With smart feedback, everyone wins

December 19, 2016 by Marianna Koli

This guest blog is a part of our Christmas season blog series

With increased time pressures on teachers and increased demand from students for more and better feedback, the efficiency of feedback is a key goal for educators. Some university lecturers are now using automated or peer-generated feedback to ensure that students have ways of being informed about their progress, without putting an additional burden on lecturers.

For example, Tom Stafford of Sheffield University in the UK gives his students an automated summary of feedback on online activities, while also explaining to the student the limitations of that feedback. This is a method that maximises the feedback to the student while costing relatively little in terms of a lecturer’s time, once the initial setup has been done. While Stafford’s idea works best for quantitative work, there are now even initiatives (for example at The Open University) to give automated feedback on essays.

#Peer-generated feedback helps students think about the recipient of their work

In addition to computer-generated feedback, peer-generated feedback – students marking each other’s work – is another option. This has the added benefit of helping students realise that it is not only the content of work that counts, but also its presentation. This, in turn, helps them think about the recipient of their work, and produce answers that not only contain the required content, but are genuinely useful to their reader – a helpful and transferable workplace skill.

Both automated and peer feedback, rather than feedback exclusively from a lecturer, have the added benefit of accustoming the student to receiving the kinds of feedback that are common in workplaces. Of course, an excellent manager will give sensitive and personalised verbal feedback. However, most of the feedback given in large companies comes through key performance indicators, meeting (or not meeting) targets, or from the experience of employees at the same level, rather than from the level above. Feedback at work is not always filtered through a friendly senior human mentor, and students who become used to receiving peer or automated feedback are more likely to learn to make the most of feedback they are given. This, in turn, is likely to help them be happier employees in the future.

Marianna Koli

is Head of Economics and Senior Lecturer at New College of the Humanities, London, specialising in International Development. She has previously worked in teaching and student support at the University of Birmingham and the University of Manchester. Her pedagogical interests include small group teaching, interdisciplinarity, student engagement, and educational quality assurance.

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