"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

How Am I Doing? – The Importance of Feedback in Higher Education


Young adult college students can be tricky, especially when you consider they are going through all these changes and sometimes they can hardly understand themselves! How are we supposed to help them learn, if we cannot communicate properly?

Feedback is one of the most powerful and least understood tools teachers have (and even less understood when college students are part of the equation). Thereby it is imperative that teachers can be able to communicate to their students how they are doing and what it is expected from them. If the educator is not able to communicate and guide his or her students it will be impossible for their students to improve and learn properly.

After a lot of research (including this article and this publication), I have put together a list of key elements that must be taken into account when giving feedback in higher education:

  • GIVING FEEDBACK TO WHAT? Usually we think about giving feedback to a student—who else will listen to what we have to say? Of course the message´s final destination will always be the student, but feedback can be given to: the student´s homework, the process they are using to solve a problem, their train of thought, and to the student directly.
  • HOW SHOULD WE GIVE FEEDBACK? You can talk to a student or to the whole class, write feedback to a working group, in their paper, or include thoughts in a blog or wiki. Feeling creative? Share a video or make your own audio. When thinking about how, just think of the many innovative ways we can communicate nowadays!
  • WHEN TO GIVE FEEDBACK? Before, during, or after a learning task is being executed. When thinking about when to give feedback, you should remember what you are giving feedback to, a task that you want to explain BEFORE perfectly so that your students know what it is expected from them. Or maybe a process DURING the project they are working on; giving feedback AFTER everything is finished can be helpful for them for their next task (although it is not always recommended since your prior feedback might  have already helped them learn and produce a better result as a result).
  • IT’S ABOUT THEM: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Yes college students are tough, but if you are able to connect with them and recognize their ideas, struggles, contexts, and way of learning, your feedback will have a bigger impact on their leaning (which is ultimately what we want: for them to learn!) A good interaction and communication will result in successful feedback.
  • IT’S ABOUT THEM: DELIVERING, RECEIVING AND BEYOND. Feedback goes both ways, the first three ideas focus on how to deliver a message, the fourth starts talking about how they will receive it. This feedback interaction must goes beyond delivering and receiving a message—interaction and teacher-student participation must be taken into account. How? Let students help design the evaluation criteria for a project (they will be more engaged and willing to pay attention to your feedback), give them the opportunity to give you feedback about how you can improve your class (interact!), or explain the importance of feedback and help them keep in mind these important questions during homework:
    • Where am I going?
    • How do I get there? –and-
    • How can I improve next time?   
  • IT’S ABOUT THEM: THEIR OPINION MATTERS. QUALITY MATTERS. When talking about higher education and feedback, students are demanding when it comes to the quality of feedback they are given. Different statistics show that students like clear, simple, and positive feedback that expresses directly how to improve.

Not convinced about the importance of feedback? Well, let me see if we can change that. When feedback is properly used it can: help clarify what´s expected from a student (goals, standards, criteria), help students develop their own learning self-assessment, motivate students and lift their self-esteem; it can also help the teacher understand the gaps between what is taught and what it is learned, and this can help teachers improve their lectures.   

So, how am I doing? Have I convinced you that this powerful tool call feedback can help you and your students improve? 

Please leave your comments. I would love your feedback.  ;)


Lorena Bianchi is a Guatemalan who is passionate about continuous learning and improvement for all in order to unleash their potential.  She has her M.A. in Leadership and Management in Education.  

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The Fourfold Frame Called Dialogue Education


Fatemeh is a graduate student at the Tarbiat Modares University of Tehran.  After discovering On Teaching and Learning on the shelf of the university library, she wrote me an email and we have had a vigorous virtual conversation ever since!

Fatemeh found a copy of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach and last year, she translated that book into Persian.   She has been using what she learned from the books and from our ongoing dialogue in her teaching and in her preparation of her thesis.

Her thesis advisor asked her :

"Does your model apply for guiding the conventional process of curriculum planning/ development leading to a national curriculum framework?"

I responded that what we call Dialogue Education is not so much a model as a system for designing and teaching so that effective learning occurs.  I thought this system did not only guide the conventional process of curriculum planning, but actually enhanced that process by being very specific.

I liked the professor’s use of the word framework.

How about this?

Dialogue Education offers a unique frame that has been proven effective for learning at many levels.  This fourfold frame consists of:

  1. Principles and Practices of Dialogue Education
  2. Learning Needs and Resources Assessment and the 8 Steps of Design  The data from the LNRA informs the design.   
  3. Learning Tasks  Including open questions.
  4. Evaluation Indicators  The three levels include learning, transfer and impact: these are behaviors anticipated in the “So That” design step. 

Essentially, it is a simple system consisting, today, of these four basic parts. However, that simplicity does not preclude the difficulty of designing and teaching faithfully using every single part.  It is time consuming to design thoroughly. It is demanding to be attentive to principles and practices that make for effective learning.  It is challenging to stand by quietly, avoiding the temptation to steal the learning opportunity from learners by telling them how it is done or what the correct answer is. It is tough to evaluate constantly so that the system develops through our own learning.  This “system” is an ongoing research agenda!

