Small Group Analysis

Getting Feedback from Your Students: A Small Group Analysis (SGA)

The Office for Faculty Excellence (OFE) has designed a number of processes faculty members can use to collect detailed and candid reactions from students. One such procedure, called a Student Small Group Analysis (SGA), allows faculty members to receive these reactions long before the term is over, providing information and insights that often do not emerge from end-of-term student ratings and comments.

This simple procedure will provide you with early and extensive feedback from students. Best of all, you do not have to wait until the semester is over to receive feedback. If changes are appropriate, you can make them for the same class that made the suggestions.

An OFE representative comes to your class at a time and date you determine, usually between the third and sixth week of classes, and takes up the last 20 minutes of class time. You leave the room. The OFE representative will then say something like the following:

My name is XX. I’m here today at the request of your instructor to do something we frequently do for people who teach at Montclair State. I’m going to collect some information from you on how this class is going. Your instructor is interested in your ideas and wants to hear from you. I will share with professor X what you tell me, but I will protect your anonymity entirely. Please be candid.

The OFE representative then divides the class into relatively small groups, and asks each group to spend 8 to 10 minutes discussing these three questions: In what ways has the instruction/instructor helped you learn in this course? Can you suggest some changes in the instruction/course that would better help you learn? Are you learning? Why or why not?

Each group receives a note-taking form with the questions listed above, and one of the students take notes of the discussion that follow in that group.

The creation of the groups tends to promote the development of ideas and a level of insight that seldom, if ever, emerges when students operate alone to scribble a few comments on the back of a form at the end of the semester.

At the end of the allotted time, the consultant brings all of the students back together and begins to get reports from the groups. Here’s how it works: First, the consultant picks one of the groups or pairs and says, “I’d like to get this group to give its response to the first question. Please listen to their responses so you can tell me if you have any additions or disagreements.”

At this point, the consultant can do something you cannot do with written responses. The consultant can clarify, asking follow-up questions, asking for examples, asking the questions we all want to ask when we read student comments on student rating forms. Second, the consultant quickly asks for any additions to or disagreements with the first group’s responses. At this point, the consultant is able to verify, finding out whether others share the views of the first group (or pair).

On written evaluations, we tend to think that if five or more students make the same point, everyone must agree. The SGA often demonstrates otherwise. Students do disagree, sometimes strongly. Thus, the airing of ideas can be as revealing to students as it is to the professor.

Third, the consultant picks another group to start discussion of the second question, and if time allows, still another for the third. The consultant takes notes on the discussion, collects the students’ notes from each group, and prepares to meet with the instructor to share the results.

Numerous faculty members take advantage of this service on a regular basis. It is one of the quickest, easiest and most effective things you can do to improve student learning in your classroom. And while we can’t guarantee higher ratings for you, we have found that students tend to be highly appreciative of instructors who make the effort to get student input on the course’s progress, and that changes made based on their input can improve the class dramatically.


Updated 07.21.22 SR