All 10 entries tagged Feedback

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September 29, 2015

Feedback strategies with growing student numbers

The History Department has traditionally used a mixed feedback strategy, providing written comments on formative student work throughout the year, followed by a 15 minute face to face essay tutorial. For summative feedback, written comment is provided on both essays and exams electronically via Tabula, providing brief comments and two or three 'ways to improve'. However, as a consequence of dramatically increasing student numbers, this strategy has come under strain. The departmental teaching fellows often teach 6-7 groups of 15 students per group on the same module. This means that they face not only marking 90+ essays within the allotted 20 days but also organising essay feedback sessions of 15 minutes each (22.5 hours!)

So, the Department are discussing alternative manageable feedback strategies and would welcome comments and suggestions. These are our thoughts so far:

  • the minimum expectation is that formative essays will be marked within the 20 days and returned to students. Students will then be offered the chance for a face to face tutorial outside the 20 day window, but these will not be compulsory as in the past
  • summative feedback will remain the same
  • there will be a wider variety of feedback strategies in addition to, or instead of the written comments: audio feedback inserted into pdfs or word documents; annotated essays using track changes/comments; peer feedback in seminars; generic essay tutorials in class after the submission of a piece of work making general points about how the whole cohort tackled the assignment and ways to improve; adoption of forms/boxes to tick against marking criteria

We will discuss these strategies with our students but welcome any thoughts in our on-going discussions.

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: )

March 21, 2013

The Fabulous Feedback Frenzy

Feedback is arguably one of the greatest challenges facing university students, teachers and managers in today’s new tuition fee era. Warwick is certainly no exception to this trend. The recent institution-wide Fabulous Feedback competition prompted a huge response from students in all faculties, demonstrating the depth of feeling about feedback at the University. The close nature of the competition, amongst tutors in the Arts Faculty in particular, also underlined the extent of good feedback practice already in place at Warwick. Likewise, the £1000 prize money for the winner in each faculty emphasised the University’s commitment to promoting and disseminating good practice.

The French department emerged from the competition with four tutors in the Arts Faculty top ten, with my colleague Professor Seán Hand named the winner with most student nominations. Like my co-nominees, I was surprised, if also delighted, to have been named in the top ten, and have since been approached by colleagues in pursuit of some secret feedback formula. This has provoked much soul-searching on my part; is there a secret method for feedback? And what constitutes feedback in the first place?

An informative starting point is the Warwick Student Community Statement, agreed between the University and the Students’ Union in October 2012. The Statement recorded the importance of feedback in the student experience and committed to:

Relevant and meaningful feedback on [students’] work in a variety of formats that will help [students’] development’

Warwick’s definition of feedback is therefore multi-faceted. Teachers’ feedback should be relevant to the assessment or task undertaken, it should have some meaningful purpose and should point towards areas of development. Few reflective and motivated teachers would take issue with any of these points. We would no doubt wish to receive relevant feedback with clear areas for development on our own teaching or research.

Clarity is, in fact, a worthy aim for any feedback. Like many other professions, academia is teeming with jargon of one kind or another. While it is not always possible to eradicate jargon completely from feedback, it should be minimised. It would, for instance, be counter-productive to assume that a languages student who has made a number of basic grammatical errors is well-versed in technical grammatical terms. While in no way advocating a ‘toning down’ approach to teaching and learning at university level, at the very least feedback should be accessible; to use complex terminology is more likely to obfuscate a problematic area for a student rather than aid understanding.

