Student feedback on learning and teaching: The value of focus groups


  • Susan Edgar The University of Notre Dame
  • William Gibson The University of Notre Dame



student evaluation, feedback, focus groups


Traditional methods of student feedback at both individual unit and program level consist of a range of online or paper survey instruments. Frequent systematic evaluations of this nature are carried out by all higher education institutions to meet quality assurance requirements. Evaluation reports, alongside students’ evaluations of teaching effectiveness (SETs) also provide evidence for academic tenure and promotion. Likert-style survey items with limited open-ended response categories are often used for student feedback on survey instruments. Feedback is generally categorised by content, resources and organisation of the unit as well as evaluating the learning and teaching activities and quality of delivery. Feedback is often undertaken just prior to or immediately upon completion of a unit of study, thus little is gained regarding the longer-term outcomes, as perceived by students, from the whole of unit experience. Therefore, it may be questioned whether current feedback systems provide timely, detailed information that ultimately enhances future student learning.

The literature presents varied arguments on the role, process and perceived benefits of SETs. It includes evidence that feedback of this nature, in isolation, is not useful for improving teacher effectiveness, whereas SETs combined with external consultation has been shown to improve outcomes (Marsh, 2007). This has led us to consider whether unit evaluation processes, in isolation of additional consultation, are optimal for improving unit offerings and subsequent student learning. 


Hamilton, D. M., Pritchard, R. E., Welsh, C. N., Potter, G. C., & Michael, S. S. (2002). The effects of using in-class focus groups on student course evaluations. Journal of Education for Business, 77(6), 329–333.

Marsh, H. W. (2007). Do university teachers become more effective with experience? A multilevel growth model of students’ evaluations of teaching over 13 years. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(4), 775–790.

Office for Learning and Teaching. (2014). Australian university teaching criteria and standards framework. Retrieved from

Pritchard, R. E., Potter, G. C., & Saccucci, M. S. (2009). Using sequential two-part focus groups as a supplemental instrument for student course evaluations. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 6(1), 21–27.




How to Cite

Edgar, S., & Gibson, W. (2016). Student feedback on learning and teaching: The value of focus groups. Focus on Health Professional Education: A Multi-Professional Journal, 17(2), 80–84.



Innovative Teaching and Learning Project