The Power of Feedback

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Discussions around pedagogy tend to focus on assessments and less on feedback. Of course, assessment represents one form of feedback and feedback touches on so many aspects of teaching and learning, that any digital transformation project – like the one at my now-former employer, the accountancy training institute – must keep approaches to feedback central to the discussion.

Feedback transcends the classroom and we find ourselves receiving or giving feedback in various formal and informal ways; in the workplace, at home, and in the wider world. Being a parent entails delivering constant feedback, most of it unwelcome from the recipient. Feedback can be extremely casual and sudden, as would happen in a class discussion where one student might challenge another’s argument. Because feedback happens universally and in so many different ways, we sometimes aren’t even aware that we are giving or receiving feedback.

Feedback processes are contentious. At a former employer, an annual review process required line managers to score employees across their objectives. I strongly disagreed with this process, as I felt that the rubric was unclear and could create inconsistency across teams in how scores were calibrated. As an unexpected consequence, employees became fixated with achieving certain numbers and lost track of the actual objectives along the way.

In the classroom, feedback provides students with a touch point with the instructor, a point in the learning process, where students can check in and establish any course correction necessary, ideally at a point before the summative assessment, which is clearly a form of feedback as well. Defining the art of feedback sparks debate; a seminal study by Hattie & Timperley (2007) highlights how feedback can alternately encourage, discourage or fail to penetrate, depending on the form the feedback takes, with personal feedback being the least effective. Additionally, they point out that the form that feedback takes should be determined by the instructor, based on the classroom climate.

Online instructors face unique challenges in reading the room when there is no room, and particularly where the bulk of delivery occurs asynchronously. This is certainly the case in SBOSE and yet, the instructors consider and execute feedback with consideration. Last term, I received video feedback for my formative assignment and found it a surprisingly enriching compared to the traditional form of written feedback.

It was hard for me to pinpoint why I found this form of feedback so rewarding. Referring to research, I found that I was not alone; students generally prefer video feedback to text and audio feedback because it feels more personalised and offers opportunity to demonstrate particular areas of consideration in an assignment (McCarthy, 2015). Video feedback also increases social presence, creating a human link between instructor and student even when there is no real-time exchange taking place (Thomas, 2017). This is an opportunity to engage with the learner that encompasses academic and non-academic support.

SBOSE required that we both give and receive feedback on group work. I was initially reticent to open myself up to peer review. I have yet to judge how effective I find peer feedback as a recipient; the feedback will be delivered at the end of term. I have found the process of giving peer feedback overwhelmingly helpful in formulating my own thoughts and approaches to work this term.

The process of evaluating peers requires a moment of reflection, where I must extend beyond my initial reaction to whether a particular activity was a success or not, and to pinpoint and explain why I feel the way I do. The justification is much harder to generate and it has forced me to think about how I might have approached my own assignment differently. Observing how my peers have approached the assignment has allowed me to consider emulating their successes and avoiding their pitfalls. Furthermore, I am judging what I consider a success and what I don’t.

At my new employer, a learning technology company, feedback is a central concern of member universities and many of them are experimenting with different ways of communicating with students about their progress. They relate that the form of feedback elicits different reactions from one cohort of students to another. This demonstrates how individualised feedback could be and that there is no exact science in how best to respond to and guide students’ work. Experimentation with methods is yet another way educators can change their approach to teaching online.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research77(1), 81-112.

McCarthy, J. (2015). Evaluating written, audio and video feedback in higher education summative assessment tasks. Issues in Educational Research25(2), 153-169.

Thomas, R. A., West, R. E., & Borup, J. (2017). An analysis of instructor social presence in online text and asynchronous video feedback comments. The Internet and Higher Education33, 61-73.

Van Popta, E., Kral, M., Camp, G., Martens, R. L., & Simons, P. R. J. (2017). Exploring the value of peer feedback in online learning for the provider. Educational Research Review20, 24-34.

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