We’ve heard a lot about feedback on the Futures blog over the past month. As a key component of education and one that remains a challenge in today’s learning environment the IMLs’ ‘Hot Topic’ focus has brought a range of perspectives and techniques to improve how feedback can occur.
We also know from student surveys that feedback is often a point of frustration and contention for learners. I talked with Andrew Pyke and Joshua Dymock from HELPS, and Brenton James from the Jumbunna Learning Assistance Program to try and get a clearer understanding of the issues students report in relation to feedback when they engage with student learning assistance and support programs.
A common complaint from students is that feedback is provided too late for them to action before submitting their next assignment. Feedback that is received after or just before the next due date is likely to only produce stress rather than assist learners to improve their approach. Some students also reported that they had not received substantive feedback before the census date. This makes it difficult for them to determine if they should proceed with a subject or if they are in fact not ready to take it on.
Marks vs feedback
Some students have a tendency to focus on the grade they receive and pay little attention to the feedback that is provided, but students also report frustrations in relation to test or exam-based assessments where they only receive a mark and no written feedback. Without the means to identify specific areas to focus upon for improvement, they can be left feeling disheartened with no clear path to improvement.
Quality vs quantity
Understanding feedback is key to identifying what to focus upon for their next assignment. Noting multiple issues in an assignment with a short comment may seem like a thorough provision of feedback but these short comments may not provide enough information to the student. Another approach is to take one or two significant issues and provide specific information on what has gone wrong and what could be done better next time. This can assist the student in being confident in knowing where to focus their efforts next.
Assessment design that incorporates feedback
Many students focus on assessments over learning in a subject. This may not fit an idealised version of the perfect student who is eager to soak up all available knowledge, but it’s likely the reality for many student juggling work and other pressures. By embedding feedback processes as formal steps in an assessment design it’s more likely that students will engage with the feedback process. This approach also assures that the feedback can be usefully put into action.
Student learning services
Both Jumbunna Learning Assistance Program and HELPS are free services available to students where they can get one on one assistance in understanding and planning for assignments, understanding feedback and a range of other academic skills. In addition the Student Learning Hub and UTS Library, both offer a range of micro training programs and assistance services to support students in their learning journey at UTS. Not all student are aware of the support that is available to them so its worthwhile posting links in subject sites or messaging students to let them know that they can reach out.