April 03, 2023

Democratising the feedback process

Blog 7 of our Diverse Assessment Learning Series, based on a recent keynote address as part of the Diverse Assessments WIHEA Learning Circle

Linda Enow photo

By Dr Linda Enow, from Newman University, Birmingham UK

We need to rethink feedback in Higher Education (HE). To examine feedback in HE, this contribution engages with democratic principles, and through Audio-Visual feedback (AVF) interrogates current feedback practices. Some current gaps in feedback research are on understanding the nature of student engagement and interaction with feedback, relational constituents of feedback processes, and the role of technology in supporting feedback processes. This paper posits that power imbalance with feedback is a barrier to effective feedback engagement and interaction. Embedded in the, now challenged, conceptualisation of feedback giver and feedback recipient dynamic is implicit power imbalance. A further challenge for feedback is the over-reliance on written feedback within which is arguably entrenched the ‘product’ conceptualisation of feedback. Through the exploration of democratic and cognitive requirements of feedback, this contribution traces an outlook which values equitable relationships and emphasises the positioning of feedback as a process. Insights on feedback processes in this piece have emerged from empirical work on audio-visual feedback.

Where we are in HE with assessment design?

Significant strides are being taken to design diverse assessment tasks in HE. These tasks are designed with due consideration of the diverse student population and established knowledge of andragogy. Typically, assessment design aims to showcase inclusion. With graduate outcome requirements for HEIs in the UK, assessments subsequently engage with the more utilitarian constituent of seeking applicability in workplace settings. Perhaps assessments should be more dynamic, for instance generated from cohort identity and depth of knowledge of the practice requirements of students, rather than current static assessment practices. In any case, progress made with assessment design and the thinking behind assessment practices demonstrates the ongoing effort of Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) to be diverse in their practices, and this is welcome effort in the right direction.

As we diversify assessments, is feedback left behind?

In the context of assessment, the corresponding element of feedback is left behind. Written feedback remains the dominant feedback mode. A small proportion engages with audio-feedback, typically as a one-off. Audio-Visual Feedback (AVF) despite demonstrating its multimodal composition (see West & Turner, 2016) is minimally used compared to written feedback and audio feedback (Lowenthal, 2021; Nicol, 2012). Audio-visual feedback is inclusive, multimodal, precise, and retains its quality over time hence guaranteeing portability. The nature of AVF embeds verbal feedback with access to the written assignment, and the use of technology to enable precision. Verbalising naturally offers more depth in explanation with the added advantage of capturing relational constituents of feedback. AVF is a suitable format for the thinking or the cognitive composition of the feedback to become explicit (see Nicol, 2021). For all involved in the feedback process engagement and interaction are both enhanced. A summation of these strengths is reflected in Payne et al. (2022) positioning audio and video feedback modes as humanising.

We no longer ‘give’ feedback

Contemporary research on feedback processes tracks the evolution of feedback from the now defunct perception of information which was given to the students, to the contemporary understanding that; first of all feedback is a process, and secondly feedback is dialogic, ongoing and embedded with andragogical expectations, as well as aspirations of transferability and portability (e.g. de Kleijn, 2023; Winstone et al., 2022a). Equipped with the understanding that saying you are giving feedback is no longer acceptable (Winstone, et al., 2022b) from the andragogical perspective, this paper makes the case to re-think feedback processes from the bases of democratic principles. Educating, especially in HEIs in the UK, is based on foundational democratic principles imbued with a variety of duties, rights and responsibilities. Power imbalance is therefore in conflict with these democratic principles. From the position of evaluating HEIs in the UK, Winstone et al., (2022b: 1524) raises the concern that National Student Survey (NSS) questions “promote an outdated view of feedback as information transmitted from teacher to student in a timely and specific manner, largely ignoring the role of the student in learning through feedback processes”.

How do we democratise feedback?

Democratic principles advocate freedoms, rights and responsibilities. If we think about feedback following democratic principles, we interrogate primarily the power imbalance in the lecturer-student relationship. The lecturer is in the powerful position of ownership of the feedback which they ‘give’ to the student (see Matthews, et al., 2021). The sense of ownership of the feedback content is taken away from the student and the student becomes a recipient. This power imbalance means the student has a skewed relationship with this feedback which is being imposed on them. What is the student to do with this feedback which has been given to them? What if the student does not identify with the feedback which has been given? Carless (2015:28) declares; impact on learning is limited unless students are actively engaging with feedback processes, and ultimately acting on feedback. Consensus on what these processes constitute is yet to be arrived at as De Kleijn (2023) requests clarity of the activities and strategies which must be applied in these feedback processes. When democratic principles are not followed, distance is created between the student and the feedback process.

