Student feedback surveys suggest that students want ‘more feedback’. While we can move forward and build actions based on a certain perception of what this means, there is still room to question what ‘feedback’ means to students and what problem giving ‘more’ of it would solve for them.

How can we give ‘more’?

Recent research has shown that there are significant differences between what students and academics think of as the best or most meaningful feedback. By considering this we can identify what learners actually desire and what we can provide that isn’t as resource-intensive as simply doing ‘more’.

From recent interviews with UTS academics and Learning and Teaching support staff, we observed that staff read this request for feedback as a call for rich, critical analysis so that they can improve discipline knowledge/skills and develop more successful learners. But what students may benefit from more in these instances is a general check of their direction at regular intervals.

Quick direction checks, long-term gains

Learners do not want to be spending time pursuing ineffective avenues. They have many different priorities with little time to be unproductive, so a quick word of validation from a mentor can help inspire confidence in their investment. No-one likes getting to the end of a project and then finding that they have been moving in the wrong direction from the start because the correct feedback wasn’t available!

Similarly, depending on their learner identity and experience, there may be quite a bit of anxiety around whether they are performing in a way that will allow them to progress through the course (or in line with their personal grade expectations). Confirmation that they are performing adequately provides the support needed so they can instead focus on the qualities of the work itself.

From a position of embedded discipline knowledge, teaching staff can forget how adrift students can feel in a new knowledge space. While the call for feedback might be read as a request for a balanced assessment of their sailing technique (a request that seems difficult to satisfy with the time and resources available), what students might actually just be wanting to know is if they are kinda heading north. 

Consequently, the problem that ‘more feedback’ solves for students is greater confidence and decreased anxiety in a space where they are trying to grapple with many things that are new. Ultimately, they want to feel like they are taking less unsupported risks.

A directed response to help your students navigate

With this as the actual need there are perhaps different methods and practices that could be used to respond to this desire for ‘more feedback’ that would actually be possible with the time and resources available. Asynchronous quizzes, peer feedback, or self reflection checklists might provide the sight that learners need to perceive that they are going in the right direction and put little weight on teaching staff, hopefully freeing up time for richer feedback interactions.

We all like to get guidance on whether we are heading in the right direction. By considering how you can add some light touch points to your wider feedback ecosystem, you can give students what they need to triangulate their own position and find their own way with confidence.

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