What we talk about, when we talk about feedback

Patrick RosenkranzEffective feedback practices lie at the heart of higher education teaching and learning, however across disciplines, feedback remains a cause of concern for students. Feedback provision seems to be one of the recurring themes that students bring up at staff-student committees, focus groups and surveys such as the NSS. Why is it so difficult to get feedback right?

A potential answer to this may be that students and staff have different assumptions, expectations and perceptions about what constitutes good and effective feedback. For instance, one thing that students seem to want to get from feedback is what explicit steps to take to improve their grades. However, most tutors want students to take a “deep approach” to learning, independently and reflectively engaging with the material. As a consequence, feedback fostering a “deep approach” may not include the detailed instruction that a student seeks for improvement of grades. So from a student’s perspective, this feedback does not give them what they want or feel they need and may lead to dissatisfaction.

In order to investigate these issues within the context of psychology teaching at Newcastle, we started a research project into feedback in our School. As part of the Careers service’s work placement, Matt Astle, a final year Politics student, is working as a research assistant on this project. In the first phase, Matt has conducted a literature review which incorporates feedback and assessment practices and perceptions across all disciplines, with a specific focus on the psychological literature. The result of this review is an accessible database of articles that forms a resource for further investigation and practice. The second phase of the project involves auditing colleagues in the School on their feedback practices and perceptions and comparing these to the perceptions and expectations of our students. Here the project converges with some of the other activities within the school:

For instance, Elisha Warren, a final year Psychology student, under the supervision of Val Tuck has conducted her empirical project on student perceptions of feedback in Psychology. The insights from her project as well as other sources of student perceptions, such as focus groups, will be brought together to identify and examine possible differences in expectations and perceptions between students and staff.

Ultimately, the aim of our research project is to better understand the processes involved in effective feedback and finding ways to improve our practice by clarifying and articulating what we, staff and students, mean when we talk about feedback.

Patrick Rosenkranz, School of Psychology

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