Such congruence in the behavior of designers and teachers is a must.  Happily, we and the learners can see, hear, taste and feel the effects of faithful use of this fourfold frame of Dialogue Education.

What other piece would you add to these four as a basic element of Dialogue Education as you use it?

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Three Levels of Listening: Café Conversation, Part 1


[This post is the first in a summer series of three posts on Three Levels of Listening.  Stay tuned for the remaining two posts in this series, and download the tipsheet Three Levels of Listening in the meantime!]

Imagine this:

You are at a learning event, one you did not design, and you listen intently to the facilitator and your peers as a lively discussion plays out like beautiful chords of music throughout the room. You are mesmerized as the voices rise and fall – sometimes softly, sometimes loudly – in a rhythm that seems to be led by an unseen conductor. You are drawn to participate in the group discussion as much as possible and speak your mind and share your wisdom, and questions, freely.

All of the sudden you are surprised to find that the event is over and the lights are flickering as a sign that it’s time to go. As you make your way out the door you are basking in what felt like an orchestrated musical event. You wonder to yourself, “What just happened?” - you can’t remember the last time you were so engaged.

You can’t wait to meet up with your two friends, who also attended the event, at a local café and discuss the experience. As the three of you arrive at the café and find an open table, you can barely wait to be seated before you burst with exuberance about the event. You use words like “orchestra”, “musical”, “beautiful”, “freedom”, and “love” to describe your experience. Your friends listen to your animated description and nod. They felt it too. They add words of their own like “lively”, “friendly”, “intense”, and “peaceful.”

You sit back in your chair and relive the enjoyment of the event with your friends.       

Level Three – Listening to the Emotional Field (of the Whole)

There are many aspects to listening, and I’d like to draw your attention to three distinct levels. Level One is where you listen to what is happening inside of you. Level Two is where you listen to another person with focus and attention. Level Three is when you listen to the broader emotional field, or dynamic, around you. We all take in information on these three levels, but we are not always paying attention to all three levels. The story above is an example of Level Three Listening as the three friends describe the emotional field they experienced at the event.  

Imagine that you can turn a knob and fine tune your listening to pick up on the emotional field or dynamic that is present in a family, team, or event.

  • Think of a time in the recent past when you were very aware of the dynamic around you and it made you uncomfortable. What words would you use to describe the emotional field in that experience?
  • Now think of a time when you were aware of a fun or joyful dynamic, like in the learning event story described above. What words would you use to describe the emotional field in at experience?

Congratulations, you just practiced honing your listening skills to capture and name the dynamic or emotional field that was present in your experience. You may have noticed that this skill is one you already have working for you. The purpose of this blog post is to draw your attention to it so you can strengthen it and use it more intentionally. Some people call the ability to name the emotional field accessing “intuition.” Others call it something they just know in their “gut.” What do you call it? 


  • What benefit is there to being aware of and listening for the emotional field in a group situation?
  • In a learning event, once you pay attention to the emotional field, how might that help you deepen your learning as an individual? As a team?
  • What is the dynamic you anticipate you will be walking into at your next work meeting? What was the dynamic at your last meeting?
  • How comfortable are you with paying attention to listening to the emotional field? 
  • As a leader, how might awareness of the emotional field help you lead more effectively? What can you do to shift the emotional field to be more conducive to learning in a group setting?


What if you were to set an intention to listen to the emotional field of your family or workplace throughout this next week? You can do this by taking a break every two hours or so throughout the day and asking the question “What is the dynamic now?” Then consider what two or three words come to mind that describe the “vibe” in the room. Now that you have expanded your awareness of the current dynamic, how might that influence what you do next?

Are you willing to take on the challenge? If so, please post your learning in the comments section below and let’s learn together what Level Three Listening has to offer us this week!   

Stay tuned for another post soon on Level Two Listening.


Wendy Balman wendy@wendybalman.com is an ICF professional certified coach, a consultant and a coach trainer practicing in Chicagoland, IL, USA. Her passion is to provoke people to deeper learning and to grow their capacity to creatively address life’s challenges and opportunities with joy. 


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Valedictorian “Schools” her Teachers: A Sign of Learning


The valedictorian stands at the podium, in front of a row of beaming adults (I can only assume they are her teachers and administrators).  She begins with this fable of a Zen student who is disappointed when his teacher says it will take 10 years of study to find Zen.

“The student then said, ‘but what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast - How long then?’

Replied the Master, ‘Well, 20 years.’

 “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?’ asked the eager student. 

 ‘30 years,’ replied the Master.

 'But, I do not understand,’ said the disappointed student. ‘At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?’ 

Replied the Master, ‘When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.’"

