- Face-to-Face Feedback

Face-to-Face Feedback

By Andrew Carlin

It is well documented that there is a large gap between the quality of feedback tutors think they are giving, and the usefulness of feedback as interpreted by the student. This issue persists irrespective of the large number of hours spent by tutors writing up extensive feedback which is frequently misunderstood or not communicated in a useful way to the student. Students often feel that feedback is useless and as a result they do not know what is expected of them.

This is amplified in their 1st year, when students transition from schooling (or another environment), in which expectations and ‘what good looks like’ are different. Thus, useful feedback is imperative during this transitional period of their formal education. On the other hand, tutors feel the student is often focused on the mark and not the feedback. This has been shown as only 10% of students have been found to seek feedback; this most commonly comes from students who did not achieve a grade they expected.

Similarly, students are also known to have a preconception that different staff give different marks. Students ideally want a particular marker, so they can maximise their mark. This has been found even in 1st-year students, with no prior experience with the markers. It is therefore clear that students develop this presumption amongst themselves and have no appreciation for the rigorous pro-forma and moderation processes that education institutions use when marking work.

An additional complexity is the increasing class sizes at academic institutions. A result is an increasingly alienated relationship between academics and students. A potential solution to these issues is 2-way feedback, in which staff engage with students on a 1-2-1 basis, providing individualised feedback.

One study offered students the opportunity to have a 1-2-1 feedback session, or normal written feedback. Interestingly, students who chose the face-to-face feedback said their motivation was:

  • The session could lead to a better understanding of the topics covered and of the feedback system
  • They were curious to know more about the process of marking
  • They felt there was room to argue for higher marks and that staff may be more lenient when in a face-to-face situation

The final point is contentious; however, it was reported that students realised they could not barter for higher marks. The 2-way dialogue also allowed staff to explain the rigorous marking processes, thus quelling any temptations to argue for higher grades and assisting in eradicating the idea amongst the student population that it is preferential to have one member of staff mark work over another.

As a result of the face-to-face feedback, students felt empowered and in control of their learning, becoming ‘self-regulated learners’ as a result of the dialogue over their own marks. Students also learnt more with the face-to-face sessions, being able to ask questions of comments they may not have understood without expert input. Additionally, they had a better idea of how to obtain better marks in the future while learning more about the intellectual priorities in their discipline from the experts. These points are of particular importance for 1st-year students, who have little experience in a higher education setting and thus are not aware of the expectations.

Of major impact was the student’s response to negative feedback. Negative feedback written on paper or digitally can often be blunt and taken personally by those who are very passionate about their work. Having a 2-way dialogue about the weaker sections of their work was reported to make the students ‘feel less dumb’. They had their mistakes explained to them and could ask for more clarity when required.

Importantly, students felt their feedback was personalised, while staff didn’t feel like they were marking an anonymous pile of scripts. The result is that staff can provide more personalised knowledge to the student, which is hard to deliver through written comments and marking grids.

FAQ

Q: How do tutors perceive the usefulness of their own feedback compared to students' perceptions, and why is there a discrepancy?

A: Tutors often believe that the feedback they provide is detailed and useful, dedicating significant time to crafting it. However, there exists a notable gap between this perception and how students receive the feedback, often finding it irrelevant or difficult to understand. This discrepancy arises primarily because tutors and students have different expectations and understandings of what constitutes effective feedback. Tutors focus on delivering comprehensive critiques, while students may seek more direct guidance on improvement or clarification on expectations. The concept of student voice is critical here, highlighting the importance of incorporating students' perspectives and needs into the feedback process to bridge this gap.

Q: What specific challenges do first-year students face regarding feedback, and how does this affect their academic transition?

A: First-year students encounter unique challenges as they transition from the structured environment of school to the more independent setting of higher education. They often struggle with understanding the expectations and standards of academic work, which are significantly different from their previous experiences. This adjustment period can be particularly difficult without clear, constructive feedback. The lack of useful feedback exacerbates these challenges, leaving students uncertain about how to improve their work or meet academic criteria. Emphasising student voice in feedback could help address these issues by ensuring that feedback is relevant, understandable, and tailored to first-year students' specific needs and contexts.

Q: What are the potential benefits of two-way feedback sessions, and how do they contribute to the academic growth of students?

A: Two-way feedback sessions, where students and tutors engage in direct, personal dialogue, offer several benefits that contribute significantly to students' academic development. Firstly, these sessions provide an opportunity for students to gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter and the feedback process itself. Students can clarify doubts, discuss points of confusion, and receive tailored advice on how to improve. Secondly, such interactions can demystify the marking process, helping students realise that their work is evaluated fairly and systematically, which can change their perceptions of preferential marking. Most importantly, two-way feedback encourages the development of self-regulated learners. Through direct engagement and dialogue, students become more empowered and take greater control over their learning journey. Incorporating student voice in these sessions ensures that feedback is not only more personalised but also more actionable, enabling students to better understand and meet the intellectual priorities of their discipline.

References

[Source Paper] Chalmers, Charlotte, Mowat, Elaine, and Chapman, Maggie. "Marking and Providing Feedback Face-to-face: Staff and Student Perspectives." Active Learning in Higher Education 19.1 (2018): 35-45,
DOI: 10.1177/1469787417721363

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