by Joanna Tai

Feedback consistently gets a bad rap in higher education.* While we don’t intend to do feedback poorly, many forces conspire to land us in a situation where resources are limited and the student cohorts to whom we are tailoring feedback are increasingly diverse. But what if we took a different perspective on the dilemma of feedback? Making conceptual shifts away from considering feedback as only the provision of information, and towards a partnership between staff & students, with a focus on effects, might help us re-think where we devote our efforts.

If we want feedback to have an effect, there is little point investing time and effort into comments which students cannot act upon, and which ultimately do not contribute to their future learning and performance. This implies that we should concentrate on feedback earlier in a learning sequence, well before the final task. If we are keen to assure these effects take place, this also means designing subsequent learning activities and/or assessment tasks where students can apply their feedback. In a resource-constrained environment, it might also mean reducing the amount of grade-justification that goes on at the end of semester.

A focus on what the student does in feedback is particularly crucial. We cannot expect students to know how to use feedback without ever having done it before. The term ‘student feedback literacy’ has been coined, and we might therefore consider what types of activities could develop students’ abilities to seek, interpret and implement feedback. Students might also be prompted to consider multiple sources of feedback – including via peers, industry, and technology.

Thus, doing feedback better is a shared enterprise between the institution (academics, learning designers, et al.) and its students, who should engage in learning activities that cumulatively develop their capabilities to participate as partners in feedback processes. Rather than assuming that everyone already knows how to go about it, we really do need to talk about feedback.

*  “Teachers commented on your work in ways that help you learn” scored 54% positive scores for undergrads in 2018 on the QILT SES, and 62% for postgrads.

Dr Joanna Tai

Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning, Deakin University 


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