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7. Feedback

 


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Feedback

Evaluation

Exploring Opportunities for Feedback Throughout

Workshop aligned to UKPSF A1-A4, K3-K4, V1, V4

The fourth element in a constructively aligned course design approach is feedback throughout. Closely reflective of both our assessment practice and our learning activities, feedback is best fully integrated into the learning rather than seen as a separate administrative response to submitted work. Designing feedback throughout opportunities in our courses will lead us to adopt variations in our learning activities and potentially to modify our assessment strategies too. Reviewing our strategies for feedback at this stage in the design process allows us to ensure that we can adjust our ILOs, assessment and activities if necessary to accommodate meaningful feedback throughout.

Note that I make a distinction between

  • Feedback: focussed on the communication which enhances a student's abilities to improve in their learning. My working definition is:  “feedback is communication received by a student as a supportive and directive commentary on their work when shared with another”
  • Evaluation: which is focussed on communication, from students and peers, that are aimed at the faculty or institution in order to enhance the learning experience of current and future students (see Stage 8)

I suggest you try and use the words differently and reinforce the fact that you are offering feedback and inviting evaluative comments. In the UK we have a National Student Survey which rather unhelpfully asks students for 'feedback' on their learning experiences. It makes it harder to orientate students into thinking about feedback in the specific way we would like them to. I students equate 'feedback' with questionnaires and written annotations on scripts alone they miss the voluminous feedback that is offered in any effective teaching and learning context.

There are four concepts which we need to clarify, or define, for this stage of the 8-SLDF. These are:

  • Formative Feedback
  • Feedback for learning
  • Feedforward
  • Feedback throughout.

Four types of feedbackThey all feature in a well-structured feedback approach to any module or programme in higher education, regardless of whether it is a classroom/seminar based module, online or blended course.

Formative Feedback

As a working definition, we are going to define feedback is communication received by a student as a supportive and directive commentary on their work when shared with another.

You’ll note that this definition does not exclude having peers feedback on each other work (peer feedback), but it does encompass both a student’s work-in-progress or that summited for credit-bearing assessment. These are sometimes defined as formative feedback in the case of in-progress work and summative feedback for final assessments. This is not strictly accurate or helpful because all feedback should be ‘formative’.

The definition of formative is “serving to form something, especially having a profound influence on a person's development.” One should be doing that equally when marking a final assessment as well as during the module.

Feedback for learning

Anyone who has ever played a sport or learnt to play a musical instrument knows that having a teacher or coach tell you did well or what you didn’t do right can be helpful. But normally only when it is associated with guidance that tells you what you need to do better next time.

This is why we prefer not to talk about feedback on learning, which is inevitably retrospective, and prefer to talk about feedback for learning. It can be challenging sometimes to find something positive about a poor assignment when it is so easy to document its flaws or indeed if it very good you may struggle to identify what could be improved.

Feedback for learning is still part of the learning process and is integral to the role of the tutor, teacher or lecturer.

Feedforward

It is widely accepted that feedback should be positive and focus on what the student can and should do better next time. Sometimes that is hard because you don’t always know what the past or future module structures are for that student’s individual learning journey. You may be forced to generalise your commentary.

Feedforward only works best when there is a Programme structure that has some central oversight and decisive management. How often do you hear colleagues complaining that students are unprepared from earlier modules? That is not the fault of the students. It is our responsibility to ensure that our module and programme designs are aligned. We should be able to identify the incremental learning gains across modules within a programme and feedforward accordingly.

Feedback throughout

Feedback is part of the learning process. It is another way of describing a response in a conversation. Someone makes a statement, you respond and in doing so you feedback. You confirm ascent, disagreement or seek clarification. You might correct them, expand on their idea, illicit alternatives. Clearly, feedback is a normal human communication operation. It is not an administrative duty, only to engage in when faced with a pile of scripts or email folder bulging with submissions.

You can enforce students’ awareness of the feedback they are engaged in by using verbal signifiers. In response to a variety of different contexts you might say:

“Let me just feedback on that observation, because I think it has some merits there….”

“Well, I’m not sure that there is a consensus on that point, but let me feedback what I believe you are all suggesting here, and you can tell me whether I’m right….

You can address such comments to individuals or the entire cohort, face-to-face or online, the important point is that you reinforce the notion that you are feeding back for their learning, not on their learning. Let's be blunt, students don't think we give them enough feedback, we need to take every opportunity to label out feedback As FEEDBACK!

