Recently some of my fellow learning designers and I attended a workshop on feedback, based on a large-scale Australian project titled ‘Feedback for Learning: Closing the Assessment Loop’ that investigates what works and what doesn’t in regards to feedback. Here are lessons learned.
Lessons learned from a national project
First came the definition. Upon their audit of current feedback practices the project team defined feedback as:
“Feedback is a process in which learners make sense of information about their performance and use it to enhance the quality of their work or learning strategies.”
Lesson 1) Feedback is a process
Light bulb phrases in the definition above are:
‘feedback is a process’ vs one-way comment from teacher to student (linear)
‘make sense of information’ vs feedback students don’t understand or that is insufficient
‘use it’ vs feedback that students can’t or don’t translate into an action plan or improvement strategies
Lesson 2) Feedback needs careful curation
Mapping of feedback across assignments in a unit, better, a whole program, is like a ‘careful curation of a fine dining degustation menu’, as Prof David Boud from Deakin University put it.
Now, being a foodie myself, he certainly caught my attention. In creating a degustation menu several things need consideration: sequence of courses, harmonious combination of ingredients, customers’ appetite, potential allergies, and then there are matching wines! The same applies to designing assessments and feedback associated with them meaningfully, so students know how to learn from feedback and turn it into an action plan to do better in the next assessment.
Lesson 3) Successful feedback depends on its capacity, design and culture
The project team conducted large surveys and several interviews with staff and students to find out which feedback practices improve student performance and promote learning and which don’t. They found out that successful feedback is influenced by feedback design, people and institution, and the culture involved. They propose 14 conditions for success, which I will summarise in 3 points:
- Students as well as teachers are actively involved in feedback processes: they seek, give and use feedback
- Feedback is personalised, appropriate and actionable
- Feedback matters, hence, it’s worth doing it well
Tips from the case studies
The project team presents 7 case studies publicly available on feedbackforlearning.org, each listing successful feedback practices, narrated by the convenor in a short (1-2mins) video. More recommendations and information is to come, we are told. It makes for engaging reading if you’re looking for ideas to incorporate in your practice. The case studies range across diverse disciplines, institutions and various size and composition of student cohorts.
- Using Twitter hashtag to receive feedback on students’ work from multiple sources (case study 4)
- Using polls and peer assessment at the start of each lesson to reinforce learners’ learning prior to class (case study 3)
- Two-piece audio commentary on each assessment consisting of feedback and feedforward (case study 2)
While this project focuses on the notion of ‘feedback’ some of the ideas expressed are reflected in the idea of ‘feedforward’ – that is feedback to students before assessment. When feedback is used in a way that improves performance in future assignments, feedback and feedforward become part of a circle that supports learning. Revisit a previous Teche post and a practical guide on Feedforward (OneID login required) developed at the Faculty of Human Sciences.
What might you try to increase students’ engagement with feedback?
- Speed Feedback: kinda like speed dating but with feedback
- How? Students pitch an outline or draft of their assignment in 1min to a peer, swap, take 2mins for Q&A, then move a seat (include heart chocolates and fake bubbles for a special touch).
- Why? Students receive feedback from several peers before final submission. They practice giving feedback. And you prevent them from doing their assessments last minute.
- Action Plans: ask students to develop action items from their first assignment, then review their draft of an assignment based on the feedback received in the first assignment
- How? As an individual or peer-to-peer activity. Action plan could even be part of the assessement.
- Why? Students learn to reflect on their performance, are prompted to develop clear goals, and if they can’t make sense of the feedback provided, they may ask you to specify.
- Peer review: ask students to provide feedback on each others’ work, early drafts, outlines, sketch, video script, etc.
- How? In class or online, spoken or written commentary, open or anonymous
- Why? This puts students in charge of helping each other, students want to get clear feedback so they are likely to make an effort for other students.
- Feedback as part of assessment: flip the roles a little, let students determine what feedback they need
- How? Ask students to provide two short statements with their assessment: a) what they want feedback on OR what skill they want to develop, b) indicate what aspects of the assessment they struggled with.
- Why? Students are prompted to think about what kind of feedback they want in advance and what they will do with it, e.g. it can be a structure or the argument line of an essay, or camera work in a video assignment
Tried any of these in the past? How did it go?
Previous posts on feedback:
…we will share how Macquarie’s academics and learning designers co-create and recreate feedback practices to engage our students in reflection and learning.