School of Art: Feedback notes for Students

This week Associate Professor Peter Ellis, Deputy Head of School, Learning and Teaching, School of Art writes about his school’s guidelines on how to explain feedback to students in the creative disciplines.

School of Art: Feedback notes for Students
Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Group Tutorials
Individual Tutorial Guidelines

Year 1 Student Chloe Caday in feedback session with Dr. Robin KingstonThis week’s Teaching TomTom post seeks to provide staff in the college of Design and Social Context (DSC) with some guidelines on how to explain feedback to students in the creative disciplines. The notes have been designed for students within the School of Art, but may be of interest for other schools too.

Attached to this post are Notes on feedback for students designed to inform students on, what feedback is, the types of feedback, how it is given and by whom.

The main idea behind this document is to provide new introductory students and staff with some useful notes on the importance of feedback and how it can be adapted for individual tutorials, Work Integrated Learning Group Tutorials, and Formative and Summative assessment.

The key points being that feedback is a continuous activity, not just at assessment, that it is the way students learn and that it is designed to:

  • Inform them on how well they are meeting the criteria for assessment
  • Inform them on how well they are meeting the learning objectives of courses or projects within courses.

Feedback is designed to:

  • Be supportive, clear, and honest
  • Assist in moving forward with their work in a confident, positive and manageable way
  • Be delivered in a way that clearly indicates what they should do to improve their work and how to move forward to the next level of their learning

Feedback should focus on the successful things your students are doing well, as well as things that need more attention, in order to improve and make their work stronger. Feedback is inclusive, individual and supportive. It is important that all feedback is given in a collegial, positive and supportive learning environment, where there is respect for individual opinion, gender and cultural diversity.

It includes strategies for conducting tutorials including the use of WIL feedback forms that are designed for students to record and reflect upon feedback provided to them by peers and lecturers during WIL group tutorials. The WIL forms that the student present for assessment clearly enables staff to ascertain if the student has understood the feedback that was offered to them.

The WIL form allows students to upload an image of the art work discussed, six keywords that exemplify the work, a description of the artist’s intentions for the work, a section to record the peer and lecturer feedback, and a section on how they will progress with the work after reflection on the feedback. WIL feedback forms also have a section for students to record suggestions from peers and staff about artists they should research, both historic and contemporary, bibliographic ideas, writers, films, critical theory, websites, magazines, YouTube etc. that may be useful for the their progress.

In an environment where the Course Experience Survey (CES) is an important tool for measuring student responses to the feedback we provide, it is crucial that both students and staff are aware of the importance of explaining and understanding what feedback is, that it is continuous in studios every day and is provided in a positive and supportive way.

The feedback we provide must be informed and supportive to encourage, inspire and provide strategies for continual improvement.

Please find some time to look at the attached Notes on feedback for students and provide advice.

I acknowledge Sally Mannall’s assistance in the preparation of the attached notes for students.


Share your thoughts, comments or start a discussion on ‘Explaining Feedback to Students’ by leaving a reply in the comments section!

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RMIT’s 2014 Learning and Teaching Expo

Posted by: Meaghan Botterill,  Senior Coordinator, Educational Technology Integration, e-Learning Strategy and Innovation Group, RMIT University.

Click on the image to register for the event.

Click on the image to register for the event.

RMIT’s annual Learning and Teaching Expo is on 2-3 September, 2014. This is a great opportunity to catch up on what is happening both nationally and locally in learning and teaching. Last year the Expo was a great success, so come and join colleagues from across the university to discuss and explore innovative practices that enhance student learning outcomes.

