Posted by: Ruth Moeller, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.
When you think about it, ‘feedback’ is a funny term. What are we feeding and why is it backwards?
Feedback is essential to improving performance. Whether it is having a teacher correct a student’s hand position so that they can play the cello better or a tutor commenting on an essay and showing how to integrate quotations into the flow of a piece of writing. We continue to seek feedback from our peers as adult learners. At work, a colleague might make suggestions on how my design could be made stronger through the application of different styling. As tertiary educators, feedback is considered so important that it is included in the Good Teaching Scale (GTS); the survey that students complete to rate our teaching performance. I wrote a post discussing the feedback we get from students last year on the tomtom. You can read it here.
But back to my original point, what are we feeding? It’s obviously the student- but what is the food? Food supplies us with many things including sustenance and nutrition and a little comfort. This is what we should be giving our students to support and help them grow both academically and in their discipline.
I think we would all agree that ‘Well done!’ or ‘HD’ is a bit like a Tim Tam, nice but not sustaining. So we need to provide our students with comments and ideas that they can actually use to build their knowledge and skills. Being specific is the key: describe the issue and provide a corrective response.
Now the other part of the term is the ‘back’ part. Why back and not forward? Yes probably it is ‘back to the student’ but if we reframe it and think about ‘feed forward’ the focus becomes future application not backwards reflection.
This was brought to mind by a presenter at the recent HERDSA conference. Iris Vardi spoke about ‘feeding forward’ from one assessment task to the next. The model she used was in a course (subject) with three assessment tasks, each built on the next so the guidance and comments that students got in the first assessment could be (and was) assessed in the next and so on. This meant that students could use their tutors’ input, not just see it as an acknowledgement of work done.
It may be too late to implement this in your course as the assessment may have to be amended or re-aligned but there is a simple ‘feed forward’ strategy that you could implement in the next task you assess. The technique is to summarise your comments by:
- Identifying three positive aspects of the work
- Identifying two areas of improvement for next time, with suggestions on how that could be achieved
- Making a general comment.
I find this strategy to be simple and effective as it focuses on the positive (that’s why there is one more point to begin), it gives specific positives and negatives, and then points a way forward with constructive suggestions. As a student, I could repeat the three good aspects and work on the two negatives in my next task and if I did that for each assignment I would be doing well. Note: you can use more than three/two but keep it manageable, too many things can become overwhelming.
This is also a technique that can be used in giving feedback to peers. It is structured, students know exactly what is expected of them and it removes the opportunity for ‘It’s all good’ or worse, a huge list of negatives.
Iris inspired me to reframe the concept of ‘feedback’ into ‘feed forward’. I doubt that the GTS will be amended to reflect this but changing my frame of reference from past to future, will enable me to help students grow their knowledge and skills, not just maintain them.
Vardi, Iris 2012, Effective feedback for student learning in higher education, Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia, Milperra, NSW
Share your thoughts about feedback and ‘feeding forward’ in the comments!