9. it is a valued and visible enterprise at all levels
Feedback is reported by the research field as often being misunderstood and poorly enacted. However, it is an institutional enterprise that is complex, resource intensive, and fundamental to the success of learners. The success of feedback is facilitated when institutions are seen to value it in its systems, policies and activities. In other words, effective assessment feedback is a valued and genuine part of the university culture.
- Institutions need to inspire innovation. In this project, it was evident that institutionally provided professional learning events, showcases, exemplars, models and resources provided inspiration and encouraged educators to experiment with their feedback designs. For example, in Case studies 1 and 3, the educators-in-charge were inspired and educated about effective feedback practices after attending university learning and teaching events. Institutions would do well to challenge educators to re-imagine feedback and not be tied to disciplinary cultures.
- Effective feedback principles are featured in policy. Institutional policy has an influential role in embedding effective feedback principles in processes, systems and culture. For example, several cases included references to assessment policy that explicitly required the implementation of measures to assure feedback quality and consistency. However, it is important that policy distinguishes feedback from marking and reinforces a definition that focuses on enhancing future work and learning strategies. Policy should encourage clarity of standards and learning outcomes which are critical to feedback, and encourage diverse forms of assessment feedback. This was demonstrated in Case study 1, where a policy change meant that the educator-in-charge was no longer required to set an exam at the end of the subject. She was instead able to set up a more authentic assessment and feedback opportunity, where learners presented multimedia projects and received face-to-face feedback, much like a poster session at an academic conference.
10. There are processes in place to ensure consistency and quality
In subjects with high learner enrolments, it can be necessary to employ teams of academic staff for assessment purposes. However, as the processes involved in creating effective feedback comments are complex and contextually dependent, it cannot be assumed that new and sessional staff have broad experiences with effective feedback practices. Diversity in the experience and skill level of educators can raise issues for learners, as they may feel disgruntled and dissatisfied if they do not receive the same level of high-quality feedback as their peers. More importantly, learners may be less receptive to low quality feedback comments, even disregarding them completely. To avoid such scenarios, it is important for teaching staff and leadership in tertiary institutions to recognise that feedback is something that needs to be learned and continually improved upon. Furthermore, educators in charge of teaching teams can employ strategies to ensure consistency of feedback structure, content and quality.
- Educators-in-charge of large subjects could use marking and assessment guidebooks to support feedback consistency. In Case studies 1, 2, 5, and 7, the educators-in-charge created detailed feedback resources for the teaching team. These resources included guidebooks detailing the purpose of feedback, and advice regarding the expectations for providing comments to learners. In Case study 7, Google Docs were created featuring examples of appropriate feedback comments, while in Case study 2 example scripts were provided to facilitate the audio feedback process for less experienced educators.
- Educators should hold regular meetings with teaching teams, including sessional staff. Educators teaching into the subjects highlighted in Case studies 1, 5, and 7 had regular team meetings where they talked about potential problems with marking. This further facilitated consistency with the feedback approach.
- Moderate feedback comments, not just grades. The educators-in-charge of Case study 2 developed a rigorous moderation process which not only moderated grading and feedback, but also supported and developed assessors. This process enabled corrective interventions to take place before a large volume of assignments have been marked, reducing the demand for later re-marking procedures. As such, feedback quality and consistency was assured. In Case study 4, peer feedback was implemented, and took the form of very brief messages (140 character Tweets). As these were posted publicly, the educator was able to read all of them and check for any potentially harmful content.
- Encourage experienced educators to mentor less experienced educators: In Case study 5, less experienced educators were paired with more experienced educators in order to model feedback provision in face-to-face situations (during laboratory classes). In Case study 2, all educators receive audio feedback on their own feedback artefacts for learners, both modelling the feedback process and providing ongoing professional development for educators.
- Induct new team members into the feedback practices used within a subject. In several case studies observed in this project (i.e., 1, 2, 5, 7) the educator-in-charge created a guidebook for the team of educators. These included information about the purpose of feedback, and provided examples of how feedback comments should be structured.
Continuity in leadership and membership of teaching teams was evident in a number of cases in this project. Continuity in leadership not only provides connections with past feedback designs but also allows for longer term plans for feedback redesigns to be developed and implemented. Ongoing membership of teaching teams allows educators to contribute to longer-term plans, to develop their own skills which, in turn, improved clarity and consistency of comments provided to learners.
- Faculties and schools should appoint leadership positions for extended periods of time. In this project, all of the cases illustrated leadership continuity in different ways. However, the most noteworthy of these cases had, at their core, a commitment at Faculty level to provide this stable working environment. In this case (Case study 3), an education manager was appointed with oversight of the long-term development of the design of the subject, and importantly, that of the entire course it sits within . In addition, Case study 5 featured a Senior Tutor who was employed to evaluate, redesign, and implement feedback over a number of years. The critically important point here was not that the leader was in a position for several years, but rather that they knew they would be responsible for the continued improvement of the subject for years to come. This continuity of vision and commitment afforded a long-term vision and the implementation of considered and measurable approach to improvement by iteration.
- Stability within teaching teams enhances capability to iteratively improve feedback practices. Quality and continuity of teaching teams can result in enhanced feedback designs. For example, the continuity of educators in Case study 2 helped the feedback design evolve in a planned and thoughtful manner over 18 trimesters. In Case study 5, educators were able to work on just one subject, which helped to focus their attention and energy into the design and providing of feedback. The stability of the team providing feedback in this subject allowed for iterative development over a number of years.
Effective feedback design can be challenging in contexts where workloads, labour models, or subject structures are overly prescriptive. Feedback information needs to be carefully designed, particularly in terms of timeliness, modality, sequence, frequency, and usefulness. It is therefore important to seek feedback designs that do not require educators to resort to heroic, unsustainable workplace practices. In the cases identified in this project, educators were able to modify traditional models of teaching delivery, and explore different labour models in order to distribute leadership in large subjects. They were also able to outsource educators for certain components of a subject, and reallocate marking time to feedback time.
- Educators should be empowered to re-imagine their workload. The educators observed in this project succeeded in designing effective feedback processes because they were able to allocate teaching and learning as they wish, rather than being forced to spend set amounts of time on face-to-face teaching, marking, co-ordination, etc. For example, in Case study 4, the educator-in-charge was only able to implement an innovative feedback design by re-imagining his workload – because he did not implement a regular weekly lecture, this freed up his time to monitor the Twitter hashtag and engage with students online. In Case study 7, the educator-in-charge was able to cancel face to face tutorials one week and use online self-directed activities instead, so that the teaching team could use those hours for enhancing their assessment feedback. Institutions should therefore consider if their workload models allow educators to use time as they see fit.
- Roles within teaching teams could be shaped to ensure sufficient attention is given to achieving effective feedback. In Case study 5, the day-to-day leadership of the subject was the responsibility of a Senior Tutor, whose sole role was to focus on the development of effective teaching teams and feedback provision in this large subject. While senior educators were still involved in leading the subject, they provided direct input on the content to be taught rather than designing and directing feedback.