This year’s theme, Designing Teaching, Creating Learning, explores how good teaching design and pedagogical practices create and enhance student learning opportunities and outcomes. There will be an extensive range of speakers, presentations and workshops from across RMIT and the program features the following guests:

  • Professor James Arvanitakis from the University of Western Sydney who was the 2012 Prime Minister’s Teacher of the Year award winner. James’ passion and enthusiasm for teaching is apparent to any of you who have ever seen him present before. He is continually looking for ways to make connections with his students and to make learning relevant, accessible and exciting.
  • Professor Ruth Wallace is the Director of the Northern Institute, at Charles Darwin University. Her particular interests are related to undertaking engaged research that improves outcomes for stakeholders in regional and remote Australia. Ruth has extensive experience in innovative delivery of compulsory, post-school and VE programs in regional and remote areas across Northern Australia.
  • Associate Professor Nicolette Lee is from Victoria University and she is a 2013 OLT National Senior Teaching Fellow. Her project, Capstone curriculum across disciplines, synthesises theory, practice and policy to provide practical tools for curriculum design. It builds on previous and current work in the sector to identify capstone innovations and models-in-use, how standards might be demonstrated through a range of approaches, and providing publicly available and comprehensive practical tools for staff.
  • Associate Professor John Munro is from the University of Melbourne. John’s research, teaching and publications are in the fields of literacy and mathematics learning, and learning difficulties, learning internationally, gifted learning, professional learning and school improvement. His focus on neurology and the brain form the basis of designing explicit teaching strategies to create learning in diverse student cohorts.
This is a great opportunity to learn more about learning and teaching and what we as educators can do to design teaching to create learning and thus enhance student learning outcomes. Registration is essential. The full program and registration form are available here.

Learning and Teaching Expo 

Date: Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 September
Time: 9am to 4.30pm
Venue: Storey Hall, Building 16, City campus
Cost: Free

Registration: Essential
Registrations close Wednesday, 27 August 2014.
Register here now.

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Discourse diversity across L&T cultures

This week’s post comes to us via Karen Dellar, Barbara Morgan, Alison Brown and the team at the Study and Learning Centre at RMIT University.

Making the implicit, explicit – discourse structures across cultures

Most students initially find the transition to academic discourse and writing styles challenging. This transition can be more problematic when students are new to the Australian educational environment. Many international students are unfamiliar with lecturers’ expectations and visit the Study and Learning Centre’s busy drop in service for assistance with academic writing.

One student who is now receiving credits and distinctions recently reflected on her previous failure in a number of courses. We asked her what it was that helped her achieve better marks. She said quite simply: ‘I now know what they want!’

Acknowledging diversity – similarities and differences

This student’s experience typifies the challenges often faced by students in not knowing what is expected when they transition to study in a new culture. The first step towards creating a truly inclusive learning environment is to acknowledge the similarities and differences across learning cultures (and there are many) and then to make the differences explicit. Key differences relate to  discourse styles and expectations upon the reader-writer relationships. The way we shape or tell a story depends upon our cultural and linguistic context and the unspoken patterns we have learnt.

Across cultures there are different expectations of how texts are structured. We expect that all texts have a similar framework to our own…until we are faced with something different. It is surprising to realise how much of our knowledge of text organisation is implicit and culturally specific. English language readers have an expectation about how quickly you get to the point, and when you do, how explicitly this is done; the order that concepts are introduced; the amount of preamble or background that is necessary; the amount of repetition that is effective or the extent of digression that is permissible. As teachers we expect our students to conform to these expectations.

In the words of an international student:

In the Subcontinent (Pakistan and India) the way we are taught to structure our essays is, we don’t come to the point directly: we have to develop this major build-up, before coming to the point…otherwise our lecturer won’t think we have put in enough effort…but over here the thing was that ‘bang’ – go to the point directly and then you can start explaining… (Learning Lab International Student Stories)


Model 1: Direct, linear approach. Here’s the flower. These are the main points…

Assignment structure is culturally specific

It is often assumed that students whose first language is not English have difficulty with their

Model 2. Here's the garden. Let me take you for a walk and I'll show you something..

Model 2: Explanation before getting to the main point. Here’s the garden. Let me take you for a walk and I’ll show you something…

studies because of their language. This is not the full picture. What is commonly overlooked is that students from different cultural backgrounds are often unaware of the academic expectations of their new educational culture. In particular, the discourse structure can be unfamiliar and different to what they know.

The models here give a visual representation of two common ways of structuring academic writing across cultures.

