Joining the dots to ensure learners and teachers are in sync with feedback is something that most academics and students grapple with across their learning and teaching lifespans. At the recent First and Further Year Experience (FFYE) Forum, more than 100 attendees explored the complexities of learning-focused feedback, with the voices of casual tutors in attendance providing an especially important perspective in understanding how it works in action. 

Student and teacher feedback role play

Beginning with a student presentation and teacher feedback role play, which showed an exaggerated and unproductive scenario, the first part of the forum revealed some interesting points about student preparation for, and teacher facilitation of useful feedback. 

Some of these points articulated by attendees in breakout rooms and in further discussion included:

  1. Using a clear marking criteria or rubric.
  2. Giving specific and authentic advice with resources to support as required.
  3. Being respectful and empathetic towards the student, acknowledging them properly and providing a safe environment.
  4. Enabling students to resubmit to improve (using feedback) where possible or better still having formative opportunities before the graded submission.
  5. Utilising a more dialogic approach with the focus on the student and their learning needs.

The exercise showed that both teacher and student feedback literacy are integral parts of the process. Ideally, students should have a hand in creating the rubric or guidelines or, at least try to evaluate their own performance according to a set of agreed upon criteria. Opportunities for students to practise a presentation (for teacher, peer or other stakeholder feedback) or submit a formative draft were seen as extremely useful practices.

Carless and Winstone’s dimensions of teacher feedback literacy

Next, participants considered Carless and Winstone’s (2020), dimensions of teacher feedback literacy. These dimensions drew out further insights, building on the previous discussion with a focus on the context of the participants. Carless and Winstone suggest that teacher feedback literacy has three features:

1. Designing for uptake 

Assessment and feedback processes need to be designed with sufficient guidance in a supportive, timely and technologically-enhanced manner.

Contextualised examples included:

  • Linking scaffolded assessment tasks where students can apply feedback to subsequent task/s.
  • Engaging students in dialogue around the interpretation of the marking criteria.
  • Providing opportunities for students to evaluate exemplars using the marking criteria to develop judgement of what ‘good’ means.
  • Providing opportunities for low-stakes peer discussions on drafts of work.
  • Live feedback during video tutorials using Google Docs.
  • Students remotely recording and uploading presentations to receive peer feedback via the LMS or another tool, like SPARKPlus,
  • Opportunities designed specifically for individual work and group work.
  • Opportunities to reflect with self, peers and tutors formally and informally, with some consideration of how students incorporated or responded to suggestions.

2. Relational sensitivities

Relational aspects involve providing feedback in a caring and sensitive way, engaging students as partners, and utilising technology to provide personalised responses (eg. video and audio).

Contextualised examples included:

  • Creating a culture of openness where staff and students engage in dialogue around expectations, and students feel safe to ask questions.
  • Building rapport with students and sharing experiences.
  • Using supportive, meaningful and clear language that’s sensitive to the effects of critique.
  • Identifying students at risk and checking in with them about their obstacles to engagement.
  • Addressing feedback received from students during the tutorial to demonstrate that their voices are being heard.
  • Utilising audio tools on Canvas, as tone of voice can provide a more human element.
  • Varying type (written, recorded, face to face) to cater for diversity.
  • Encouraging students to take responsibility for their own academic writing improvement, using technologies like Grammarly, ProctorU, Turnitin and AcaWriter.

3. Managing practicalities

This involves finding ways to deliver feedback in a pragmatic, balanced manner commensurate with teacher workload and timeliness, and engaging the whole teaching team in devising approaches to assessment and feedback.

Contextualised examples included:

  • Finding the most efficient ways to give feedback given workload constraints (verbal/immediate).
  • Providing feedback to breakout-room groups based on small in-class exercises.
  • Orienting any recommendations toward future outcomes, such as the next assessment or future industry practice, rather than just as a mere ‘justification’ for a grade.
  • Offering additional sessions for students to ask the tutor questions about their feedback.
  • Using quizzes or self-diagnostic surveys for immediacy and scaling up for large cohorts.
  • Maximising use of time as instructor, asking why students are being assessed.
  • Considering the discord between feedback and institutional challenges; managing practicalities of shifting cultural practices.
  • Connecting the marking team with the teaching team. 
  • Co-constructing assessment criteria/rubrics and managing practicalities around this.

The Studio Crit case study 

The final segment of the forum examined the traditional Studio Crit in Architecture, a presentation of work in front of peers and a panel of teachers or experts. Crits are fundamental to the discipline, involve industry expertise, and provide vital opportunities for students to improve. 

Samantha Donnelly (Architecture) and Aurora Murphy (Academic Language and Learning) engaged students and tutors to better understand their feelings on studio crits. Their research identified areas for improvement to facilitate students’ uptake of feedback, rather than make them feel intimidated by the experience. Themes discussed earlier in the forum were echoed here and included: student preparedness and identifying the inspirational nature of the process; encouraging students to self assess and reflect; including peer participation; preparing tutors to give relevant and supportive comments; and ensuring the student can use their evaluations for future opportunities.

An opportunity for collaborative reflection on feedback

Forums such as these are integral for continuing conversations about the shift from a dominant teacher-centred ‘transmission model’ focused on summative assessment tasks to more formative, low-stakes activities that improve student learning. Integrating frequent feedback loops into our everyday teaching provides students with continuous opportunities for improvement. Engaging students as partners, creating opportunities for dialogue, sense-making activities around expectations, and awareness that feedback is a learning relationship which begins with the culture of the classroom are all essential components of good practice.

Reference: David Carless & Naomi Winstone (2020): Teacher feedback literacy and its interplay with student feedback literacy, Teaching in Higher Education, Published online 22 June, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2020.1782372.

Feature image by Freepik.

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