Discussion about the purpose of feedback has a distinguished academic history (try Young 2000; Race 2001; Higgins, Hartley et al. 2002; Winter and Dye 2004; Carless 2006; Weaver 2006; Huxham 2007; Prowse, Duncan et al. 2007; Poulos and Mahony 2008; Rae and Cochrane 2008; Varlander 2008; Lunt and Curran 2009; Carless, Salter et al. 2011 for some introduction to the debate). In my experience of talking about feedback with academic staff, the topic often leads to much wringing of hands and a fairly good list of complaints about what students do or don’t do with feedback, starting with ‘they never pick it up, they just want the mark’.
Whilst we’ve tried to address this in the past with an extensive feedback resource, which includes the FAQ Why don’t some students collect their feedback?‘’ there is a nagging suspicion that perhaps we’re looking at the whole thing from the wrong, teacher-centred, perspective. In recent months I’ve been starting to ask the question “What do you do with the feedback you produce?”, which leads to much shorter conversations, but better plans for action. We’ve tried to incorporate reflection on feedback in the assessment lifecycle, but there is more thinking to be done about practical advice.
I have been thinking about this a bit more since EAS12 last week, at which David Boud (Boud and Molloy 2012) identified three ‘generations’ of feedback: Mark 0, Mark 1 and Mark 2
photo by Sheila MacNeill, taken at EAS12
According to Boud, Mark 0 feedback is an adjunct to marking: it’s done by teachers to students, teachers hope it is used, and no direct response is required or expected. I think I might characterise this as the ‘I write feedback for the external examiner’ approach, or perhaps that’s feedback Mark -1?
Mark 1 feedback is an improvement, as it’s more focused on student improvement. Teachers write it to change student behaviour. There might be lots of it, and an open invitation to come and discuss it. Boud points out that this model is unsustainable. Students remain dependent on the ‘Fat Controller’ teacher (his choice of analogy, not mine!) and don’t develop skills to make use of the feedback by themselves. They need the teacher to keep feeding them more of this feedback and will make only incremental improvements linked closely to the assignment themselves.
In Boud’s view, Mark 2 feedback is needed. Such feedback is ‘agentic and open’ will contain illustrations, answers and explanations, but it won’t tell students what to do. They need to form their own ideas, or as Boud put it at EAS12, “only the learner can learn”.
How can we convert these ideas to meaningful action plans for busy teachers and their students? As we develop new systems as part of this project, we can certainly try to embed a good variety of approaches to giving feedback. But I think we need to ask the question ‘What do you do with the feedback?’ for every single assignment that’s set. This simple question does seem to work in getting people to think about the value of what they do.
And I had better start at home…I commit to a) think about what will happen to my feedback before I start writing it and b) systematically discuss it with students in a feed-forward way, starting with the 20 credit Research Methods for Academic Practice unit which starts next week.
The thumbnail photo at the beginning of this post shows a pile of uncollected student assignments. All that time spent writing feedback which nobody will read…
Boud, D. and Molloy, E., Eds. (2012). Feedback in Higher and Professional Education: Understanding it and doing it well, Routledge.
Carless, D. (2006). Differing perceptions in the feedback process. Studies in Higher Education 31/2: 219-233.
Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M. and Lam, J. (2011). Developing sustainable feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education 36/4: 395 – 407. http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/03075071003642449
Higgins, R., Hartley, P. and Skelton, A. (2002). The Conscientious Consumer: reconsidering the role of assessment feedback in student learning. Studies in Higher Education 27/1: 53 – 64. http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/03075070120099368
Huxham, M. (2007). Fast and effective feedback: are model answers the answer? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 32/6: 601 – 611. http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/02602930601116946
Lunt, T. and Curran, J. (2009). ˜Are you listening please?” The advantages of electronic audio feedback compared to written feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35/7: 759-769. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930902977772
Poulos, A. and Mahony, M. J. (2008). Effectiveness of feedback: the students’ perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 33/2: 143 – 154. http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/02602930601127869
Prowse, S., Duncan, N., Hughes, J. and Burke, D. (2007). ‘….. do that and I’ll raise your grade’. Innovative module design and recursive feedback. Teaching in Higher Education 12/4: 437 – 445. http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/13562510701415359
Race, P. (2001). Using Feedback to help students to learn. accessed on http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/resource_database/id432_using_feedback.
Rae, A. M. and Cochrane, D. K. (2008). Listening to students: How to make written assessment feedback useful. Active Learning in Higher Education 9/3: 217-230. http://alh.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/3/217
Varlander, S. (2008). The role of students’ emotions in formal feedback situations. Teaching in Higher Education 13/2: 145 – 156. http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/13562510801923195
Weaver, M. R. (2006). Do students value feedback? Student perceptions of tutors’ written responses. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 31/3: 379 – 394. http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/02602930500353061
Winter, C. and Dye, V. (2004). An investigation into the reasons why students do not collect marked assignments and the accompanying feedback. accessed on 8/1/8, from http://wlv.openrepository.com/wlv/bitstream/2436/3780/1/An%20investigation%20pgs%20133-141.pdf.
Young, P. (2000). ‘I Might as Well Give Up': self-esteem and mature students’ feelings about feedback on assignments. Journal of Further and Higher Education 24/3: 409-418. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/routledg/cjfh/2000/00000024/00000003/art00010