Model 1 is a simple representation of the approach to organising material in the Australian educational context. The student is expected to present the main point first, followed by explanation and analysis.

Model 2 is another representation of what is common in many other cultures. In this model the student builds a case through background information, explanation and analysis and finally presents the main point.

Put simply, the measures for ‘good writing’ in an Australian university are often quite different from the students’ previous experience. International students are often disappointed at their poor marks in first year as they take some time to work out what is required. In the case above, the student repeated first year having learnt this lesson the hard way. A better solution would be for students to be explicitly taught what is expected and for it to be acknowledged that their understanding of academic writing on arrival may be different to what we expect.

For more on helping your students structure their assignments visit RMIT’s Learning Lab. For diverse cohorts a good starting point is International Student Stories. As well, you will find resources on assignment genres that you can use in-class and direct students to for self-study.


Arkoudis, S & Tran, L 2010, ‘Writing Blah, Blah, Blah: Lecturers’ Approaches and Challenges in Supporting International Students’, International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 169 -178.
Fox, H 1994, ‘Listening to the World. Cultural Issues in Academic Writing ‘, National Council of Teachers of English, USA.
Ramburuth, P 2009, ‘The impact of culture on learning: exploring student perceptions’, Multicultural Education and Technology Journal, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 182 – 195.
Ryan J & Carroll J (eds) 2005, Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All, Routledge, London.

Share your thoughts about discourse diversity and your tips for conveying your expectations in the comments section!

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First impressions

Posted by: Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching & Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Andrea is a member of the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project working to develop resources and deliver professional development to staff.

Sign in a school bus reads: 'Keep Out. Please put on seatbelt + be quiet + behave. Thanks'

A sign in a school’s excursion bus at the Old Melbourne Gaol this week.

As the saying goes, ‘You don’t get a second chance at a first impression.’

This week, across Australia, thousands of lecturers and tutors will be meeting their new students or welcoming back continuing students.

In Vocational Education, classes have been back for almost a month, but still, it’s early days.

It’s obvious that getting off on the right foot and creating the right environment for students has a special importance in tertiary education. For one thing, in a 12-16 week delivery schedule, the feeling that time is precious is understandable.

In wanting students to take our course seriously, in the feeling that we’re competing for the mindshare of their course load, in rushing about, is there a risk of putting up a sign (metaphorically) like the bus driver (or the staff who share driving duties) in the picture to the left? Note the ‘Keep Out’ in red and the tiny ‘Thanks’ at the right. What messages are we sending students in their first classes?

So this post is just a quick reminder that in the midst of all the organisational and administrative tasks we should still hold our personal philosophy of education front-and-centre and be enacting the strategies and principles that brought us through university as learners, and that brought us to university to teach.

The Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project has a set of principles that might help you see that big picture (or the jigsaw pieces of the bigger picture that are your courses) and we can’t think of a better time of the year (at least for our southern hemisphere audience) than now to put them in front of readers. Each of the following links has an associated page with key questions, resources and examples of the principle in use:

Getting a piece of writing from your students in a class early in your teaching schedule is an easy diagnostic tool. You’ll get to know a key aspect of their learning skill set and coupled with a quick survey you can get an impression of what your students expect from the course. Perhaps you teach online (or you’ve taken these elements of your course online) and you use a discussion board or blog for this. You can probably see how this simple task hits many of the principles above– if you’ve asked students what was their inspiration to study a certain discipline; if you’ve read the responses and turned them around to the students quickly; if you’ve then provided the means for them to share their responses and maybe organise themselves in study groups based on this for the first assessment, you’re establishing an environment that is ‘feedback rich’.

But what about longer pieces of writing? What about supporting your students in documenting their progress in your course?

Next week, there’s an opportunity for all staff at RMIT as Associate Professor Mary Ryan (School of Education, QUT) delivers a lecture and workshop on the Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning (TARL) model that she and her team developed in a recent OLT project.

Professor Ryan will explain how the systematic approach can be used to embed the pedagogy of reflective writing across courses in different disciplines.  The workshop will explore the suite of pedagogical patterns and accompanying resources for systematically teaching and assessing reflective practice underpinned by the TARL and EPC models.

