Thursday, February 21, 2019

Feedback as part of Learning #FeedBack, #FeedUp, #FeedForward

I am not often asked by students to give feedback on an exam paper - just a handful over the past few years. Almost always in my experience, when a student requests a feedback session they want to know "where did I lose marks". Students also may feel that they should have got a higher mark - and want to question their grade. My feedback experience with students is largely positive - most are satisfied with their grade once we go through their answers and marks awarded.

While reading the Science of Learning by the Deans for Impact earlier this week I noted that they place a huge emphasis on the benefits of feedback. For the cognitive principle "effective feedback is often essential to acquiring new knowledge and skills" - their advice relating to the practical implication for the classroom is:

Good feedback is: 

  • Specific and clear
  • Focused on the task rather than the student
  • Explanatory and focused on improvement rather than merely verifying performance

Sound advice indeed - I have found that most of my feedback sessions are focused on performance in an exam rather than on improvement. 

John Hattie and Helen Timperley of the University of Auckland (2007) proposed a model of feedback to enhance learning:

Source: Columbia University.
This model encourages "Feed Up" and "Feed Forward" as well as "Feed Back" - the purpose of which is to "reduce discrepancies between current understanding/performance and a desired goal". The model is very much forward looking and is much more than "where did I lose marks". In a way it is a pity that an individual feedback session is not done automatically for all students. We do it for continuous assessment - my practice is to give general feedback in class and offer students the opportunity to request further feedback if they want to (but only a handful do). But most students will want to move on after end of semester exams. Almost always it is about a month between sitting an exam and getting results - feedback will lose its value after such a long time. There are also practical implications restricting individual feedback for all - think of how long it would take to do for a class of 50 students!

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