Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Engaging with Feedback

It's a common complaint of teaching staff that they spend hours carefully crafting feedback only to have students ignore it - especially first and second years. I know in my own team we have discussed this endlessly, raised it in course committees, berated students in class, introduced the topic into tutor groups....

This year I think I may have accidentally hit on something. Students in year 1 have just finished a group presentation which is worth 30% of their final grade and is the precursor to a more in depth piece of work that results in an academic research poster (and undergraduate mini-conference: more of that later!)

Feedback on their presentation was virtually instantaneous: I typed it up as they presented and published the feedback on the VLE a couple of hours later. Naturally they all immediately looked to see what grade they had received.

Then in this week's class I gave them an exercise to do on using Gibbs' reflective cycle. Principally, my intention was to get them to think about how they had performed as a team. I know the process of working in a group was very difficult for some individuals and I wanted to get some feedback from the majority on how it had gone. However, in their reflections they also took the opportunity to READ THE FEEDBACK I had given them and to use that to think about how they could improve their presentation and communication skills going forward.

A key factor in this is that I had given them another two weeks after their presentation to work on and formally submit their PowerPoint or Prezi, thereby potentially improving their grade. This has also stimulated them to read and understand the feedback they have been given. I think another factor not to be ignored is that they performed their presentations in front of one another and they were able to learn from this how other groups had approached the task. One of the problems with tutor/student dialogue is that it is most often private: other students rarely see how their peers perform and don't know how to judge themselves against any benchmark other than the grading criteria. As well as socially constructed learning at the level of knowledge and understanding, these types of group based public assessments can help to construct a shared understanding of practical approaches and skills.

I have done an activity along these lines with the final year students for the past couple of years: following on from their student-led learning activities, each group reflects on a) the group process b) the feedback from me c) the evaluations provided by their peers and d) their own evaluation of how the session went, and they then present this evaluation as an assessed submission.

The reflective exercise I did with the first years was not assessed but it certainly yielded some interesting comments:

On "what I would do differently next time", they said:

"do more research"
"have note cards instead of reading from the screen"
"less text and more images on the slides"
"use our personal experience to give examples"
"add citations"
"speak slowly and loudly"
"use academic journals instead of websites"
"include statistics"
"be more organised and don't start at the last minute"
"arrange more team meetings"

Ah! music to my lets just hope they put it all into practice!