We are constantly exposed to feedback at nearly every moment in our lives. Yet our ability to give and receive feedback – and do both well – is a critical skill that doesn’t come easily. “There are two problems with feedback,” says Professor David Carless during his keynote address at the Bluenotes GLOBAL 2019 conference. “We’re not very good at giving feedback. We’re not very good at dealing with feedback.”
Carless, who works in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong, specializes in improving student learning through feedback. A renowned specialist in feedback research and practice in higher education, Carless’ current focus is around teacher and student feedback literacy to enhance the impact of feedback processes. He defines student feedback literacy as follows:
Student feedback literacy is the know-how, skills, capacity, dispositions, attitudes, and mindsets to make use of data for the purpose of continuous improvement.
“Good feedback is a dialogue,” Carless continues during his speech at Bluenotes GLOBAL. “Anything that can begin a dialogue between teachers and students is a good way forward.”
Reflecting on Carless’ definition and my own education, I was surprised at how little feedback was woven into my learning experience. As a student, feedback was mostly a one-way process, from instructor to learners. I was given the opportunity to complete end-of-term course evaluations, but that critical data was not effectively supporting me when it had impact – during the course.
Start feedback from day 1 of the student journey
While course evaluations are important for optimizing the teaching and learning experience, ongoing feedback is a critical factor in student success. However, there remain challenges in the classroom around the development of student feedback literacy. These challenges include difficulties in interpreting feedback as well as a lack of engagement, strategy, and organization (Evans, 2013; Winstone et al., 2017).
If feedback is to support learning, it needs to become a classroom practice that starts from the first day of class. It must be an integral part of the curriculum like lab hours are for a chemistry course. Instructors can start small by simply asking students a question about their learning expectations on day one. This will help build trust – an important factor in the feedback process -, promote collaboration within the classroom, and allow students to become familiar with feedback.
“Teachers can also explain how previous student feedback has influenced their course design,” Carless’ states during his address. By sharing course evaluation data from previous students and demonstrating how that feedback was used to improve the current course content, this will make students more willing to complete the forms come end of term.
Integration of feedback technology in the classroom
Recent years have seen a growing trend of technology in the classroom. Now more than ever before, teachers and students can directly collaborate on teaching activities, yet most instructors choose to use these tools to do the same tasks that they would do without the technology. We have the power of technology in the palm of our hands that allow us to stay connected in ways we never imagined.
What if every instructor embraced technology as a platform for ongoing feedback? A place where they can connect with students and vice-versa at any point throughout the educational experience. Now teachers – and the institution as a whole – can get the insights they need to make impactful changes throughout the student journey. In the classroom, feedback technology like Bluepulse – a student engagement network – allows us to approach feedback as a dialogue rather than the traditional approach – from teacher to student. This allows students to take some responsibility for their own learning while instilling new ways of thinking about feedback.
What if every instructor embraced technology as a platform for ongoing feedback? A place where they can connect with students and vice-versa at any point throughout the educational experience.
Feedback beyond the classroom
The literature has emphasized that a significant amount of the academic journey happens outside the classroom. Therefore, if higher education institutions want to improve student feedback literacy, they need to have in place strategies aimed at engaging students even when they are no longer in class. Feedback needs to become a part of the institution-wide culture and beyond for students to be comfortable giving and receiving it. That means making it more accessible and useful to students.
Interactions play a very important role in the student academic life. Each touchpoint with the institution – whether through academic advising, library services, cafeteria, athletics, housing, etc. – leaves an impression and is an opportunity to capture student journey data that can be used to drive improvement. Bluepulse integrates with key IT systems and allows stakeholders at the institution to ask questions at every important moment during the student journey. More importantly, it helps students develop a familiarity with feedback and how it can be used to inform and drive change.
Carless, D. (2019). Feedback Literacy as a key to ongoing improvement. Keynote, August 6, 2019. Bluenotes GLOBAL conference 2020. Chicago, IL.
Winstone, N. & Carless, D. (2019, in press). Designing effective feedback processes in higher education: A learning-focused approach. London: Routledge.
Bluepulse•Educational technology•Higher education•