Lecture: Teaching and Assessing Reflective Writing
Thursday 13 March 2014
11.30 am – 12.30 pm
Building 80, Level 1, Room 2
Workshops: Teaching and Assessing Reflective Writing
Thursday 13 March 2014
12.30 – 2.20 pm
Building 13, Level 3, Room 5 (City)
Friday 14 March 2014
11.00 am – 12.30 pm
Building 514, Level 1, Room 2 (Brunswick)

Registration for the workshops is essential. Space is limited. Click here to register (RMIT Login required).

Oh, and on the topic of first impressions, we’d also like to mention two blogs that have made good impressions on us during the break and will be of particular interest to casual, sessional and part time staff:

We recently added them to our blogroll (right of screen)– go visit their site for more perspectives on starting the year.

Share your thoughts on first impressions, inclusive teaching and reflective writing in the comments section!
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Program management for everyone

Posted by: Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Click on the image to view RMIT's web resources on program management.

Click on the image to view RMIT’s web resources on program management.

Program management is hard work. There is so much to consider, take into account, plan for and, at times, react to. It’s not just about the program; its design, delivery, quality, review, promotion — it’s also very much about the students: their enrolment, orientation, induction, progress, feedback, complaints, appeals and advice…as I said, hard work.

So what can help?

As part of the Academic Management of Coursework Programs in Schools endorsed by the VCE in April 2013, The Office of the Dean Learning and Teaching has put together a suite of resources for Program Managers in both Higher Education and VET to hopefully ease some of that burden.  Program Management for everyone is a just-in-time portal to policies, resources, training and relevant information. It isn’t the magic bullet, but it has attempted to bring information together.

By the end of November it will be complemented with a section for Course Coordinators in Higher Education, and VET will follow suit in early 2014 with a section for Program Coordinators. There are also plans to include a section on People Management.

Professional development has been organised, and apart from the resources online, there is a Blackboard shell and upcoming DevelopMe workshops. We’ve already held one of these sessions and look out for one in late November. In 2014, another series of DevelopMe workshops will target specific areas when they are needed most.

We chose the tagline Program management for everyone because it’s such crucial role here at RMIT. The impact the Program team has on the student experience and student outcomes can’t be overestimated.

Share your thoughts on the new resources or program management more generally in the comments!

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Posted by: Meredith Seaman, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University. 

Academics can sometimes hold very negative perceptions of students as lazy and question their ability to meet deadlines and submit assignments on time. Academics can even be a bit gleeful in their enthusiasm in coming up with rules and penalties for late submission. Reinforcing deadlines is critical if we are trying to teach students about the realities of the workforce, but can’t we all relate to students who struggle with time management or procrastination? If we’re being honest, don’t we all struggle with deadlines and more specifically procrastination on difficult tasks like writing articles? I’ve noticed for myself that writing can prompt anxieties and very similar avoidance strategies that I had sadly practised back as a student. Of course, very real issues including illness, unrealistic goals and workloads get in the way, but we’re also all well aware of a host of procrastination techniques in ourselves and observed in others.

I surveyed colleagues and friends to find out a bit more about how they procrastinate and whether they have any useful (online) tools or strategies that might help them avoid procrastinating. Finally I begin to consider how we might better support students to stop procrastinating and submit on time.

I wonder if procrastination needs much introduction…

I don’t know if there is anyone who doesn’t sometimes procrastinate. For me, when procrastinating, I go to the internet and social media tools. The most mundane of internet games and the worst of television shows all take on new importance. Research has demonstrated that technologies can similarly tempt students to procrastinate and it shouldn’t surprise us that they’ve also demonstrated links between Facebook and procrastination.

