Last changed 14 April 2016 ............... Length about 1600 words (15,000 bytes).
(Document started on 5 April 2016.) This is a WWW document maintained by Steve Draper, installed at You may copy it. How to refer to it.

Web site logical path: [] [~steve] [talks] [this page] [Tiny URL]

Enhancing student and staff engagement with feedback

Date/time: Tuesday 12 April 2016. Session: 4C, 14:00pm - 15:10pm
Occasion: 9th Annual University of Glasgow Learning and Teaching Conference
Place: The Fore Hall

Jason Bohan and Maxine Swingler,   School of Psychology,   University of Glasgow
Amanda Sykes,   Academic Development Unit,   Leaning and Teaching Centre,   University of Glasgow
(Steve Draper,   School of Psychology,   University of Glasgow)

Slides: PDF


Further related material:

LEAF (Leading Enhancement in Assessment in Feedback) project resources

The workshop is related (by both topic and the personnel involved) to the LEAF project, which has the first version of its website delivered toolkit now online:

LEAF toolkit

Comments by Steve Draper

To make the feedback interpretable and actionable by each student.
A design aim for feedback discussed here is: 'To make the feedback interpretable and actionable by each student.' So that first the student can understand each evaluation judgement being expressed, concretely; and secondly so that they see what to do about it, and then do it.

"Feedback" here means feedback from staff to students, about the student's work; and very often written.

"Engagement" with feedback by students really means: Doing something as a consequence of the feedback.

"Engagement" with feedback by staff really means:

  1. Working on the overall course and programme design, so that the feedback is designed partly for consistency across time, partly to progress so that each occasion builds on previous occasions for feedback.
  2. Working on individual written feedback so that the student (students at that level) can interpret what it means concretely.

Actionable, Dialogue, Personalised

Here's a view of slogans / buzz phrases in the feedback literature, and how they relate to the issues here.

  1. Interpretable (= comprehensible).
    The first issue is whether written feedback (from staff, for a student) is interpretable by the student; in particular, interpretable in concrete form. The natural way for this to happen is in dialogue. Virtually all humans, from very early in life, find dialogue easy, mainly because the feedback means that when the two people aren't on exactly the same wavelength, they correct that by signals of incomprehension, direct questions, etc. In contrast, we carry on learning how to write monologues throughout our education. Monologue (and so, writing) is hard because it only works when the author correctly judges what the reader needs to be told. The two dangers are either writing too abstractly, so comprehension fails; and writing with too much detail and so being boring and irrelevant. Written feedback is just as hard to write at exactly the right level as all writing is.
    Being concrete in feedback is about translating general prescriptions "be more critical" to specific places in a student's writing; to specific issues (critical about what, in this case?); and to specific actions (see below).
  2. Actionable.
    There are two aspects to this:
    1. Can the student see how to do it better? Examples of model answers, or essays that got an A may help for example.
    2. Will the student in fact connect the judgements to different concrete action in future? Requiring students on an assignment to say how they changed in response to feedback from a previous assignment is one approach.
    In fact being actionable is about how any bit of "knowledge" in reality has three aspects: abstract information; how to recognise it when you see it; how to act on it. (Even a spelling error involves: Will you recognise it when you see that word misspelled in your own or someone else's writing? Will you be able to produce the correct spelling, when prompted? Will you generate the right spelling as part of your writing (i.e. embed it in your standard practice), or only when prompted that you have a problem?) To be fully actionable, even knowledge of a word's spelling requires that you modify these three different kinds of action.
  3. Personalised.
    This can be seen as having two aspects:
    1. The social / emotional: the feeling that there is a personal relationship. Having a dialogue, and knowing (and remembering) the particular student, frequently make a big difference to the student (as the literature frequently reports). [On the other hand, we might argue that HE is where learners must transition from thinking that learning is tied to personal relationships, to a professional world where you can learn from people you don't know, and perhaps don't like; yet can have a relationship which is productive for both.]
    2. The "contingent": where the feedback given is adapted specifically to each individual learner. Dialogue is good at this, but there are other methods e.g. elective feedback, opportunities to ask questions, .... This is the functional aspect of personalisation, and matters because feedback is only useful when the student can and does relate it to their own specific case.

Large vs. small classes

In one to one teaching, dialogue is the natural medium and achieves both comprehensible, personalised, and probably actionable feedback. In primary schools, you typically have one teacher who not only knows each pupil personally, but who marks all their work and so brings to bear in giving feedback their memory of what they have told this pupil before: not only personalised but ipsative feedback. ("Ipsative" means expressing scores and feedback in terms referring to that learner's past performance.) The patchwork text technique produces ipsative feedback from peers, where the same small peer group provides feedback over many assignments. Thus in small classes or peer groups, these "natural" techniques around feedback achieve comprehensible, personalised, and probably actionable feedback.

However in large classes and mass HE, it cannot work in that way. Yet some of these effects may be recovered by other methods. For example elective feedback (getting each student to preface their submitted work with a few questions on what they particularly wish to get comments on) gets a little useful personalisation at little cost. Structured feedback sheets using common criteria across assignments improve consistency amongst markers on a team, and allow the student to relate one piece of feedback to another: in effect, gaining some of the informatively-important aspects of repeated conversations with the same person.

Feedback literacy

Basic idea: student feedback literacy is about learners acquiring and internalising skills in seeking, interpreting, and acting on feedback. So instead of only learning from one assignment and its feedback, they acquire a permanent skill.

Basic idea: staff feedback literacy has two levels:

  1. Writing feedback that actually helps feedback be useful and actionable by students who receive it: comprehensible, specific, etc.
  2. Designing assignments and their feedback in a chain: so that they feed into later assignments, and accumulate across a year, and a programme.

  • Paul Sutton (2012) "Conceptualizing feedback literacy: knowing, being, and acting" Innovations in Education and Teaching International 49:1, pp.31-40 doi:10.1080/14703297.2012.647781
  • HEA page


    Web site logical path: [] [~steve] [talks] [this page]
    [Top of this page]