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Friday, April 12, 2024

An argument for harsher feedback in undergraduate education

Honest and constructive criticism is key to students’ growth and success



Most students have likely turned in a paper that they were less than proud of or failed to allocate enough time to an in-class project. That’s okay — failure is part of the learning process. But, at least in the experience of the members of the Editorial Board, many professors will not give comments that truly align with the quality of the work and may refrain from asking questions like: How much time did you spend on this, really? Is this class a priority for you?

Between regrade requests, superficial feedback and grade inflation, professors have become almost too lenient with students. And while receiving negative feedback on a project or having to resubmit an assignment is never fun, these are necessary for our educational success. If we don’t know what we’re doing wrong, how can we ever improve? And if there aren’t consequences for turning in poor-quality work, how will we find the motivation to put more effort into future assignments?

Obviously, there’s a difference between criticism and cruelty — professors should not seek out opportunities to tear down students’ work unnecessarily. But there’s certainly something to be said for tough love; if professors tell students what they’re doing wrong, they’ll only benefit from it in the long run.

Some instructors may feel constrained by sites like “Rate My Professors” on which students are quick to give poor ratings for being a harsh grader or even just “mean.” But the fear of receiving a two-star rating shouldn’t deter professors from providing the feedback students need or cause them to sacrifice the quality of the education they are providing. 

Much of this fear may stem from the hierarchy in academia; newer professors who have yet to be tenured may feel as though they are not in a position to do anything that may elicit a negative reaction from students. Additionally, students can, at times, be pushy or act as though they are entitled to receive higher grades. Don’t let this discourage you. It might feel like the path of least resistance to give in to student demands, but even if they post a negative comment online, they’ll be thankful for your feedback in the future.

And students — really think about the reviews you’re providing. An anonymous platform is not an excuse to harshly criticize professors in a way that they have likely never criticized you, and your words impact your professors’ lives. Further, constructive criticism of your work isn’t a personal attack. Negative feedback provides you with clear ways you can improve as a student and in a particular subject.

Professors can also make requirements for assignments extremely clear in syllabi to prevent unreasonable requests from students, such as last-minute extensions or an additional curve on their overall grade. 

Negative, constructive feedback can also be beneficial when coming from peers. Students, when reviewing others’ work, should also be honest in their comments. Critiquing another student’s assignment has been shown to raise the quality of the work produced, but it can only be effective if students provide honest criticism, rather than simply writing “Good job!” and moving on. 

Essentially, students and professors should put effort into providing thoughtful feedback without censoring their comments for fear of being too harsh. Students need to be able to learn from their mistakes, and constructive criticism is necessary to accomplish this.


Written by: The Editorial Board