participation”) can nudge a student to perform better, positive ones (like “Shows leadership within group”) can provide a bit of praise that is known to make a difference in student motivation and engagement. Add a text note for further explanation if you’d like, and you are providing some quick but important feedback to your students.
Recommendations can also be positive or negative, giving students concrete steps to take in order to improve their class performance and to get more deeply engaged in academic life. Many of the recommendations are actually hyperlinked to take students directly to the relevant campus service, like Writing Tutorial Services’ SER landing page. Recommendations range from suggesting students see an AI or visiting a specific tutoring center, to considering additional courses or a minor in this area. Again, you can give students a specific recommendation to get them back on track, or provide them with directions in which to excel.
SER takes a team approach to student success.
One key element of this system is that SER information is also available to advisors, allowing them to amplify messages delivered by SER and follow up with students on how they are responding to recommendations. Plus, since advisors might see SER reports from a student’s multiple instructors, they are in a position to spot patterns and act on them. Think of it this way: If you directly mention to a student that his attendance or participation in class is not up to expectations, that is a great piece of feedback. But if advisors see similar feedback from multiple instructors, they might be able to engage in more comprehensive outreach and intervention with that student.
You think your class is too big for this level of feedback?
Yes, giving targeted feedback in large classes can be burdensome, which is why SER was built to make those tasks easier. Not only can you add observations or recommendations to multiple students at one time, but you can also apply filters connected to the Canvas gradebook to give feedback to multiples students at once (say, everyone with a quiz average below 75%).
You’re going to be doing some work in SER anyway.
Two basic obligations most instructors have are attendance verification and early evaluation grades. While there are still other ways of reporting these, they can be done directly through SER, so consider using the tool both for these required functions and for the richer feedback that will benefit students.
Want to learn more about SER?
We have a number of resources available to get you started with SER, including basic instructions for entering information, suggested timelines for giving feedback throughout the semester, and a list of where are the recommendations link to. While SER is a university-wide tool, we have created an IUB-specific SER page to give you more campus-specific information.
Giving students feedback early and often is a vital aspect of successful teaching and learning, and we hope you will see SER as one tool for providing that guidance to students this semester.