Tools for Teaching

Tripod Offers Teachers Free Access to Student Surveys

Although end-of-term surveys of instructors are common in higher education, the same isn't true for K-12. A company founded by a longtime Harvard University professor hopes to draw teachers into trying its new student survey program to gain feedback about where they can improve. Tripod Education Partners is making its Tripod direct-to-teacher survey program available free to individual teachers.

The survey results are analyzed by Tripod and converted into reports to provide feedback on teaching practices and student engagement from the students' perspective. The intent is for teachers in grades 3 to 12 to use the feedback for goal-setting and professional development. The company also suggested that teachers might work in teams to use survey results "to promote reflection, collaboration and professional growth."

The latest offering is the brainchild of Ron Ferguson, who developed the Tripod survey program in 2001 as a bridge from research to practice for teachers in Ohio working to raise achievement levels and narrow gaps. Currently serving as an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Ferguson has spent his 31-year academic career at the university researching racial achievement gaps. Tripod received an endorsement from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2013 when it was validated in a "Measures of Effective Teaching" project.

Teachers begin the survey administration process and students complete surveys through Tripod's online platform. Once a teacher "closes" the survey, Tripod uses a database of more than 125,000 classrooms to calibrate and score results for teachers. Teachers access results through the Tripod platform within hours. The surveys that are part of this offer will have fewer than 20 questions and can be customized by the teacher and offered in multiple languages.

Questions cover student perceptions about the level of care and commitment the teacher shows; his or her practices for inviting ideas, promoting discussion, inspiring curiosity, cultivating understanding and overcoming confusion; and how well the teacher helps the student to integrate ideas and summarize key points, pushes for critical thinking over memorization and sustains "order, respect and focus" in the classroom. Teachers can also offer longer surveys to include questions about student engagement, peer culture and school climate.

Teachers who wish to take advantage of the free program will need principal approval. However, principals won't see individual teacher survey results unless the recipient chooses to share them.

Once the survey has been taken, the company said, its analysis and reporting will be available online for teacher review "within hours." According to coverage in Education Week, the company is hoping that once district leaders see the impact the survey results can have for individual teachers, they'll choose to buy fuller versions of the software for their schools.

"Teachers are aware of their own practices," Ferguson said. "However, sometimes student and teacher perceptions don't match. Understanding differences between student and teacher perceptions can prompt teachers to try different approaches to engage all students."

Added company Co-Founder Rob Ramsdell. "Our new, grassroots model will encourage even more teachers to use student surveys as a source of feedback."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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