A continuation of the Coffee Course written as part of ANUOnline’s Coffee Course Professional Development Series, by Olga Kozar and Geraldine Timmins, originally published on 27 August, 2018.

As mentioned in Day 1, according to a large synthesis of educational studies (Hattie,1999), effective feedback gives learners cues on not only what they could do differently, but also how they could do it.

Or, using wording from Feedback for Learning (a study of feedback designs and conditions to guide educators, academic developers, instructional designers, and institutional policy), “the information provided is usable, and learners know how to use it”. As discussed in Day 3, feedback is best coming at a time when students can still use it or will, at least, hear it.

In this post, we’ll dive deeper into making feedback more usable and prompting more action from students.


Tip 1: Pick your battles and name the main ones first

When we give feedback, we often start with the points that first jumped at us. Sometimes these ‘first’, or most obvious points happen to be the most important ones, but often aren’t. Students, on the other hand, tend to perceive what we say first as as the most important information (the primacy effect). They also remember the last point well (recency effect).

Image: http://learnlanglab.com/

So if you are not doing it already, it may be a good idea to arrange your comments in the order of importance, and focus on those points that have the biggest impact for the students.

How to:

When arranging written feedback, you may have more time to sort your feedback points in order of importance, however, in tutorials, when giving verbal feedback, it may come out as stream of consciousness, and therefore may be influenced by the primacy effect.

So if a student approaches you for feedback during a tutorial, you can always ask the student for some ‘time-out’ to arrange your feedback response, or you can provide feedback in any order and ask the student what they think the most important points are. This discussion will not only provide valuable opportunities to clarify to the student(s) how they should invest their time/efforts in taking action on the feedback, but will help you assess whether the student has really heard you.


Tip 2: Take advantage of audio and/or video technology

Interesting stats: Lunt & Curran (2010) report that students in their study were 10 times more likely to open/listen to audio feedback.

Image: By Wes Hicks, Unsplash.com

According to a growing body of studies looking at audio feedback in tertiary education (see for example, Ice, Curtis, Phillips, & Wells, 2007; Lunt & Curran, 2010), hearing feedback can have a bigger impact than reading feedback comments. It may be that audio allows educators to convey more by using intonation and other verbal cues.

It may also be that speaking is generally faster than writing, and audio feedback can potentially ‘pack more information’ than written comments, and therefore contain more ‘actionable’ points, or it may be due to other reasons.

Where there was audio, there is video now…

Fast forward several years, and screencast/desktop capture technology is now widespread enough to be available to tertiary educators, and many are experimenting with video feedback. In their review of 37 studies of video feedback, Mahoney, Macfarlane, & Ajjawi (2018) report increased student engagement and even (surprisingly!) time saving by educators when giving feedback. Students also commented that video feedback helped them avoid misinterpretations and motivated students to act on comments more than written feedback would have.

So it looks like video (or at least audio) feedback may be worth a shot (bearing in mind there will be an initial learning curve and some time investment in set up and familiarisation). However, this investment is likely to pay off, and will save you time longer term.

How to:

Feedback Studio in Turnitin – You can record ‘voice comments’ when marking in Turnitin. Access a step-by-step guide on this function here.

Speaking of Feedback Studio and saving time…

Did you know that you can save comments and even share them with other colleagues? Having some well-written and detailed comments on common topics (QuickMarks) that you can easily drag and drop will help you save time and focus on individual feedback.

VoiceThread – VoiceThread (available at MQ) allows you to add audio or video comments to media, such as video presentations, visual portfolios or voice recordings (e.g. language aural exams, visual media assignments etc.) at specific timestamps or by pointing out specific areas of the visual field.

Personal Capture – Echo360’s Personal Capture software allows users to record and edit screencasts/desktop capture, so you can easily create a short video-feedback recording. More on Echo360 PCAP here.


Tip 3: Work on students’ assessment literacy and feedback involvement

Improving learners’ feedback literacy (Sutton, 2012) goes a long way. It’s important to help students shift their perception from ‘feedback is a hopes crusher’ to ‘feedback is a useful tool’, and encourage students to be proactive in seeking feedback.

How to:

  • Try having ‘assessment dialogues’ (Carless, 2006) and being explicit about the ‘rules of the assessment game’. Have a discussion in class on what is valued in your discipline and what is expected from this type of assignment. E.g. What do rubrics mean? What level of understanding and competence do you need to demonstrate to achieve a high distinction as opposed to a distinction or credit? How will this knowledge be useful in a workplace setting within this field?
  • Give students a chance to assess and give feedback. Research suggests that learners often gain more from giving compared to receiving feedback (Nicol, et al, 2014). Why not provide students with an opportunity to assess and give comments on the work of their peers?
  • Encourage students to ‘nominate’ areas they want feedback on. This turns them from ‘passive’ feedback receivers to active feedback seekers, which could make them more open to hear and act upon the information they receive.
  • Require feedback diaries and ‘action plans’ and introduce them in assessments.
  • When providing feedback, listen. The student may give you a clue to what they are not understanding, areas they feel they could make improvements on and what more they may need from you.

In summary, improving feedback effectiveness requires not only changes to how we provide feedback, both in the content, (e.g. more specific feedback), and the delivery method, (e.g. audio feedback), but also in how we carve out opportunities for students to self-assess and give and receive peer feedback.

question markDiscussion Questions:

  1. Have you tried any of the ideas mentioned above in your teaching? What worked? What didn’t? Why?
  2. What are some possible issues you might encounter from using these techniques? How might you address them?
  3. Are there any other tips you could share with our community?

Further Reading

  • Macquarie University’s Feedback Guidelines for Staff
  • Macquarie University’s Effective Feedback Resource
  • Ice, P., Curtis, R., Phillips, P., & Wells, J. (2007). Using asynchronous audio feedback to enhance teaching presence and students’ sense of community. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(2), 3-25.
  • Lunt, T., & Curran, J. (2010). ‘Are you listening please?’ The advantages of electronic audio feedback compared to written feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(7), 759-769. doi:10.1080/02602930902977772.
  • 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.Sutton, P. (2012). Conceptualizing feedback literacy: Knowing, being, and acting. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 49(1), 31-40.

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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