The second strand to the University’s commitment to feedback revolves around the term ‘meaningfulness.’ It is not unreasonable to assume that ‘meaningful’ feedback involves some form of end goal, that it serves a practical purpose. A common feedback approach, and one which I employ consistently in my own teaching, is the tripartite technique in which the teacher (or other feedback facilitator) first lists the areas of success in the assessment, then details areas for improvement or development, and finally issues the reasons to be confident for the future. Of all three sections, it is the second which has most relevance to the issue of ‘meaningfulness.’ Simply listing all the areas in which the assessment has aroused cause for concern is not in itself meaningful feedback. Rather, what the recipient of the feedback (in our case the student) wants is to receive some practical tips on how to address these causes for concern. This might include providing references to appropriate literature, including text books or other secondary material, or to relevant lecture notes to enable the student to develop their work ahead of the next assignment. Meaningful feedback does not necessarily mean providing step-by-step instructions for students to overcome problem areas; rather, through signposting appropriate learning materials, the feedback process remains an active, rather than passive, experience in what is sometimes called ‘feed forward.’

It is an all-too-common experience for university teachers to witness students simply note the mark for their assignment and ignore the accompanying feedback. One means of overcoming this demoralising trend is to list the mark after any feedback; while no means failsafe, it at least incentivises the student to read through feedback before looking at the mark. Through providing a series of scaffolded, practical measures for students to develop their work, without offering excessive explanations—and thus avoiding the pitfall of working for the student—feedback provides a meaningful plan for the future which maintains the student’s attention more than simply stating the areas of difficulty.

The final aspect of Warwick’s feedback commitment which merits discussion is the suggestion that feedback may be provided in ‘a variety of formats.’ Good feedback need not be delivered in a cutting-edge manner; indeed, some excellent feedback practitioners within the French department continue to handwrite their feedback. Nonetheless, it is important that feedback is accessible and, at a very basic level, legible. Providing feedback at the very end of an assignment, on the final page of an essay, for example, goes some way to ensuring it is digested by students. However, in an era where nearly every student in the lecture theatre or seminar room possesses at least a laptop, if not also a smart phone and a tablet, feedback can also take on digital forms. At a recent Window on Teaching event at the Teaching Grid, a particularly pertinent form of digital feedback was showcased by Russell Stannard, Principal Teaching Fellow in the Centre for Applied Linguistics.

Russell’s promotion of screen capture feedback offered an insight into employing Jing and Camtasia in a language-learning setting. While the length of screen captures on Jing is limited to just five minutes, Camtasia allows for prolonged feedback. Russell noted that one of the limits to the screen capture approach for language teaching is the temptation to focus too much on surface errors rather than deeper areas for development. What the capture software does offer, however, is the possibility to directly engage the student in a way that written feedback cannot. This helps to overcome the issue of ignoring feedback; if students are obliged to watch a five-minute screen capture, they might perhaps absorb some of the constructive comments. Having trialled Jing with a group of second-year undergraduates on the core French language module, this feedback method has struck me as immediately more interactive than traditional feedback. Nonetheless, teachers may find that they are obliged to read through the piece of work before recording the screen capture. Marking work ‘live’ requires a good deal more thought than working through an assignment having already highlighted areas of success or difficulty. Screen capture certainly offers an interactive feedback method, and its audio-visual nature is more striking than written notes, but it is certainly not without its limitations.

There is clearly no definitive method or technique for feedback, and this blog post has not intended to offer one. Through engaging with technology and through striving to provide feedback with tangible, practical means for development, however, teachers can go some way to meeting the reasonable expectations of students in the current higher education landscape. The continued dissemination of best practice across the institution—whether through Window on Teaching events or through initiatives like the ‘Fabulous Feedback’ competition—will also continue to drive up feedback standards at Warwick.

Internet resources on higher education feedback:

Series of best practice guides available via the Learning and Development Centre

Assessment and feedback resources at Queen’s University Belfast

University of Bradford assessment and feedback pages (includes some references to literature in the field)

September 04, 2012

Teaching Development Grants Available from HEA

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The Higher Education Academy have announced their departmental round of grants which is open to single departments in HEIs. Grants will be awarded to projects that encourage cooperation between colleagues to support the enhancement of learning and teaching.
Key themes for this academic year are assessment and feedback and flexible learning. Projects in these areas will be awarded 75% of available funding while the remaining 25% is dedicated to an open call for innovative pedagogic projects.
Projects will run for 15 months and applications may request up to £30,000 from the HEA.
The deadline for submissions is 5pm on Thursday 27 September.

