I’ve recently written several articles on feedback for The ANU Coffee Course. This post sums up my top feedback tips/ideas and will (hopefully) give you the very best of those articles. Consider it an ‘espresso shot’.
Firstly, literature tells us that feedback is among the top influencers on student achievement (see Hattie & Timperley, 2007). In other words, quality feedback has huge potential for student learning. At the same time, literature also tells us that sadly feedback rarely achieves its potential. Many university students are either not satisfied with the feedback that they receive, or do not engage with feedback (Chanock, 2000, Higgins, Hartley & Skelton, 2001).
Feedback ineffectiveness can sometimes be due to poor wording or students’ emotions, which create a psychological barriers, but usually this feedback ineffectiveness is due to bad feedback timing and wrong expectations of who should be giving feedback.
In most cases students receive feedback after they’ve submitted their assignments. Can you think of a worst timing? As far as the student is concerned, their job is done, the assignment is submitted. It’s final. Unless they fail this unit, they will never need to do this assignment again. That’s why it’s important to shift to think of ‘feedback’ as ‘feed-forward’ – an improvement tool that tells students how to do better rather than a verdict or an autopsy (more ideas later in the post).
Who should be giving feedback?
Educators cannot and should not be the only (or the primary) source of feedback. First, expecting educators to provide all the feedback to students is completely unrealistic. In most cases, educators are under strict time limits (15-20 minutes per assignment). Secondly, even if educators took all the stimulants in the world and could produce pages and pages of feedback for each student, this would still be not good enough, because students learn a lot more from giving feedback than receiving feedback (Boud & Falchikov, 2007; Li, Liu, & Steckelberg, 2010).
Students could give feedback to each other, and/or, even more importantly, they should be doing self-evaluation and reflection on their work.
Peer feedback and self-assessment have numerous benefits:
- Understanding assignment requirements
- Reducing emotional pushback to receiving feedback
In other words, giving feedback to others or themselves turns students from ‘feedback outsiders’ to ‘feedback insiders’. Students understand the ‘rules of assignment game’ much better after they’ve used the rubrics to mark others or themselves and are more likely to engage with the feedback that they receive and do not dismiss it.
What does this look like in practical terms?
Tip 1: Create opportunities for ‘assignments-in-progress’ feedback
Why not break down an assignment into several sub-tasks and specify 1-2 tasks each week? E.g. “This is a good week to do the literature review on your topic and identify a gap that you’d like to explore in your assignment. Please prepare a one-paragraph summary of your literature review and be ready to share it in our next tutorial”.
Below is an example of the assignment break-down per week. Ideally, the discussion would be happening in tutorials where a tutor could be clarifying some questions and modelling good answers. If the tutorial time is limited, these tasks could be done in iLearn (online unit).
|Week 1||Choosing a topic||
Peer review/self-assessment using assignment rubric OR criteria provided by educator
|Week 2||Conducting a literature review
Task: prepare a brief (e.g. 200 words summary) of literature
|Week 3||Bullet points of key ideas|
|Week 4||Assignment draft for peer review|
|Week 5||Reviewing discussion/conclusion|
Scaffolding student assignments and giving them a chance to present to others will not only keep students on track and will identify major issues before it’s too late, but it’ll also reduce chances of ‘contract cheating’.
Tip 2: Nurture student assessment literacy
Assessment literacy is a fancy term for students knowing how they are evaluated and what matters in assignments.
Things that help build ‘assessment literacy’
- Discuss examples of ‘past work’ – Can you provide anonymised examples of past student work and ask students to evaluate that work? This can provide invaluable opportunities to have assessment dialogues (see next point) and demystify assignment expectations
- ‘Have assessment dialogues’ (Carless, 2006) and be explicit about the ‘rules of the assessment game’ – Having a discussion in class on what is valued in your discipline and what is expected from this type of assignment goes a long way. 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).
- 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.
Tip 3: Encourage students to keep track of feedback and act on it
One way to encourage students to engage with the feedback they’ve received and act on it is requiring students to submit 1-2 paragraphs along with their assignments detailing how the feedback they’ve received as a part of assignment preparation or from previous assignments helped them improve this work. I would also ask students to submit their own self-assessment using the assignment rubric and nominate 1-2 areas that they’d like more feedback on.
Tip 4: Try audio feedback
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, through 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.
Feedback studio in Turnitin has a function where you can add audio comments. My recommendation would be to pick 1-2 of the most important pieces of feedback information and deliver those through the audio comments. Check out the quick guides on Feedback Studio >
Tip 5: Come along to a Feedback workshop (or make an appointment with me)
Reading a blog post is a great starting point, and I’m delighted you’ve made it this far!
But there is so much that can be gained from sitting down with other educators and us and discussing your particular units. Give me a shout if you’d like a personal consultation (firstname.lastname@example.org).