Encouraging students to “engage with” feedback

Feedback is a big issue in University teaching just now. The National Student Survey and the various league tables of how good each course is supposed to be quite reasonably emphasise the importance of giving timely and appropriate feedback on student work. However, evidence is increasingly indicating that the problem is not with the quality of feedback, but with getting students actually to read it! Many of us have had the discouraging experience of handing back work with our timely and appropriate comments on it only to see the students glance at the mark, smile or frown, and then pack the work into their deep-storage folders without even looking at our timely and appropriate advice.

So, what can we do to encourage students to read the feedback? Well, perhaps the answer is in my question: perhaps “reading” is not what they want to do. There has been a lot of work recently in things like audio feedback, podcasts, and so on. In an ideal world there would be time to chat over each student’s work with them individually with a nice cup of tea. Perhaps they would benefit from seeing a model answer to compare with their own submission. Perhaps they need to buzz-group with their peers or peer-mentors. I’m sure there are hundreds of good and effective approaches out there being trialled by staff working hard to help students reflect effectively on their returned work.

I am old school, and I still like the idea of returning a marked-up script to the student, but I realise that is not always an effective way to be heard. Increasingly I try to capture the students in a crossfire of feedback that they can barely dodge, however much they twist or turn or duck and dive: comments on the essay, an email to the whole group, a few cogent tweets, a model answer in the Virtual Learning Environment, a few words in the next tutorial, and one-to-one meetings for the students who want them. You might think saturation feedback (scattergun feedback) like that would get at least a few pellets into the target. I am not entirely confident.

Perhaps a desperate last resort would be to set as their next assessment a two thousand word essay summarising and responding to the tutor’s feedback on their last piece of work. In fact, how about basing the module assessment on a feedback exam, where, instead of asking them to write an essay, we ask them to explain what the tutor thought was good and bad about their coursework, and to comment on the validity of the tutor’s views. Revising for that exam would at least encourage them to take a look at what I wrote on their coursework!

One comment

  1. Gareth DLaT

    Written feedback is important, but just as important (if not more so is talking). I am more inclined to listen to and act on the words of a person who has taken the time to talk to me as an individual rather than a “hastily” penned comment in the margin of an essay, thesis, presentation, report etc.

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