May 02, 2012

Feedback practices climb up the strategic agenda at Warwick

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The University of Warwick is mounting a concerted effort to understand what students think about the feedback they receive on their formative and summative assessments and to think strategically about how best practice may be embedded to improve the student experience.

Recent initiatives include:

  • A joint IATL/Student Union campaign to survey student opinion on the feedback they receive and how their experience may be improved. The survey is here:
  • The recent Institutional Teaching and Learning Review which produced a report on feedback practices across the university highlighting the need to improve communication channels between students and departments and for guidance to be issued
  • The Teaching and Learning Showcase on 19th June will look at strategic approaches and practical implementation of feedback practices.

Those interested in research on feedback practices may find the project pages of It's Good to Talk: Feedback, Dialogue and Learning helpful. This is an NTFS funded project between Warwick, De Montfort and London Metropolitan universities.

April 04, 2012

Teaching and Learning Showcase 2012

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The University of Warwick's main event celebrating excellent practice in teaching and learning will take place on Tuesday 19th June.
The overall theme for this year’s event is Taking teaching forward – building on the institutional review.  Topics covered will include:
·        Assessment and feedback: strategic approaches and practical implementation
·        Technology-enhanced learning: digital and virtual learning environments
·        Widening Participation: Outreach and Inclusive Teaching
Interested in presenting and/or producing a poster for the showcase– find out more here – email

February 21, 2012

Teaching and Learning Review Reports published

Writing about web page

The Departmental reports emanating from the Teaching and Learning Review in November have now been published: note that only members of the University of Warwick are able to read the reports.

A number of thematic reports have also been published drawing together recommendations and/or concerns from across the university. These cover the following areas:

  • Widening Participation
  • Employability
  • Strategic Development
  • Personal Tutoring
  • Internationalisation
  • Assessment and Feedback
  • Research-Led Teaching
  • Joint Degrees
  • E-Learning and Virtual Learning Environments
  • Peer Evaluation of Teaching
  • Student Progression
  • Student Feedback
  • Space Allocation
  • Postgraduate Teaching Opportunities

There will be a series of "Faculty Engagements" in March for Faculties (or those taking part in the engagement mainly Heads of Departments and only one undergraduate and one postgraduate student) to consider faculty-wide issues.

October 04, 2011

Facilitating dialogue

The Language Centre has good reason to provide diverse ways of communicating - the process of communication is at the very heart of our teaching and learning experience. Over some years now we have tested many systems and have selected tools that allow our tutors and students to communicate in a range of ways according to the context and the communicative purpose. Asynchronous communication through voice boards captures a discussion for review and reflection; voice email allows direct spoken messages to travel through your inbox, synchronous formal communication can happen in one of our live classrooms and , most exciting yet, our instant messaging system connects course participants so they can collaborate at a distance. These tools provide 21st century solutions to a very old problem that is also a very important human need, the need to feel that we are not alone. The human voice is a very powerful tool, we should use it in online environments to support our learners. HEA funded research project ExAEF found that "formative audio feedback significantly enhances the student learning experience, improves their opportunities for flexible learning, and promotes good pedagogical practice". Clearly for languages it also helps us model second language use and provide opportunities to hone emerging language skills.
This presentation was delivered online to Edulearn 11:

August 17, 2011

Warwick student satisfaction scores

The NSS scores for 2011 have just been released by HEFCE. The headline figure for the university (overall satisfaction with the course) shows a slight movement downwards from the 2010 figures (from 89 to 88 per cent). This aggregate figure conceals wide variations between courses with satisfaction scores for particular subjects ranging from 70-98 per cent. German and Classics achieve the highest satisfaction rates. The feedback scores are more concerning with around half of departments receiving a score of below 60 per cent (and some below 15 per cent) for the question 'Feedback on my work was prompt'. This patchiness in performance shows that the dialogue between staff and students on effective student feedback needs urgently to continue.

