Address by the vice rector for academic affairs on course feedback

Dear students and members of the teaching staff,

On 15 April, several media channels wrote about the court case between a UT alumnus and a member of the teaching staff over an insulting comment in the confidential course feedback questionnaire.

Understandably, this has shaken the trust in the feedback system and pointed to problems we want to avoid in the future. On the other hand, it is clear that the university cannot develop without substantial feedback.

The collection of feedback has been and continues to be confidential. This means that when displaying the feedback results, the university does all in its power not to enable the identification of the respondent, including by not displaying the results in case of fewer than five respondents. The member of the teaching staff can ask an insulting comment to be removed, but not demand the name of the respondent. Within the university, it has not been and will not be possible to link the respondents to their responses, even if someone asks for that.

It is our fault that our statement of anonymity left the impression that the data cannot be linked to the person even by technical means. We promise to express ourselves more clearly in the future.

However, the question is not just about the choice of words.

The university has collected course feedback for over 15 years and so far, no conflict had lead to a court case. Thus nobody had requested linking the data to a particular respondent and it had been never done. This proves that in a normal situation, confidentiality works. Thus I dare to assure the students that as in the past, also in the future your responses will be used confidentially, only for the development of teaching.

But how did we end up in the situation described above? As you may have read from the media, it started by an insulting comment written by the student. It is up to the court to decide how insulting a comment must be for the court to demand the identification of its author.

On behalf of the university, I want to remind the students that the goal of collecting feedback is to develop teaching. I hope that everybody, at least people studying at a university, understands that insulting is not the way to achieve that. What we need is relevant constructive criticism.

The university has created the feedback system and takes responsibility for that. In this responsibility, we rely on the wisdom and mutual respect of the university members. Such a system involves risks, as it depends on thousands of users. When 13,000 students give feedback on approximately 5,000 courses each year, something can go wrong. But without feedback, we cannot learn and develop.

Feedback by the teaching staff to students is one of the most important aspects of teaching and we also evaluate that in our feedback questionnaire. It is as important that teaching staff members get feedback on their work. Feedback can lead to improvement only if it is honest, not insulting. It is up to all of us to use the system created for the development of teaching at the university in a responsible manner.

See also the good practices of giving feedback:

Aune Valk
UT Vice Rector for Academic Affairs