Feedback through technology

The results of our assessment influence our students for the rest of their lives and careers – fine if we get it right, but unthinkable if we get it wrong. – Phil Race, 2009

There is a tremendous amount of work being done throughout the sector to enhance student feedback. Feedback is an essential part of effective learning. It helps students understand the subject being studied and gives them clear guidance on how to improve their learning. Feedback can improve a student’s confidence, self-awareness and enthusiasm for learning. Substantial developments in educational technology allow staff to speed up feedback provision, to provide more detailed feedback and to encourage greater engagement of students with the feedback process.

According to Gibbs and Simpson (2004), good teacher feedback should focus on what students have achieved and what they need to do next. It should be timely, so ideally it should be available when students are ‘stuck’, when it will have maximum impact, and in time to improve subsequent assignments. Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) maintained that good-quality feedback should ultimately be geared to helping students to learn to trouble-shoot and self-correct their own performance. This might be achieved by providing feedback which, rather than giving the answer, points students to where to find the answer (for example, ‘go back to p 35 in the text and rethink how you would explain this point in future’), or by providing feedback on students’ attempts to self-assess their own work.

Other strategies known to enhance the power of teacher feedback include linking feedback information to assessment criteria, providing corrective advice and not just information on strengths and weaknesses, and prioritising specific areas for improvement. There is evidence that ‘feed-forward’ information is more effective than feedback information. Such information does not just tell students where they went wrong, but also what to focus on to make improvements in subsequent tasks (Knight, 2006). This helps to stimulate transfer of learning to new problems.

Both Yorke (2005) and Tinto (2005) have argued that teacher feedback is of critical importance to student learning, especially in the first year of undergraduate study. Teacher feedback helps to reinforce academic expectations in the early stages of a module or programme, and is especially important when academic demands differ from those experienced by students before entering HE (Yorke and Longden, 2004). Teacher feedback is also a source against which students can check their understanding of assessment requirements, criteria and standards.

Through feedback, students can learn from their mistakes and misconceptions and build on achievements. Over time, teacher feedback should help students to develop accurate perceptions of their abilities and establish internal standards against which to evaluate their own work.  Research shows that a great deal of feedback given to students is delayed (for example, feedback on the first assignment not being given until after the second assignment is due), not understood, demotivating and does not provide any guidance for future action. So how can technology fix that? The following screencast illustrates how I have used two features of the learning management systems – Moodle, to issue timely comprehensive feedback to students.

I would appreciate any thoughts that you have on how technology can enhance feedback and possibly some examples that you would be willing to share.

Further weblinks –

Related posts: Rubrics, Audacity, Moodle


About Mark Glynn

Head of Teaching Enhancement Unit, Dublin City University

Posted on January 18, 2012, in Feedback, Moodle, TEL. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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