The full set of data may be downloaded from the Unistats website.

May 30, 2011

The Challenge of Improving Feedback


The pdf file contains the slides of a presentation that I gave to the Aldwych Group (the students union officers of Russell Group universities) at Warwick in April. It is based on the interim findings of a research project that I am participating in: It's Good to Talk: Feedback, Dialogue and Learning. The project is funded by the National Teaching Fellowship project strand and is based at de Montfort University. It also draws upon the work of the King's-Warwick project which considered what research-intensive universities may provide for graduates of the 21st century.

Our research has found that there is a mismatch between what students want in terms of feedback and what academics/universities are supplying. Students appreciate tailored and very specfic individual feedback but often policies are leading to more generic forms with an emphasis on the contractual relationship.

We have now started to compile some recommendations for staff and for students so that both parties maximise the opportunities for dialogue and what we have termed, 'a mixed economy of feedback strategies'.

These are our draft tips for staff and students. They are very much at a preliminary stage and so we would love some feedback ourselves!

Developing feedback-dialogues - tips for lecturers:

Explicitly state to students when you are providing feedback

Consider the nature of your discipline and how this influences the types of feedback you currently use and how it may be developed further.

Use assignment exemplars for students to discuss

Create informal spaces to encourage dialogue

Build in opportunities for questions and challenges in your teaching

Incorporate a mixed economy of feedback delivery: audio, verbal, written, email, peer

Create a range of spaces for feedback delivery: seminars, tutorials, workshops, drop-in sessions

Build peer-to-peer feedback into module design

At the outset begin with a culture of sharing/feedback dialogues in your teaching

Ask students what aspects of their assignments they would like feedback on

Feedback-dialogue tips for students:

    Be confident! Feel the fear! Go and see your tutor for feedback!

      Prepare a few questions you want to ask before seeing your tutor

        Think about what you want feedback on e.g. structure, analysis, referencing?

          Discuss your assignments with other students (this is not ‘copying’)

            Learn how to give constructive, tactful and positive feedback to other students

              Ask for constructive assignment feedback comments from other students

                Give constructive assignment feedback comments to other students

                  Recognise different types of feedback opportunities – verbal, written, email, audio, peer, self

                    Think about when and where you can get feedback – seminars, tutorials, before/after a lecture, workshops, via email, phone, other students, yourself

                      Be organised – if you want feedback for your next assignment (from tutors or students) – don’t leave it until the last minute.

                        Use exemplars of assignments and discuss with other students – this will help you understand what is being required.

                          Further reading on feedback-dialogue

                          Bloxham, S & West, A (2007) Learning to write in higher education: Students’ perceptions of an intervention of developing understanding of assessment criteria, Teaching in Higher Education, 12 (1), pp. 77 – 89

                          Bloxham, S. & West, A. (2004) Understanding the rules of the game: marking peer assessment as a medium for developing students’ conceptions of assessment, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 29 (6), pp. 721-733

                          Burke, D. & Pieterick, J. (2010) Giving Students Effective Written Feedback, Buckingham: Open University Press

                          Duncan, N. (2007) ‘Feed – forward’: Improving students’ use of tutor comments, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 32 (3), pp. 271 – 283

                          Lea, M. & Street, B. (1998) Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach, Studies in Higher Education, 23 (2), pp.157- 172.

                          Liu, N.F and Carless, D. (2006) Peer Feedback: The Learning Element of Peer Assessment, Teaching in Higher Education, (11) 3, pp. 279–290

                          Nicol, D. J and Macfarlane – Dick, D, (2006) Formative assessment and self – regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice, Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2), pp. 199-218

                          Poulos, A. & Mahony, M. J. (2007) Effectiveness of feedback: the students’ perspective, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33 (2), pp.143 – 154

                          Sadler, D. R. (1998) Formative assessment: revisiting the territory, Assessment in Education, 5 (1), pp.77–84.


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