The ANU’s wonderful ‘Coffee Courses’ Professional Learning Program came to our attention earlier this year. So Teche reached out to the Coffee Course team (led by Katie Freund, Janene Harman and Karlene Dickens) to propose a collaboration. I, together with Geraldine Timmins, wrote a 5-Day Coffee Course on Feedback for Learning. The idea is you can work through a ‘course’ in the time it takes to finish your daily coffee (or tea!). Either check it out on The ANU Coffee Courses page over the next 5 days (and why not sign up for future courses while you’re there, they’re available to all – subscribe at bottom of page here), or follow the series on Teche over the next 5 weeks. Past participants have found the comments posted by others to be highly valuable, so we encourage MQ participants to post reflections in the comments section. The LIH is working with colleagues across the community to create a recognition scheme similar to the one The ANU has in place for such professional learning activities. Watch this space…


Feedback for Learning Coffee Course: Day 1

Feedback is the information students receive about their learning/performance which can, if handled well, promote development and improvement.

Feedback can have a potent impact on student learning – according to a large synthesis of 180,000 educational studies (see Hattie & Timperley, 2007), feedback is among the top influencers on student achievement.

However, a recent study found that despite its potential to be powerful, in reality, feedback is rarely powerful. Research consistently shows that university students often find the feedback they receive unclear, untimely or inconsistent (Hounsell 2007; Nicol 2010).

question-iconReflection Question:Distorted Mirror

What do you think are the main reasons why feedback doesn’t reach its full potential? In other words, why is it that feedback can be powerful, but rarely is powerful?

Post your thoughts in the comments section.

Misconceptions about the feedback experience

Before we get to the ways in which we can create a better feedback environment, it might be helpful to clear away some misconceptions. We have collected 5 common misconceptions about the feedback experience – however, this is not an exhaustive list, feel free to share any others in the comments section!


Misconception 1: The role of feedback is to justify the mark

Justification heading

Feedback is often viewed as justifying the marks – ‘you got a ‘pass’ because…’, ‘you didn’t get a HD because…’.

However, good feedback can and should do more than issuing a ‘post-mortem’. Feedback’s real power is to be an instrument for improvement (formative feedback rather than summative feedback), and good feedback should give students explicit tips on what they could do differently.

Ineffective practice Effective practice
Feedback only justifies the mark. Feedback provides explicit and actionable tips on how students can improve their future performance (e.g. in the next assignment).

Creating a learning environment rich in useful and usable feedback is even more important today because of the changing nature of education in the time of sudden information abundance. However, this information bonanza has not taken away the need for university education. Quite the opposite, personal feedback and attention is what gives higher education its real value.


Misconception 2: The educator is the only source of feedback

provider heading

Traditionally, educators were viewed as the main ‘feedback providers’, however expecting educators to provide all the feedback to students is not only unsustainable, but it wastes valuable learning opportunities.

Research shows (Boud & Falchikov, 2007; Li, Liu, & Steckelberg, 2010) that self-evaluation, reflection and peer-feedback are powerful tools for development (often even more effective than the educators’ feedback). Educators could shift from being ‘feedback providers’ to ‘feedback opportunities creators’.

Unsustainable practice Good practice
The educator is the only ‘feedback provider’ The educator is a ‘feedback engineer’ and creates opportunities for peer feedback, reflection, self-assessment.

Misconception 3: Students recognise when they receive feedback

recognition heading

We have a colleague, let’s call her Anna (not her real name), who received comments on the anonymous student survey that she was not giving enough feedback.

lady with look of shockAnna was gobsmacked: as she thought she was giving a lot of feedback.Students may have confused her feedback with ‘general comments’, especially when she was giving feedback to the whole class and interspersed feedback with other information.

Anna then made her feedback comments more explicit by saying things like ‘Here’s my feedback on …’  or ‘Here are some things you can do to improve in the future…”. While it felt awkward, it helped her students identify what was feedback among other information.

Ineffective practice Effective practice
Feedback is ‘hidden’ among other information, and students can’t recognise it. Feedback is explicit and the students’ attention is drawn to the fact that they’re  receiving feedback.

question-iconReflection Questions

How do you give feedback to students?
Do you think your students recognise when you’re giving feedback?

Post your thoughts in the comments section.


Misconception 4: Students understand and receive my feedback

acceptance heading

An interesting study by Chanock (2000) explored whether students misinterpret feedback. The researchers took a common comment “too much description; not enough analysis”, and asked tutors and students what they believed the comment meant. The study found that

almost a half of the students who responded did not interpret this comment the way their tutors had intended it (p.95).

This illustrates the need to use clear details and examples when communicating with students. We’ll look at this more on Day 4.

Ineffective practice Effective practice
Feedback uses vague or broad academic terms Feedback explains academic terms, uses plain language, gives details and clear examples.

Misconception 5: It’s not possible to provide quality feedback in a short amount of time

time heading

Due to large student cohorts and casualisation of teaching, markers are often faced with a tight time allocation, e.g. 15-20 minutes per assignment.

While it is certainly challenging to provide quality feedback in a short time, technology might be able to help.

echo-personal-capture-start recordingAn increasing number of studies (see Mahoney, Macfarlane, & Ajjawi, 2018) suggest audio or video feedback can be a considerable time-saver (once educators become comfortable with the technology), and can also be more interpersonal and impactful. We’ll look at some examples of this on Day 4.

We’ll also share more time-saving hacks throughout the rest of the course, and we encourage you to share your own thoughts and tips.


The devastating effect of not receiving feedback

Lack of feedback can have serious consequences for students. Many students have no idea they’re off track until it is pointed out to them or it’s too late. We’ll share a personal story from one of the facilitators to illustrate this point in Day 3.

In summary

While literature is teeming with examples of the characteristics that make up good feedback, we believe that at the very core, good feedback needs to do 2 things:

(1) be clear to students and

(2) encourage students to take specific action(s) or do things differently.

Good feedback tells students not only WHAT they need to improve, but suggests HOW it can be done.

question-iconDiscussion Questions:

Think of a time when you received feedback – it may have been on your research article, grant proposal, HEA application, etc.

What made the feedback useful or less useful?

Was the feedback directed at:

  • the task (e.g. how well you’ve done something),
  • the process (e.g. strategies or approach)
  • a particular personal trait or anything else?

Share your thoughts in the comments section.


References:
Chanock, K. (2000). Comments on Essays: Do students understand what tutors write? Teaching in higher education, 5(1), 95-105. doi:10.1080/135625100114984

Falchikov, N., & Boud, D. (2007). Assessment and emotion. In N. Falchikov & D. Boud (Eds.), Rethinking assessment in higher education: Learning for the longer term (pp. 144-158).

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112.

Hounsell, D. (2007). Towards more sustainable feedback to students. Rethinking assessment in higher education, 101-113.

Li, L., Liu, X., & Steckelberg, A. L. (2010). Assessor or assessee: How student learning improves by giving and receiving peer feedback. British journal of educational technology, 41(3), 525-536.

Mahoney, P., Macfarlane, S., & Ajjawi, R. (2018). A qualitative synthesis of video feedback in higher education. Teaching in higher education, 1-23. doi:10.1080/13562517.2018.1471457.

Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 501-517.

Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught different courses, ranging from undergrad to PhD students. I then joined the Learning Innovation Hub, which I love. I'm passionate about good learning and teaching. Give me a shout if I can assist you in any way.

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