Dr Martin Barker, School of Biological Sciences, tells us how engaging students with feedback can enhance their learning experience, and it can also help us understand how they perceive our comments.
Engaging students with feedback can enhance their learning experience, and it can also help us understand how they perceive our comments. This is what I call ‘iterative feedback’, which I described in a research paper (2014): Closing the feedback loop? Iterative feedback between tutor and student in coursework assessments. The paper emerged from a PG Cert course that I did at the University of Aberdeen. In the paper, one practical example of iterative feedback in Higher Education was in using iterative feedback for credit, as an additional component of either formative or summative assessments.
In iterative feedback for credit, each student is given the opportunity to respond to feedback on their work. The quality of the student’s response is graded, based on a
clearly available set of descriptors. The grade from this iterative feedback is then used to recalculate the overall grade for the assessment. In using this approach, I make it clear to students that the recalculated grade will either remain the same as the original grade or be increased. I do not allow the recalculated grade to be lower, since I do not want students from being deterred from providing iterative feedback.
In courses so far, I have offered iterative feedback as an option for students. Students who respond tend to be already highly motivated and engaged. But within their iterative feedback students often state how much they welcome a chance to explain how (or whether) they understood the feedback given to them. Such students frequently emphasise the value of feedforward, in which they discuss making improvements in future assignments. As part of this overall process, as the marker, I gain insights about how students have understood my comments. This helps me to learn how to write more effective feedback.
The strongest (and arguably most important) impact of iterative feedback for credit has been the ways in which students use the opportunity to carefully reflect on their past performance and think about ways to improve the quality of their future work. Beyond this, there has been a resonance to my paper on iterative feedback itself. Among 11 citations, Prof David Carless stated: “I found your article... most insightful. I intend to cite [it] in my future work,” while on Twitter Prof Steve Race referred to “Loads of good ideas for iterative feedback here”.
I have included descriptions of iterative feedback for credit in informal discussions with colleagues, in institution-level conferences, in conferences (nationally and internationally) and in a webinar. I hope to include case studies in future conferences in which I focus on what I call ‘dynamic feedback’. Actually, in applying for the Principal’s Teaching Excellence Award I hope there might be a chance to widen awareness and, perhaps, use of this method for improving students’ learning experience.