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Enhancing Feedback in Higher Education

Christine Enowmbi Tambe - Jun 13, 2022

Formative assessment, which is utilized by both students and teachers to identify areas where knowledge is inadequate and assistance is required, has been identified as a critical source of timely and high-quality feedback. Gibbs and Simpson (1) outlined six characteristics of feedback that improve student performance:

  • Feedback is sufficiently frequent and detailed;
  • Feedback is focused on students’ performance, learning and activities within their control, rather than on the students themselves;
  • Feedback is timely in the sense that it is received when it still matters and in time to be applied;
  • Feedback is relevant to the aim of the assessment and its evaluation criteria;
  • Feedback is suitable to students’ conceptions of learning, knowledge, and discipline discourse;
  • Feedback is acknowledged and is acted upon.

In a blended learning environment, instructors and peers can provide feedback via face-to-face and online interactions. Formal, structured learning management systems (LMSs) and informal social networking sites (SNSs), such as Facebook and Twitter, are both examples of online learning spaces, each has its own set of learning objectives. According to research (2,3), students found Facebook to be better suited to collaborative learning. In a 2017 study, McCarthy (4) assesses the Café, a Facebook-hosted e-learning application, as an appropriate online learning environment for peer feedback. Furthermore, the author (4) compares face-to-face teacher and peer feedback to online peer feedback to identify the benefits and drawbacks of each feedback technique.

The efficacy of the three feedback strategies were trialled for formative assessment tasks within two first-year courses in the Bachelor of Media Arts program at the University of South Australia. A total of 118 students, including 19 international students participated in the study. The formative assessment tasks and subsequent feedback models were designed in accordance with Gibbs and Simpson's feedback recommendations (1). Every 2 weeks, students discussed their work in classroom tutorial groups under the guidance of a tutor. In alternating weeks, students submitted work-in-progress to the Café to be critiqued by their peers. It was imperative for instructors to provide students with explicit assessment criteria to guide the construction of their commentary. Participation in these formative assessment activities was worth 15% of the final grade for the course, and students were evaluated by their instructors on three key components: (1) the quality of the submitted work to the Café, (2) the quality and consistency of their peer critiques and conversations in the Café and (3) their attendance and participation in group discussions during tutorial classes. The students’ perceptions of the different feedback measures were evaluated through an online survey at the end of the semester.

The Café proved to be an effective host for the online activities, with students praising the forum's interactivity and accessibility - simply being able to access the forum via Facebook was viewed as a huge plus. McCarthy (4) found that the students enjoyed interacting with different learning environments to exchange feedback. Some students enjoy face-to-face academic discussions, while others prefer to interact with their peers and instructors online. Therefore, by accepting a wide range of student attitudes, providing flexible learning spaces allows for better interaction between students in large classes and promotes engagement with course material. Students are also given the opportunity to improve their oral and written communication skills.

Staff feedback was, unsurprisingly, the most popular formative assessment feedback model with students as they perceived instructors to be experts in the field and their feedback to be more critical, and thus placed greater emphasis on their comments. Students also appreciated providing feedback to their peers in addition to receiving feedback themselves. Students frequently returned to their own work with new revision ideas after critically examining a peer's contribution, resulting in the production of stronger work.

Peer feedback exchanged online was more popular than that exchanged in-person, especially with international students. Some students may encounter significant hurdles such as language barriers and social inhibitions when having face-to-face academic discussions. Peer interaction online provides an environment for students to consider their ideas and critiques more thoroughly before presenting them. This was an important finding that demonstrated the value of blended learning in the early years of higher education, which provided students from diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds with both online and in-class learning spaces for collaborative learning. This makes it easier for them to fit into the university culture, stimulates meaningful peer interaction, and enhances their overall learning experience.

References:

[Source] McCarthy J. Enhancing feedback in higher education: Students’ attitudes towards online and in-class formative assessment feedback models. Active Learning in Higher Education. 2017 Jul;18(2):127-41.
DOI: 10.1177%2F1469787417707615

[1] Gibbs G, Simpson C. Does your assessment support your students’ learning. Journal of Teaching and learning in Higher Education. 2004;1(1):1-30.
Available Here

[2] Rambe P. Critical discourse analysis of collaborative engagement in Facebook postings. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 2012 Apr 2;28(2).
DOI: 10.14742/ajet.875

[3] Wang Q, Woo HL, Quek CL, Yang Y, Liu M. Using the Facebook group as a learning management system: An exploratory study. British journal of educational technology. 2012 May;43(3):428-38.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01195.x

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