Yet it isn’t a new phenomenon

I used to bake cookies before Facebook and iPads, Candy Crush and Pinterest. I have the recipe written down in my recipe book as “procrastination cookies”. So a Facebook restriction will result in other types of procrastination. Cooking, cleaning, sleeping… — Erica


Before the internet, as my friend Erica says, there was cleaning and baking. Tax returns might even get done if avoiding writing or marking papers. If these can be kept in hand, tasks (like setting up a conducive working space) can be appropriate precursor activities before sitting down to get through some marking for instance. Many people have rituals they have to go through before sitting down to work.

In ‘Waiting for the motivation fairy’ Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardiner (2011) also remind us that procrastination can be ‘far more subtle, and can even be taken for productive work’ such as digging up elusive references, starting new projects or experiments, chasing up elusive but perhaps unnecessary references, checking emails.

Is it necessarily a bad thing?cleaning

We certainly need breaks. Breaks are essential for deep thinking and assimilation of ideas and concepts, critical for creativity, to occur. Walking, gardening or other simple repetitive tasks not taking much concentration can help the creative process. Productive and creative ‘types’ throughout history have often taken dramatic steps to increase their productivity and avoid procrastination, some common elements include daily set periods of work, clear targets of how many words to achieve, but they also had breaks such as time out for day jobs and long walks.

It’s important to think about why you might be procrastinating and not be too judgemental or hard on yourself:

Reward yourself for work done. Punishment never works, it just creates more procrastination. Sometimes laughing helps to, to take the pressure off: I love PhD comics. Oh, and getting to know the difference between avoiding because you’re lazy, and avoiding because you’re actually on the brink of a brainwave… — Lisa

I think the unconscious aspects of self sabotage often need to be addressed carefully rather than becoming stentorian with oneself… — Fiona

Sometimes we may just be stuck on something or need to approach a different way. Other times a task may be overwhelming or crippling, and strategies are needed to address the procrastination.


Are there any solutions?

One colleague successfully uses Pomodoro as her procrastination avoidance tool. In brief, it’s a pre-set strict period of work, using a timer, where interruptions are carefully managed with breaks interspersed. Another finds it really useful to get up very early in the morning at the same time each day to write. The lack of interruptions and being a bit less awake may actually be a benefit to productivity in his case. Some people have joined support networks such as “Shut up and Write” where interested people meet at a cafe and write in short bursts and then have a chat to each other as well.

Kearns and Gardiner identify three techniques which provide a good summary of key practices to hold procrastination at bay:

1) big projects need to be broken down into steps (perhaps even tiny ones)

2) set a time deadline by which to perform that tiny step

3) build in an immediate reward.

Implications for assessment design

If we think about assessment design in the context of the conditions that may contribute to procrastination, then as academics, we would want to avoid setting unclear tasks; tasks without any progress points or milestones and tasks that feel too big and complex to get started. They may all affect student motivation and their ability to make a start. If ‘action leads to motivation, which in turn leads to more action’ (Kearns and Gardiner, 2011) then designing assessment that encourages students to get started makes sense. So think about breaking up some big assessments into smaller components with earlier due dates to get students started and on the right track. Provide them with feedback, early on. Even better: work with your students to help them to break up the assessment tasks. Also, think about rewards versus the perceived ‘threat’ or pressures associated with assessment tasks.

coffeeIf redesigning your assessment for the next semester seems like a big task at the moment, don’t put it off! Break it down, set some dates and reward yourself!

Thanks to Fiona Collins, Lisa Farrance and Erica Walther for their input into this post.

References and more information:

Share your thoughts and strategies in the comments!

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Assessment, Grade, Holidays…

Posted by: John Benwell, Principal Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

HD rubricIn Melbourne, it’s the last week of scheduled classes and nearing the long break over the southern summer. Whilst thoughts may be wandering towards holidays, sun, the beach and all those great ‘Aussie’ pastimes, it’s time to assess and grade our students.

All the formative assessment has been done; we have provided vast quantities of feedback to our students and maybe provided avenues for feedback from their peers; now is the time to give each one a grade.

So I thought for my last post for the year, and before running to the beach to go sailing, I’d do a light refresher on assessment and point to some resources on rubrics to help you through.

