April 23, 2013

Feedback for learning

A brief note on Anders Jonsson’s ‘Facilitating productive use of feedback in higher education’, Active Learning in Higher Education 2013; 14 63-76. This is an interesting article that adds to the on-going conversations around feedback in HE – It’s main claim is that ‘in order to be effective, feedback must not only be delivered appropriately, but it must also be used by the students.’ If students do not act on the feedback to improve their performance the all exercise is kind of pointless. But what are the elements that influence students’ use of feedback?

To tackle this question Jonsson reviews a wide range of available research literature (103 studies in total!) in pursuit of factors that may either promote or impede students’ use of feedback. He identifies a small number of factors common to a majority of the studies, regardless of academic subject.

Findings suggest that one of the major barriers to using feedback formatively is that students do not find the feedback useful, often because of lack of opportunities to (re)use advice which is too strictly task related (rather than skills related). This points to another problem, i.e. the lack of congruence between students’ preferences when it comes to feedback and the types of feedback that they could actually use to develop their learning. ‘The optimal feedback for formative use may therefore not necessar­ily be specific, detailed, positive, and individualized, as is often assumed (Gibbs and Simpson, 2004–2005; Race, 2007). Instead, less specific and individualized feedback, which forces the stu­dents to actively engage with the information, may actually be more productive for student learn­ing’

Jonsson argues that whilst these barriers can be, to a large extent, amended by the teacher, there are other factors which depend heavily on the student. Research shows that many students don’t actually know how to make use of feedback in a constructive and productive way, and this is not helped by the fact that they often don’t understand the jargon or academic terminology. Interestingly the author also reports that Audio feedback seems to produce a more positive response in terms of student engagement with it, although this does not necessarily result in improved performance.

The review tentatively concludes that a more active dialogic model of feedback, combined with a more structured formative model and scaffolded through a number of different means might aid students in making more productive use of the feedback they receive.

For the full article go to:
http://0-alh.sagepub.com.pugwash.lib.warwick.ac.uk/content/14/1/63.full.pdf+html )

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