Do students read your feedback?

Post by Kylie Budge

Image via UBC Library

When asked this question, many teachers would probably be tempted to respond “Not likely!” or “I can’t see any evidence of it”. Even though it may feel like students don’t read our feedback on their work, take on board our comments, or value it in any way it’s useful to look at what the research in this area tells us.

Most of us are probably aware that students report a great deal of dissatisfaction with the feedback they currently receive on their work. This is a sector-wide phenomenon, not one just linked to your university. A colleague and I were involved in some local research on this topic recently and discovered some interesting information (see references below). In doing this research we found that student feedback surveys in Australia and the UK report student dissatisfaction with the quantity, quality, and timing of feedback. While there has been quite a bit of research into feedback generally, until recently little was known about how students feel about the issue.

What we’ve been learning is this: students value feedback on their work when the timing and frequency, quantity and quality, and the form that feedback takes is considered.

Timing is critical in terms of students being able to apply the feedback in their work. Feedback early on in the semester is very important to first year students, but all students can benefit from this too.

Students are saying they want constructive, quality feedback that tells them what they need to improve on rather than just an indication of what they did right and/or wrong.

Feedback can of course be provided to students in number of forms including verbal face-to-face (teacher to individual student/teacher to group/peer); hand written (teacher to individual/teacher to group/peer); and electronic feedback (teacher to individual/teacher to group/peer). A good feedback strategy will use a combination of different methods, including peer feedback, to encourage students to seek and use feedback from a variety of different people (ie. not just the teacher). Teachers are busy people with lots of competing demands on our time. A feedback strategy with multiple components can help us provide the feedback students need for learning in a manageable way.

Interestingly, the discipline context is also important in terms of how students value and use feedback on their work. The little research that has been done in this area from the student perspective tells us that students from creative disciplines (such as art and design) value feedback highly. Students in creative disciplines are engaged in an active feedback culture (where work critiques with their peers and lecturers is common) and often producing a product (of some description) where feedback on work-in-progress is critical. They are often eager to get feedback and value it because they are also immersed in a discipline culture where it is seen as everyday practice.

This may or may not be the case with the way students see feedback in other disciplines. Research in this area is limited so time will tell us more.

What do you think? Do you have the sense that students read and apply your feedback? And what feedback strategies work for you?

Here are some useful references if you want to learn more from recent research on feedback:

Boud, D., Cohen, R., & Sampson, J. (1999). Peer Learning and Assessment. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. 24 (4), December, 1999.

Budge , K. and Gopal, S. (2009). Feedback: working from the student perspective, refereed conference paper presented at Assessment in Different Dimensions, 2009 ATN Assessment Conference, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, 19-20 November.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. 77 (1), 81-112.

Nicol, D.J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2), 199-218.

Rowe, A.D. & Wood, L.N. (2008). Student perceptions and preferences for feedback. Asian Social Science, 4, 3, 78-88.

Rowe, A.D., Wood, L. N. & Petocz, P. (2008). Engaging students: Student preferences for feedback. 2008 HERDSA Conference Proceedings, 1-4 July 2008, Rotorua, New Zealand.

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