Your Feedback and Making BloomTech Better
When we started Bloom Institute of Technology (formerly known as Lambda School) just over two years ago the school didn’t look very different from every other code bootcamp. BloomTech was 12 weeks long, cost $10,000 upfront, and would have felt virtually identical to the hundreds of other code schools.
The only thing that separated us was how quickly we iterated and how intently we listened to feedback.
We began by asking students and would-be students for feedback incessantly. As we did so, the signal became clear that the biggest pain point we could eliminate was the risk of spending a bunch of money and it not working out after graduation. If you get a job? Sure, you can pay no problem. But what if you don’t?
Based on the feedback, we decided to create a new model of education: entirely online but live and interactive, no upfront tuition, and no payment at all until a student receives a job that pays $50k/yr or more. We would create an educational model where the incentives of the school were completely aligned with the incentives of the students, and where the school would only become successful if the students were. Demand for BloomTech exploded, and has only sped up since that day.
In other words, BloomTech only exists in its current form because we listened to feedback.
Feedback at BloomTech
Today BloomTech operates at a different scale. We have thousands of students and have hired employees who have made it their life's work to create cutting-edge curriculum, instructional design, and community that works for online students
But the one thing we’ve strived to remain radical about is feedback and rapid iteration.We built it into every aspect of BloomTech.
- Every student submits a daily feedback form along with his or her work.
- Every student also submits a weekly feedback form reflecting on their experience.
- At the end of each unit, students submit another round of feedback on the material and teaching.
- When students leave the school, they give an in-depth exit interview.
- A slackbot that lets students leave feedback in any channel at any time.
- There’s an open and anonymous feedback form students can use whenever they want.
By graduation, a student will have left over 200 individual pieces of feedback. That feedback pumps directly into a Slack channel where the leadership from the school can read instantly, and the rest of the feedback is reviewed by the entire instruction team weekly.
We read every single piece of feedback, and take the practice of doing so very seriously.
So I was surprised when we began to hear some students say that “BloomTech doesn’t listen to student feedback.” In my mind, nothing could be further from the truth - we collect it everywhere and talk about it constantly - but students didn’t feel that way.
It was clear we needed to make changes. We have worked to understand why there is such a disconnect between what we do and what our students perceive is being done. As a result, we have a few specific changes we're going to make.
Closing the Feedback Loop
The first thing that became apparent was we had failed to close the loop. We’d get feedback, be grateful for it, and often change things because of it, but we failed to communicate to students that this process was happening.
The end result was some students thought their voices weren’t being heard. We’re going to fix that.
Generally speaking, it still won’t make sense to respond to every piece of feedback individually (though some will merit it), but from now on, we commit to sharing with students any changes we decide to make as a result of their feedback every week. Some of this will happen school-wide, some will happen in smaller groups. We’ll also share many of the changes we’re making as a result of feedback publicly when appropriate.
There may be times when, while we hear the feedback, there’s other information that leads us to not make a change, and we’ll openly discuss that too.
Our hope is that closing that feedback loop will assure students that they’re being heard, hopefully leading to even more actionable feedback and the continuation of a healthy dialogue. If you’re a student who feels like your feedback isn’t being heard, send an email to me directly (austen@BloomTech.com), and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.
Fear of Retribution
I also hadn't anticipated that some students would fear negative feedback would lead to some retribution or punishment from BloomTech and the BloomTech community.
In response to that we’re making a firm commitment: Not only will we never punish a student for leaving negative feedback, we will actively seek it out. We want to know what we can do better, where we can improve, and how we can create a better learning environment for all students.
To be very clear: Students leaving feedback in any of the channels BloomTech has provided will never be punished in any way for doing so.
We know that BloomTech is not perfect - far from it. We’re all trying our best, but we will never reach the point of perfection, no matter how hard we try. Students should expect as much, and feel comfortable pointing out BloomTech’s flaws and weaknesses so the school continues to improve.
The Culture of BloomTech
BloomTech is a community of support like no other. Students, BloomTech employees, and alumni all regularly rally on Slack to celebrate wins, coach each other through the hard times, and share practical job advice. We talk about family, mental health, book recommendations, and perhaps most importantly give and receive daily encouragement and team spirit that comes from being on this difficult and transformative journey together.
Learning how to become a software engineer is incredibly difficult in and of itself. We've seen students inches away from quitting change their minds solely because they were encouraged and lifted up by other students and instructors (and even alumni) ready to support them.
That culture is an incredibly important part of BloomTech. We’ve made hundreds of tiny instrumental changes to nurture a culture free of fear and imposter syndrome. This is among the most important aspects of a life-altering learning environment, and has caused some to feel that BloomTech is unaware of or unwilling to address its own flaws. But while we must protect an environment where students aren’t being dragged down, we need to do more to help BloomTech students realize that feedback in the proper channels doesn’t negate a culture of positivity – it reinforces it.
Student expectations of BloomTech continually go up, as they should. It’s our job as a school to continually live up to and exceed those expectations. We look forward to always striving to raise the bar.
I want to take a moment to thank everyone who holds BloomTech to a high standard, and loves BloomTech enough to help us improve.
Thank you all,
Published August 15, 2019