Guidance on Feedback Throughout

Building on work done by Nicols (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006), here is a TACTICS framework that you can use to evaluate the way your courses are designed to enable effective feedback to students. Look at the ‘TIPS column

TACTICS: Framework for Feedback

Helen Harth (2012)/Simon Atkinson (2017)/BPP University
DESCRIPTOR TIPS
T Timely:
Feedback should be returned as soon as possible after an assessment or assignment and should be forward-looking.
Consider providing a group, or cohort, verbal (or audio recorded) feedback on first review while you write-up your individual feedback.
A Amount:
Feedback should focus on a limited number of points of evidence – balancing strengths as well as weaknesses.
Using a pre-prepared rubric based on the ILOs will focus your feedback towards specific skills and attributes. Be brief and focused wherever possible.
C Clear:
Feedback should be about the task, processing of the task, and self-regulation. The student should be clear about future steps for self-improvement.
Try and limit your feedback to the skills being assessed. Don’t wander too far into general academic practice commentary unless that is explicitly being assessed.
T Tone:
Feedback should be supportive, stimulating and motivating. Effective feedback promotes autonomy (self-management, meta-cognition).
Use a genuine voice, whilst remaining professional and respectful. Talk to fellow novice professionals. Read your feedback out loud to yourself. Is the tone right?
I Informs Teaching:
Feedback will suggest enhancements to the learning and teaching practices of faculty and should be documented and shared.
Don’t litigate a flawed assessment process with students (keep that for the module team). Providing Feedback is a form of module diagnostics.
C Constructive:
Feedback should identify how learning outcomes and assessment criteria are met or not met and suggest future actions for improvement.
UG and PG feedback may have subtle differences. PG feedback can often be more reflective and encourages the student self-analyze. UG feedback needs to be precise and focused on discreet actions the students should do in future.
S Specific:
Feedback should directly address the student’s evidence in the context of both learning outcomes and assessment criteria.
Closer your feedback is to the ILOs makes providing focused feedback more meaningful. Is a student’s work behind or ahead of evidencing their ability to meet an ILO? Say so!

Now we have covered the basics we can explore ways of making feedback work within your courses. These are intended as reflective notes. You need to think about the design you have generated to date following the 8-SLDF and the context in which it will be delivered.

Making Feedback Work

In this section, I want to outline four facets of feedback which you may want to consider. These four C's are:

  • Feedback as Communication
  • feedback as a Continous Process
  • Feedback as a Collaborative effort
  • Feedback as Current

Communication

One of the most difficult messages to grasp is that feedback is not your sole responsibility as the tutor. It is a joint responsibility between the student, the cohort, and the tutor. A collective responsibility in fact. It is one of the identifiable benefits from social learning contexts. We spend a lot of time enabling students to learn with each other, feedback is part of that contract. We need to be good at communicating that fact to students up-front.

There are 4 key factors in feedback throughout the learning experience which ensures it works. These are:

  • Ensure students know WHERE feedback can come from (not just you!)
  • Ensure students are clear on the TIMELINES for (deferred) feedback
  • Ensure students know what YOU MEAN by ‘feedback’
  • Ensure students know what THEY SHOULD DO with feedback

Communicating feedback

In an increasingly consumerist atmosphere in higher education students associate feedback as part of the service they are paying for. They are paying for your consultancy time in the same way they pay for a plumber or a dentist. Consequently, the ability of faculty to suspend feedback to prompt actions on the part of the student, or to provide deliberately partial support to elicit further effort, is only available in higher education today if it is clearly explained to students as part of their learning journey.

That does not mean that we can abdicate our responsibility for learning and teaching by limiting ourselves to the procedural process that requires “between 80-100 words of feedback, with at least two bullet points being positive and one of ‘areas for improvement".

Instead, it is beholden on us to fully integrate feedback into the learning journey and make it a feature, rather than a prize. Let’s be realistic. The answer to the question of where feedback can and should, come from depends on the students approach to their own learning (their personal epistemology). Students, notably those from educational cultures where learning has been rote or driven by knowledge accumulation, rather than by skills development are often very demanding. Even mature students who themselves learnt in a norm-criterion based assessment model (see stage 5) are more prone to ask, ‘how well am I doing?’ rather than ‘what can I do to improve?’.

We should have an explicit feedback policy and practice statement for our intended learning and make it explicit to students at the beginning, and throughout, the course.

Continuous Process

One of the issues tutors often face is that students do not take the opportunities of feedback seriously or appear to fail to act on it. Tutors should take every opportunity to talk about feedback FOR student learning, as being a continuous process. Describing feedback as an element of their learning increases their awareness of it and its value. Any opportunity to support a student in grounding their learning, to say ‘I get that’, and prepare to move ahead for further learning is a feedback moment.

Continuous Process

Above is a ‘pyramid of feedback engagement’, for in-class learning contexts (real or virtual) from (at the bottom) a passive, almost subliminal, self-feedback question posted clearly as students assemble, up to (at the top) a focussed short paper which could be peer-marked.

The fact that each of these examples could be perceived as ‘learning and teaching activities’ demonstrates just how inseparable feedback, assessment and teaching are! Review each of these elements, starting at the bottom, and consider how you could use it to check the skills level of students and to feedback in real time. There are online or virtual versions of each of these activities too, so this guidance is not dictated by mode of learning.

Clearly, there are then post-session opportunities to test student learning progress and provide feedback:

  • Using a classic online MCQ
  • Discussion Fora
  • Short paper – a template perhaps, a structured activity that forms the 5-minute opening section of the class next time.

All these techniques can, and do, work in most, but not all contexts and for most disciplines, but again not all. You need to build your course design using the 8-SLDF to establish the meaningful opportunities and constraints for feedback in practice. It is understanding the needs of the students that will determine which are worth trying. Try and plan each theme/topic/seminar with a distinct, planned, feedback activity and remember to tell students that that is what it is.

