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 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.
[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,