The valedictorian is Erica Goldson. Her 2010 high school commencement address – in which the fable becomes a harsh critique of her education and the “educational system” -- went viral with more than a million views on YouTube.

A cartoon version made the rounds on social media.

“I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system,” she says.

 She describes her education as a “period of indoctrination,” preparing her for university, “the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work….”

She equates achieving valedictorian to being “the best slave” of the system. (see the full text of her speech here)

This particular criticism of the educational system is not new or unique. But it is new and unique to hear it from a cap-and-gowned high school valedictorian graduating at the top of her class.  I came across the video, as I prepare to co-facilitate Education 2.0: Teaching in a fast-changing world at University for Peace in Costa Rica.  I find myself watching the reactions in the row of teachers behind her. They stop beaming. They fidget; they cut glances at each other.  It is uncomfortable. I feel for them! It would be easy to interpret her words as a description of their failure as educators. That is pretty much what she is saying.

 However, if we reframe it – if we ignore, for a moment the whole subject of education, and instead focus on learning – they could easily celebrate her speech as evidence of a wild success.

 Here she stands, a high school graduate, delivering a thoughtful, eloquent and brave speech. She is able to take a step back from her experience, to question her own choices:

“While others sat in class and doodled to later go on to be great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker.”

She can raise questions about a system that has rewarded her.

“I wonder; why did I even want this position? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful? Or forever lost?”

She uses the platform they gave her to challenge them:

“You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system.”

Her very act, her questions, her comments belie her message – clearly she had been learning deeply!

Jane Vella is fond of quoting Paulo Freire, “Only the student can name the moment of the death of the professor.”  This is the moment when the student realizes that she (or he) can question, disagree, challenge the professor. It is evidence of the beginning of great learning, which is, after all, a solid reason for us to pursue great teaching.

Erica’s commencement speech points not only to the problems she met in her education. It also points to the possibilities she saw and used. The possibilities lie in keeping our eyes on the path, as the fabled Zen master noted. That path is learning.

What would that look, sound and feel like for you and your school?


Join GLP Partner Christine Little, Mohit Mukherjee, and talented and passionate change makers from around the world for this year's UPEACE session, Education 2.0: Teaching in a Fast-Changing World, taking place July 5-10, 2015 in Costa Rica at the United Nations mandated university for peace. 

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Education 2.0: Teaching in a Fast-Changing World


At a workshop I attended a couple of years ago, we were all asked to come up with a six-word sentence that captures who you are. The sentence I came up with in the few minutes we had for this activity is: “Learn and teach what I love”.

The story of ‘Education 2.0: Teaching in a Fast-Changing World‘ is a reflection of this philosophy. It was September 2006 when I transitioned from my job at the Earth Charter Initiative to help start the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education. As the education Program Manager at the Earth Charter, I had been diligently helping build an ‘Online Education Resource Centre’ that documented useful resources for educators to use in their professional practice. But in my four years at the job, I had noticed that the energy, connections, and actions that came from people meeting each other face-to-face and sharing their stories could not be replicated easily via online tools.

It was this vision of passionate and socially conscious educators who want to come together and interact deeply with others from different contexts and experiences, that guided the development of this one-week immersion experience.

The challenge that I wanted to take on is how can the course reflect and model the educational changes that it itself proposes? It was clear that for this experience to be transformative, a few things were essential:

  1. A balance between structured time and time to interact freely
  2. Space for participants to share the work that they were doing
  3. Field visits to organizations engaged in impactful educational work
  4. Diverse participants working at different levels in the educational endeavor
  5. Building a learning community that would endure beyond the time period of the course

Having offered the course for six years now, I can see how some of these design objectives have been achieved more comprehensively than others. What has worked best are the first three objectives in the list. In fact, two participants in the 2007 course got married a few years later, having met at the course! Two others in the following year co-authored a book. I myself have been collaborating closely with a number of the participants and in 2013 started co-facilitating the course with a couple of alumna.

Reflecting on the past, planning for the future, here are three major changes to the ‘Education 2.0’ course for this upcoming year:

  1. Participants will come to the course with an educational intervention that they would like to work on and implement post-course.
  2. We will have an intentional focus on dialogue as a mechanism for thinking, and for making our thinking visible.
  3. We will use all of the above to dream big, and design our own answers to the big questions about educating in the 21st century.

This experience promises to be one that will allow us to discover, to create, to challenge and be challenged, on UPEACE’s beautiful 300-hectare piece of land. Costa Rica – the happiest country in the world – is the perfect setting for a course that puts forward the idea that Peace Education needs to be a big piece of the 21st Century.

But what always makes a party are the guests. What are you doing the first week of July?


Join Mohit Mukherjee, GLP Partner Christine Little, and talented and passionate change makers from around the world for this year's UPEACE session, Education 2.0: Teaching in a Fast-Changing World, taking place July 5-10, 2015 in Costa Rica at the United Nations mandated university for peace.  

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