Wednesday, 20 January 2016

How and when to give feedback

On the National Student Survey (NSS), students are invited to assess and comment on feedback. They sometimes comment that they don’t understand the feedback and sometimes there is a feeling that feedback isn’t transparent or fair. There are also comments about there not being enough feedback.
Typically we may get good overall satisfaction but feedback becomes a sticking point.
There are two sorts of feedback, anyway: formative and summative. Formative is on-going and should enable the student to improve, building up on what they learn step by step. Summative happens at the end of a module where we point out what the student has achieved – have they met the intended learning outcomes, how are they doing in terms of the skills of the discipline, and generally what is the quality of their work. The summative commentary can also have a formative side: what can the student do to improve for next time?
Formative feedback happens in every single seminar, especially if we use the same words as we have in our mark descriptors. E.g. “That is a fair argument. However, you need to illustrate it and expand it more.” It can of course particularly happen in the Creative Writing Workshop. Yet there is often a reluctance to share work or bring work. When we force this in our final year Final Portfolio you can feel the students wishing they’d done more of it sooner.  Maybe we need to force the issue earlier.
A colleague who teaches scriptwriting in another part of the school told me how she sets up a class exercise twice during the module and whilst the students get on, she gives them one-to- ones in class. I’ve now tried this and found it works really well. I use this in weeks six and twelve. It also satisfies the request we received via NSS for more one-to-ones. We don’t want to cancel other contact time in order to facilitate this. The downside is that we’re relying on not everyone turning up to the class – otherwise we wouldn’t fit everyone in.
It becomes really difficult when student email work and expect in-depth feedback. I don’t consider this cheating in fact. If you look at the work, give them pointers and then they react to that you are actually teaching them. Anyway, a lot can happen in that gap. More importantly there is not time to do this for everyone. It then becomes unfair if you run out of time.       
If students share work in class, there is plenty of opportunity for the teacher to add extra comments. Students learn from looking at others’ work as well as having comments on their own. So bringing work to class to share should be encouraged.
Students can also, of course, come and visit during my office hours. As a colleague from another school recommends, however, they should always come with a piece of paper in the hand. Or a file on their phone tablet or laptop.     
And we also need to make sure the students understand how and when they are getting feedback.