Improve Student Evaluations With Lean Teaching

Improve Student Evaluations With Lean Teaching

What happens when we apply Lean Startup principles like “Build, Measure, Learn” to our own teaching?
Our team’s experience: Vastly increased engagement.
Lean Startup helps entrepreneurs shift from “build it and they will come” to “Build, Measure, Learn.” So we wanted to know what happens if we apply the same principles to our teaching? Are there benefits to a “Teach, Measure, Learn” loop?
Lean Teaching - Teach, Measure, Learn
We’ve seen huge benefits (higher student evals, increased enrollment, awards won, etc.), so we wanted to share our process with you.
If you’re looking to increase student engagement give “Teach, Measure, Learn” a shot.

Step 1: Pick a Lesson to Improve

Start small; don’t worry about changing your entire class. The easiest way to get started is by just picking the lesson you’re most excited to improve. How do you decide which one?

  • Which lesson is the least fun for you?
  • Which lesson is the least fun for your students?

Whichever lesson you pick, the most important thing is that you feel excited about improving it.

We recently used this process to test some improvements to our Financial projection Simulator.

Whether it’s the lessons we make freely available like the 60 Minute MVP) or the lessons in our comprehensive Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum, we test every exercise to explore ways to improve them.

Step 2: Ask a Friend to Sit In

The next step is to find an instructor whose teaching style you and/or your students really enjoy. How do you find them?

  • Ask your students who their favorite instructors are.
  • Are there are instructors at your institution who have won a teaching award (it could be at the College level, at the university level, or on a national level)? Ask around to identify them.
  • Do you have a colleague at another school whose teaching style you respect? As you’ll see, the person you ask to observe doesn’t need to be from your school!

Once you identify that instructor, ask them to sit in on the class session you want to improve. On the class day, tell your students this instructor is auditing the class session to see how it works. (you don’t want to bias your students by telling them you want to improve the lesson until after it is over).

Doan testing a new lesson plan as Justin observes remotely via Zoom.

Our TeachingEntrepreneurship.org team is fully distributed – I’m in San Francisco, Doan is in Ohio, and Federico is in Italy but with Zoom it’s easy for us to sit in on each other’s classes.

We usually have one camera in the back of the room so we can see the instructor and one camera in the front of the room (sometimes just a phone logged into Zoom) so we can see how students are responding to the lesson.

 

A camera at the front of the room makes it easy to see when students are engaged and when they are tuning out.

Don’t let location be a barrier to improving your teaching!

With Zoom and a little help from your IT team, you can literally get feedback from any instructor in the world on how to improve a lesson.

Step 3: What Feedback Do You Want?

Before you teach the lesson with your observer, think through what feedback you want. We all teach so differently, it will be important for the person providing you feedback to know the type of feedback you would like on the lesson. Some things we focus on:

  • Are students engaged during the entire lesson? When does energy drop; when do students start to look zoned out or pick up their phones?
  • Does the lesson have a successful “ah ha” moment? If not, how might you create one?
  • Are there any logistical questions that can be eliminated by better instructions (i.e., questions about how to do the exercise aren’t productive, but lessons about how to apply the principles are welcome)
  • Did students actively and eagerly participate in any discussions? If not, how might you improve the discussions?

Step 4: Ask for student feedback

There’s no better way to model to students how and why they should listen to their customers than when you ask for their feedback.

After teaching the lesson you want to improve, give your students an opportunity to provide anonymous feedback about it. For us, we use a slide like this

Slide to get student feedback

which links to a survey like this

Student feedback survey

All of the information is anonymous (unless students volunteer to give us their email address). We simply ask students to fill out the survey before they leave class.

Step 5: Integrate the Feedback

After the class session, talk with the person who sat in the class as they go through their notes. If the person is an experienced and awarded instructor, ask for tips and tricks for anything they notice. Even if they see something as engaging, positive or productive, ask for their ideas on how you can improve.

If there are points where they offer constructive criticism, or where they saw student engagement wane, ask for specific advice on tips and tricks to improve and combine that with the feedback you got from your students.

Results

By practicing what you preach to students in terms of continuous improvement, you’ll not only increase the quality of your lessons, you’ll also demonstrate to students that you care about them – both of which can lead to improved evaluations.

We use this technique for each of the exercises we release, including all of the lessons in the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), and the insights we gain have a tremendous impact on quality.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share exercises to engage your students.

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