Importance of Feedback: Interview with Dr. Michael Zerr

When you walk inside the Karlshochschule, you immediately notice three things: most of the walls are transparent, there are feedback boxes available on every floor, and there is a glass wall dedicated to feedback.

Classroom at Karls

Then while walking around the university on a casual afternoon, another thing catches your attention. As you look through your schedule you see that there is one full day dedicated to giving feedback to the university. Next thing you are asking yourself “why does it seem that feedback plays such a big role at Karlshochschule? Then you realize that well… they are right, feedback is indeed important!

Feedback Box at Karlshochschule

Nevertheless, you still ask yourself, why is feedback relevant?

And given that I followed that same thought process and the feedback session day is barely one day away, I chose to try to answer my self-proposed question by interviewing professor Dr. Michael Zerr, President of Karlshochschule, and a few of my classmates from my International Relations program Christoph and Ruby.

Giving feedback is not a new thing at Karlshochschule.

As for many years it has had the tradition of holding a Feedback-Week, where students get the chance to evaluate through questionnaires their professors’ performance, the university’s services, and the learning atmosphere, among other issues. However, a new addition to the Feedback-Week (after a students’ proposal to the university for a more comprehensive evaluation opportunity) is the Feedback-Day, which follows a mixed (quantitative and qualitative) method approach. In it, students are welcome to discuss what is meaningful to them, voice their concerns, gratitudes and ideas on how to improve the learning atmosphere at Karlshochschule.

“Feedback is like a present” says Dr. Michael Zerr when asked “how to give meaningful
Feedback?”

He proposes three points to consider when giving someone feedback:

  1. Make specific observations.
  2. Be personal (use I).
  3. Say it timely.

As I further dove into what meaningful feedback meant for students I decided to ask two of my classmates Christoph and Ruby for their thoughts on what meaningful feedback means to them. In his answer, Christoph stated that: “meaningful feedback does not exclude points to be strengthen, instead it firstly points them out and then ends on a positive note”. During the interview with Ruby she pointed out that the relevance of feedback lays on its helping-to-improve nature. Ruby emphasizes that the feedback rounds at Karlshochschule shows how this institution is transparent as it takes the students input and suggestions, and makes changes in regards to them. Likewise, Dr. Zerr states that “it is important to know how others feel” thus it makes sense for the University to ask the students for their opinions and therefore, it is crucial to ask for a feedback and have the feedback day session where students can directly make suggestions and voice their opinions.

Is there a difference in relevance between giving or asking for feedback?

My question was once again kindly answered by Dr. Zerr who argued that “both are equally important”. Nonetheless, “(a) good feedback process starts by asking for it. When someone does not want feedback, maybe because they are not ready for it yet, it is even better not to provide them with it as they do not see it as a gift. While saying this, Dr. Zerr refers back to his third point on how to give good feedback: timelines. Sometimes, people are not ready to receive an evaluation of their performance. Ruby exemplifies it by saying “feedback is a two way interaction” where person A is keen to receive the critical evaluation and person B¨, through specific observations, helps person A improve. However, a misconception of feedback is that our mere observations and words let person A improve.

“Everytime we give someone feedback, we also give away a part of our world-view.” (Dr. Zerr)

Moreover, person A does not only come to improve based on the evaluation given by person B. It is through communication and the willingness of person A to understand person B, that leads to an improved interaction between both individuals. As Dr. Michael Zerr puts it “feedback opens up the opportunity for a discussion¨ action and improvement but also understanding and communication”.

Lastly, I would like to encourage all students to participate in tomorrow’s Feedback-Day session as we are the stakeholders and the changemakers not just at Karlshochschule but ultimately in the world. Tomorrow’s feedback session will be a unique opportunity to give back to our community, practice giving and asking for feedback while enjoying a slice of pizza.

Karlshochschule Feedback-Day 2018


Author: Helen Ramos *HR (Karls Storytellers)

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