Collaborative Effort

Ensuring that feedback is part of the learning culture within your learning environments requires clear and consistent repetition to students of the complexity, reality and richness of feedback.

In addition to tutor feedback it is important to stress there are 4 distinct feedback models that can be designed into learning. You might reflect on and consider these as to whether they are appropriate in your course design.

collaboration_feedback

Co-Opt Others – this could be industry or sector colleagues. It could be students on the same programme but more advanced, or it could be 'group on group' and other peer forms of feedback. Design your activities with the feedback quality and workload in mind. In some contexts, students from higher levels could have to provide feedback to other students as an assessed activity in its own right.

Self-assessment – students can be given marking rubrics or criteria and encouraged to self-assess. In a context where I wanted students to receive feedback on interpersonal skills development, for example, I have handed out criteria for contributions at the end of seminars and asked students to complete them away from the session. In asking students whether they spoke freely or felt constrained, felt able to base their contributions on reading or subjective opinion, which peer’s contributions they valued most and why, the students became much more aware of both the value of the activity, its purpose and their responsibility within it.

Pairs and Triads - In some contexts it is valuable to have students ‘share’ their learning journey, to know that others share misconceptions and that others have different means to progress. In-class activity can be developed to encourage students to comment in pairs and triads. It may be possible to have students write short one-minute statements, for example, a definition or a succinct comment (itself a useful skill) and to write an imaginary name in the top right-hand corner. The forms can then be shuffled around the class and redistributed and another student then reads out what is clearly not their contribution. This can be a good way of getting students to openly feedback on a students' contribution without any fear of giving offense.

Cohort Feedback - One useful time saving, but effective technique, for ‘more feedback’ is to give the whole cohort feedback. This has the advantage of being able to feedback where in fact no single prompt may be evident. This could be a useful thing to do where there is a key learning point, a short 5-minute paper can be set in the last five minutes of class, all are collected and given a mark, but the feedback is provided to the whole cohort and students re-evaluate their work against the cohort's feedback.

Current and immediate

Most teachers and students will agree that a face-to-face (or virtual one-to-one) meeting is the most effective way to deliver feedback. This allows both parties to be sure feedback is being received and understood. Whilst most institutions do not have the staffing resources to operate an Oxbridge tutorial model, we can do things to ensure when we do provide personal feedback that we make the most of the opportunities. These notes apply to whole class feedback as well as to individual tutorials.

We are all in the communications business. We communicate ideas, thoughts, notions, facts, and experiences. We try an interpret these things through language to supporters to build their knowledge and experiences. To do this we use both non-verbal and verbal communication techniques unwittingly. An effective teaching engagement, and distinctly true of feedback sessions, will require all of these factors to come into play. As a course design team you can design in prompts for faculty to make sure they remember these factors:

Nonverbal Behaviors Verbal Behaviors
  • Suitably animated and gestures while talking
  • Vocal variety (non-monotone) when talking, genuine ‘voice’
  • Make eye contact while talking
  • Smiles while talking
  • Adopts a relaxed body posture
  • Looks sparingly at notes
  •  Removes physical (and cultural) barriers between self and student
  • Appropriate dress – (discuss with peers)

 

  • Calling students by name
  • Use of terms like "we" and "us" to refer to the cohort when culturally appropriate
  • Allows for ‘unstructured’ and incidental conversations
  • Gives feedback for learning opportunities throughout
  • Canvasses the student on their affective state (how do you feel about…)
  • Allows the student to address them by first name but acquiesce to the personal choice of the student (cultural conditions)

 

(Witt, 2016)

The best way to design in the enhancement of feedback processes is to ensure that the programme team operates a supportive developmental peer observation scheme.

Next Steps

A good place to start is by being honest about the quality of your feedback currently designed into your module or programme. A review of existing practice is always worthwhile. Review whatever formalised tools for feedback exist as a module or programme team. You could use these questions to begin to evaluate your module’s feedback.

How aligned is your Feedback to the TACTICS structure? Thinking about in-class feedback and that given on formative and summative assessments, how aligned are you to the TACTICS principles? You could also use Nicol’s 7 principles of good feedback practice as a checklist (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).

How effective if your feedback? Are you able to identify any impact of your feedback processes on the learning gain of your students?

How much feedback is offered? How many opportunities for feedback are identified explicitly in your course? Could you do more?

How many skills or attributes are reflected in your feedback? Given feedback is a continuous process what feedback is offered for a broad range of skills and attributes that are (or are not) being assessed? Interpersonal skills for example?

Are there technology solutions that could enhance feedback opportunities? Could there be audio feedback, video feedback or automated options to ensure context specific and speedy feedback offered to students? Explore this JISC resource for details (Ferrell, 2013)

 

References

Ferrell, G. (2013). Changing assessment and feedback practice. Retrieved September 29, 2017, from https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/changing-assessment-and-feedback-practice

Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070600572090

Witt, P. (2016). Communication and Learning. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG.

 

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