In contrast to the lecturer-student feedback element, there is strong uptake of peer-feedback. Peer feedback (see Deneen & Hoo, 2023) supports feedback dialogue, evidences students’ feedback literacy and supports development of self-regulation skills. The strong interest in peer feedback is a result of the significant benefits. Nicol and McCallum (2022) assert that powerful insights are generated from student feedback, at times more powerful than teacher feedback. From the research which this contribution on democratising feedback draws on, the strength of peer feedback is being explored and understood from the position of power. There is the opportunity to redesign assessments to possibly capture and support these peer feedback partnerships linking them to assessment design. Moving away from the conceptualisation of feedback as product, to feedback as process serves to further democratisation of feedback. Careful consideration in incorporating peer feedback within this process contributes to improving feedback dialogue, and to establishing tangible steps. Continuing this dialogue using the audio-visual mode opens up relational spaces and further enhances feedback processes.

Audio-Visual Feedback (AVF)

The discursive nature of AVF assists in personalising feedback and modelling the expectation for engaging with feedback. The multimodal nature of audio-visual feedback (Lacković, and Popova, 2021) necessitates active designation of time to not only engage with feedback, but to interact with feedback. AVF supports the transition of feedback into a process. There is a challenge embedded in this; assessment design minimally factors in feedback avenues and suitable allocation of time for AVF. This is understandable as written feedback is dominant in HEIs in the UK. In order for AVF to attain its full potential, HEIs need to re-work their assessment and feedback policies. Re-working policies is definitely not to give more time to turnaround times; rather this is more time to work on effectively embedding AVF as a viable feedback avenue. AVF is not without its potential challenges. One example is large class sizes and staffing limitations in some HEIs. A potential solution is considering AVF for group assessments and group feedback. Teaching in HEIs is inherently multimodal; combining written, audio and audio-visual content. Why is feedback disproportionately in one format?

Some points to facilitate change
  1. Undertake an audit of feedback formats; recording written format, audio format, and audio-visual format.
  2. Interrogate power imbalance relating to feedback and explore institution-focused and relevant ways to improve the power imbalance.
  3. Co-design feedback processes in line with contemporary co-designing of assessments. Ensure feedback is not an add-on or an after-thought to assessments (see Ajjawi and Boud, 2018).
  4. Review assessment and feedback policies.
  5. Equity: establish feedback processes reflective of advances in learning, teaching and scholarship.
What next?

Feedback is a process involving students and lecturers in a shared space. Cognitive, sociocultural, social constructivist positions, amongst others are at play and space needs to be created for democratic principles. Alongside making sense of feedback, cognitive drivers pass judgement on the utility of feedback, and decision making guides portability of feedback. This contribution advocates the externalisation of these cognitive constituents as a precursor to democratising feedback. The argument is; the student has a right to know. Knowing in this way is empowering. Through democratisation, the student evolves from the position of a recipient to that of a partner in the feedback process. Partnership conjures images of ownership, responsibility and duties. Democratising feedback, through the medium of audio-visual feedback (AVF) removes the power imbalance, showcases the dialogic nature of feedback, and enhances subsequent portability of knowledge and skills. Whilst there is empirical work on feedback as a process, implementation in the structures of HEIs is yet to follow.

This is the 7th blog in our diverse assessment series. Previous blogs can be found here:

Blog 1: Launch of the learning circle (Isabel Fischer & Leda Mirbahai): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/interested_in_diverse/

Blog 2: Creative projects and the ‘state of play’ in diverse assessments (Lewis Beer): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/creative_projects_and/

Blog 3: Student experience of assessments (Molly Fowler): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/a_student_perspective/

Blog 4: Assessment Strategy – one year after starting the learning circle (Isabel Fischer & Leda Mirbahai): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/one_year_on/

Blog 5: Learnings and suggestions based on implementing diverse assessments in the foundation year at Warwick (Lucy Ryland): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/learnings_suggestions_based/

Blog 6: How inclusive is your assessment strategy? (Leda Mirbahai): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/blog_6_how/

Join the Diverse Assessment Learning Circle: If you would like to join the learning circle please contact the co-leads: Leda Mirbahai, Warwick Medical School (WMS) (Leda.Mirbahai@warwick.ac.uk) and Isabel Fischer, Warwick Business School (WBS) (Isabel.Fischer@wbs.ac.uk). This LC is open to non-WIHEA members.


Ajjawi, R. & Boud, D. (2018) 'Examining the nature and effects of feedback dialogue', Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43:7, 1106-1119, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1434128 https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1434128

Carless, D. (2015) Excellence in university assessment: learning from award-winning practice. London: Routledge.

Deneen, C. C. & Hoo, H-T. (2023) 'Connecting teacher and student assessment literacy with self-evaluation and peer feedback', Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 48:2, 214-226, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2021.1967284 https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2021.1967284

de Kleijn, R. A. M. (2023) 'Supporting student and teacher feedback literacy: an instructional model for student feedback processes', Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 48:2, 186-200, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2021.1967283

Lacković, N. & Popova, B. (2021) 'Multimodality and socio-materiality of lectures in global universities’ media: accounting for bodies and things', Learning, Media and Technology, 46:4, 531-549, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2021.19286

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