At this stage of the year, we already know how most students are going. We have been giving them formative assessment tasks, and providing feedback to them so they can learn from their mistakes, fill the gaps and polish their performance. There have likely been summative assessments, which have been building towards a final mark.

Maybe you’ve read (and found useful) other tomtom posts that have discussed aspects of assessment (like Thembi’s post on Active Learning Strategies, Meredith’s post on Academic Integrity, Alex’s post on Peer and Self-Assessment and my previous post, Keeping Watch on using assessment to track our students’ progress), so here is a post with some handy references on assessment and rubric development.

In the old days, students would now start cramming, revising knowledge and processes, going to the library and doing old exam papers hoping their lecturer would just revise the last year’s paper for this year.

Nowadays, we hope those student expectations are well behind us and the last assignment encapsulates the skills, knowledge and the application skills and knowledge into a capstone assessment experience to confirm the student has achieved the course (subject) learning outcomes.

In pondering assessment we should never lose sight of what assessment is, and its purpose. As a reminder, here are the core principles of assessment from The University of Melbourne’s  Centre for the Study of Higher Education:

  1. Assessment guides and encourages effective approaches to learning
  2. Assessment validates and reliably measures expected learning outcomes, in particular the higher–order learning that characterises higher education
  3. Assessment and grading defines and protects academic standards.

At this stage of the year, principle 1 should have provided students with tasks that permitted them to test their learning and understanding in their passage towards the achieving the learning outcomes. The best scenario would be student-lecturer negotiated, multiple learning and assessment tasks that were designed to increase in complexity over the semester.

Principle 2 reminds us that we should not be simply testing students’ knowledge, but more their application of skills and knowledge and their ability to independently think though increasingly complex problems associated with their intended discipline. And we must grade each student in a reliable and repeatable manner. More on how we do that later.

Principle 3 helps maintain our standards. Not only do we have to assess if they have achieved the course learning outcomes, but also how well they have achieved it with reference to industry standards and moderation across institutions. Painfully for a teacher, we also must decide if a student has not achieved the learning outcomes.

Using the results from several forms of assessment during the semester, we need a framework to grade effectively. We need to have a considered series of statements that allow us to assign an overall grade to each student. They are like performance indicators. These statements are incremental performance levels of the learning outcomes. The levels are based on professional judgement, industry expectations and the quality standards of the university.

Commonly referred to as rubrics, you should develop a set of guidelines for marking and grading. They are not rules, but a framework to help you and your co-assessors be consistent across the group of students, from year to year and to maintain the academic quality standards expected by your industry/discipline and the students’ future employers. Your institution also relies on your professional judgement to uphold the standard of its awards.

Some argue that rubrics are restrictive, but with a well-developed set of rubrics, time is saved, consistency is improved, standards are upheld, and the course remains constructively aligned — the rubrics being generated from the learning outcomes. Levels of attainment between are  documented and described for the students to see. These can be a little bit fuzzy in their generic form but discussion with students, providing exemplars and using the same rubrics for peer and self-assessment can enhance all participants’ understanding of what a rubric is trying to do. Rubrics can be applied to all types of assessments: essays, drawings, pictures, models, presentations, designs and films.

The links below have some useful reading on rubrics, their purpose, value and how to write them:

Unfortunately some students, despite all attempts by us, fail to provide us with the evidence they have achieved the learning outcomes. The result is then a fail. There wouldn’t be a lecturer or educator who does it lightly, but it’s part of upholding the professionalism of our discipline, and the standards of our university. The determined learner who fails will return and do the course again, learning from their mistakes, and hopefully will achieve a better mark the next time around.

So before you start marking this semester try developing your own rubrics. Start by writing your learning outcomes on the left of a tabjboceanle, and then use grade descriptors of what you would expect to see from the students in the boxes. Your learning and teaching advisor can help you create them and your results will be fairer and more consistent. Rubrics are also a great help when marking online or if you have several tutors performing the assessment. What’s more, you can save time!

Well my last student is graded, so I’m off to a BBQ tonight and out into the ocean (Bass Strait) for a sail on the weekend.

I hope you have an enjoyable break.

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