Feedback is not an artefact (e.g., comments), nor is it an attempt to justify a grade. It is a process in which learners need to make sense of information about their performance and use it to enhance the quality of their work or learning strategies. Comments given by an educator are part of the process, and need to be constructed so that they can be easily understood (made sense of) and enacted (used). Feedback uses past performance to inform future activity.
- Embed opportunities for learners to develop feedback literacy. In this project, all of the cases had diverse approaches in working towards this condition. Most obvious were the iterative attempts by staff to improve learner awareness and skills of how feedback information can be used in subsequent tasks. This was felt to be particularly critical for first year learners, as cultural expectations established early would flow through to subsequent years. An example of embedding feedback literacy in the curriculum can be seen in Case study 1, in which learners were challenged with assessment tasks that incrementally built their skills around seeking and using feedback. Another example can be found in Case study 4, in which a gamification approach was used to encourage learners to seek and action feedback information.
- Recognise feedback as an educative process, which has a place in the classroom and needs to be instructionally designed. In Case studies 1, 3, and 7, teaching time was used to explicitly describe the design and purpose of the feedback. For example, educators in Case study 7 acknowledged that effective feedback design involves orientation of learners to what feedback is, and why it is important. This sort of orientation does not need to be reserved for day one, year one, of programs. Instead, learners are likely to benefit from engaging in ongoing discussions throughout their program about mechanisms that are designed to improve their performance for the next task, and beyond.
2. Learners are active in the feedback process
By the time learners complete their studies, they should have developed strategies to evaluate their own performance, as well as being able to engage in feedback processes independently. It is critical that educators foster this independence by assisting learners in understanding feedback processes, including how to seek, generate, and use feedback comments themselves. Educators could consider giving learners opportunities to judge their own work along with others, and encourage them to talk with their peers about the quality of their work.
- Learners need support to seek feedback. It is beneficial for learners to engage in the feedback process with multiple diverse sources, both before and after submission of a task or performance of an activity. Oftentimes, learners will need to start this feedback process themselves, such as by seeking out comments from educators, peers, or clients. Learners were supported to do so in Case study 1, through task design that encouraged them to obtain feedback comments from peers, automated online sources, and librarians. Similarly, in Case study 4, learners posted their work to the hashtag with the express purpose of obtaining feedback. They were incentivised to do this through gamification.
- Learners should be able to evaluate their own performance. Evaluative judgement is an important part of learning, in which learners develop self-regulation through the ability to make judgements about their own performance. Case study 1 provides two examples of how this could be enacted in a subject, as learners were given the opportunity to appraise their own learning through a self-assessment rubric and by completing reflective writing tasks.
- Learners need to learn to generate feedback. Another aspect of developing evaluative judgement and feedback independence is the ability to critically evaluate the work of others. This was evidenced in Case study 7 where learners were required to provide feedback comments to their peers. Being both the ‘provider’ of feedback comments to a peer, and acting as the recipient of peer commentary, generates engagement of learners with standards of work, and develops capabilities of evaluative judgement, which is important for future work. In this case, peer evaluations were supported by guidelines for peer review.
3. Educators seek and use evidence to plan and judge effectiveness
Effective feedback design involves continually challenging and improving one’s own practice. This necessitates a degree of self-reflection on the part of educators, along with an inquiry mindset. In this project, all of the cases of effective feedback practices were the result of iterative improvements. It worked because the educators and leaders sought evidence of the success of their practices, and researched new ideas and alternative models.
- Innovation stems from a sense of evaluative restlessness. One notable aspect of Case study 3 is the self-critical nature of educators involved in the development and improvement of the subject. While they were clearly proud of their accomplishments, they endeavoured to continually improve the feedback and assessment design and practice. This was evidenced through the fact that they had clear plans for future designs, and were collecting empirical data from learning analytics to conduct pre- and post-testing. A similar approach was evident in Case study 2, with the educators-in-charge continually reflecting on and planning improvements to the subject several trimesters in advance. Furthermore, in Case study 4, the design was the result of many iterations, where the educator’s dissatisfaction with what was happening spurred him on to try new things.
- Educators should take influence from literature on effective feedback practice. Educators and instructional designers who wish to improve feedback practices can draw on empirical research focusing on educational designs. The teaching team and educational designer in Case study 3 were influenced by literature which indicated that assessment and feedback cycles are most effective if they are aligned so that each cycle builds on the previous, allowing learners to develop their abilities. This approach can help educators develop confidence in their approaches.
- Educators can learn from learners. In Case study 6, the subject co-ordinators sought feedback from learners to improve feedback processes in subsequent years. This information was regularly acted upon, leading to a subject that was continually improving over time.
4. Learners and educators have access to appropriate space and technology
Both technology and novel learning environments can facilitate innovation of teaching practice in ways that can be highly engaging for learners. It is also possible for physical and virtual spaces to enable multiplicity and diversity of feedback sources and modalities.
- Collaborative learning spaces can support immediate feedback. In Case study 3, the School of Physics and Astronomy invested in a purpose-built collaborative learning environment, which provided group seating for 120 learners, with screens and whiteboards spread around the room for easy viewing and access. This environment enabled the educators to move around the room and work with groups of learners to provide immediate feedback. Similarly, educators in Case study 5 felt that they could provide more detailed verbal feedback when working with learners in laboratory settings.
- A permissive operating environment allows educators to explore approaches outside of learning management systems. In Case study 4, the educator-in-charge had tried to get feedback conversations going inside the institutional learning management system, but found the tools did not support the immediate, rich conversations he wanted. Instead, he used a Twitter hashtag where learners could tweet links to their work-in-progress assignments (blog posts and online videos) and engage in brief feedback interactions with other learners in the subject, as well as members of the public, businesses, and university social media accounts.
- Technologies can enhance the richness of feedback information. Written comments, and rubrics, can be limited in detail as well as specificity. Other media, such as audio, video and screencast recordings can include more details, with richer cues that can help learners sense-making. For example, in Case study 2, educators created five-minute audio recordings to create feedback comments that were considered by educators and learners to be detailed, meaningful, personal, and motivating. The educator-in-charge suggested that this would not have possible in the same amount time using written comments.
- Technologies can enable options for immediate and distributed feedback mechanisms. Feedback information does not need to always come from the educator. Polls, quizzes, simulators, and other technologies can provide mechanisms for immediate feedback. Social and collaborative technologies, such as forums, Twitter, YouTube, wikis, and shared documents can open opportunities for peers and others to provide feedback information. In Case study 5, learners were encouraged to post and answer questions on an online discussion forum. This helped lessen the workload for educators, and encouraged learners to become engaged with problem solving.
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