How greater anonymity in the classroom can help your teaching

Tal, Teacher

Have you ever been afraid of asking a stupid question?

If so, you’re not alone. 

We all moderate our behaviour to some degree in front of our peers and those we see as senior to us. 

Your students are no different. 

Providing students with a low risk environment for giving feedback not only results in more open feedback, but can be a powerful tool for improving your teaching. 

When introducing anonymity in the classroom there are two main approaches to consider. Anonymity from teachers, and anonymity from students.

In this article, we’ll review both of these and help you identify some quick wins for using anonymity in your classroom.

Student to teacher anonymity

Collecting feedback from our students about the ways in which we can improve the classroom environment or even the delivery of lesson content provides a powerful tool for our professional development.

In one study, however, students reported that without the option of anonymity, they didn’t want to displease their teacher (Zou, Di & Lambert, James, 2016).  When students cannot be identified, they’re more likely to be honest with their feedback.  

Whilst some teachers can be apprehensive about receiving feedback from their students, research into the occurrence of offensive or unprofessional comments by students in feedback surveys found that most students are respectful and constructive in their responses  (Tucker, 2014).

Some helpful questions to guide student feedback on teaching practice include:

  • How clearly do I explain the learning goals for each class?
  • Are you clear on what is required to be successful in this subject?
  • What's one change I can make to better support your learning?
  • How do you find the pace of our classes?
  • What is one thing I could explain more clearly?
  • When describing a task, how clear are my instructions?

If you’re using Ziplet, you may choose to allow students to respond anonymously when asking a question.


Privacy from peers 

Giving students a space away from their peers to respond to questions, provide feedback, or raise concerns can be helpful for improving student outcomes.

According to research conducted by Easton (2003), many students’ feel anonymity creates a ‘level playing field’ amongst the student group.

It’s expected that in any classroom discussion, five out of 40 students will dominate the discussion (Bergstrom, Harris and Karahalios, 2011).

Students that are self conscious or introverted are often reluctant to share their opinions as they’re afraid of being ‘wrong’, ridiculed and embarrassed.  

The risk of asking a ‘stupid question’ remains real for many students.  

They exhibit reduced levels of confidence and a lack of motivation.

Other cohorts of students may also feel uncomfortable sharing openly in a whole group setting, including:

  • Those with additional needs
  • Those speaking english as a second language
  • Those suffering from anxiety disorders

Anonymous responses can boost the confidence of many students and increase their honesty too (Dreher and Maurer, 2006). 

According to research conducted by Paul Love (2003) at The University of Sydney, anonymity was also found to increase students’ opportunities for participation.

He also notes that anonymity enables students to ‘risk ideas that they might be uncomfortable raising in person.’  

Based on these findings, teachers should encourage anonymity to decrease student anxiety about the reception of their feedback. 


Conclusion

As teachers, we want to engage our students in meaningful ways.  We want them to feel confident in expressing themselves.  We want them to be honest, for our teaching to be as impactful as possible. 

Using student anonymity as a tool helps to create a safe and conducive environment for such feedback.  When students aren’t identified, they’re more likely to participate, take risks, and respond honestly. 

References

Bergstrom, T. Harris, A. Karahalios, K. (2011). Encouraging Initiative in the Classroom with Anonymous Feedback. Human-Computer Interaction – INTERACT https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-23774-4_49

Drehrer, H. and Maurer, H. (2006). The worth of anonymous feedback.  19th Bled eConference eValues. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.524.352&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Easton, S. (2003) Clarifying the Instructor's Role in Online Distance Learning, Communication Education, 52:2, 87-105, DOI: 10.1080/03634520302470

Love, P. (2003) Can a chat session accomplish and achieve the finer points of theoretical argument without having the face-to-face stimulants and reactions that are readily apparent in a traditional classroom? Lrnlab Course Website, Faculty of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney, http://lrnlab.edfac.usyd.edu.au/topics

Tucker, B. (2014). Student evaluation surveys: anonymous comments that offend or are unprofessional. Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014. 68:347–358

Zou, D and Lambert, J. (2016). Feedback methods for student voice in the digital age: Feedback methods for student voice. British Journal of Educational Technology. 48. 10.1111/bjet.12522.


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