Feedback Loops: The Fast Track to Decision-Making in Student Affairs

Feedback loops is a phrase that describes the process of collecting and integrating feedback to improve a program or service. In student affairs, at institutions or companies, collecting information and data is important to know whether or not you’re on track with your goals for the month, semester, or the year.

A great example of a feedback loop is creating new fitness goals with a step tracker. You’re working at a full-time job often sitting most of the day and you notice you’re not as active as you once were. You say to yourself, “Starting tomorrow I am going to go to the gym and be mindful of what I’m eating.” You take the stairs instead of the elevator, you park your car further away in the parking lot, but soon you notice you go back to your usual habits. Often times we think writing down our activity is helpful or guess-timating in our heads that we’re doing is helpful to our goal. So how could a fitness tracker act as a feedback loop to help stay on track to a healthier lifestyle?

With a fitness tracker, it counts how many steps you’ve walked, distance traveled, calories burned, etc. The tracker records information or sends the information to your laptop, smartphone, or other electronic device and you can check-in on your goals. Instead of having to guess how you’re doing throughout the day, all you need to do is read the data collected. Every time you check your data, you can immediately tell whether or not what you’re doing is enough to hit your goals. You create a next step or goal based on the information you receive in real time.

Similar to fitness trackers, student affairs professionals have the opportunity to obtain real-time data analytics through student involvement feedback to increase campus engagement. By checking data daily, weekly, or monthly, feedback loops give you the opportunity to quickly change behavior to make sure that goals are achieved and resources are being used appropriately.

For example, if it’s Wednesday night and you’re not close to your goal of getting 100 sophomore residential students involved in a program on campus by Friday, you can come into work on Wednesday with a new engagement plan to discuss with your leadership team. Taking this approach let’s you identify what is happening rather than what you think is happening and helps you make changes immediately rather than waiting until after the program has ended for feedback.

The key to continuous improvement is having the information you need to make a decision in real-time. We’ve outlined the four stages of a feedback loop to reach your goals:

  1. Data: obtaining the right data is crucial to feedback, behaviors must be captured and store
  2. Context: visualized data is a meaningful way of taking it beyond numbers to actionable insight, it emotionally resonates with the audience
  3. Opportunity: data can point to or illuminate a specific action or path that leads to
  4. Action: equipped with contextualized data that identifies an opportunity, action is all that’s left to do before the loop starts over, where new data can be collected and analyzed, helping us achieve our goals

Feedback loops are most successful when implemented in real-time and the positive or negative feedback is discussed instantaneously. When the loop is started or continued closer to the event, you and your team can improve practices and start having pivotal conversations about improving campus engagement.

Innovative colleges and universities are beginning to take the steps to make better and faster decisions about student engagement. One of the biggest incentives of implementing or improving feedback loops is using limited resources in a time where colleges and universities are experiencing budget cuts. Having information about student engagement in real-time also gives you insight to behavior of specific groups of students. It’s critical to understand where your goals are and where you are at in the process of reaching those goals. After all, hopes and guesses have never built a strong foundation for decision-making.


Data-Based Decisions Are the First Step to Escaping Negative Feedback Loops: Joshua Kennon.

Gall, M., & Gall, J. (2010). Applying educational research: How to read, do, and use research to solve problems of practice (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Feedback Loops and Why They Work: Wellocracy.

Society for College and University Planning. Where are the feedback loops in planning?

The Feedback Loop: More Data Doesn’t Always Mean Better Customer Service: Knowledge@Wharton.

018 – Positive and Negative Feedback Loops. Bozemanscience.

Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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