If you want to have a real impact on the development of your students, it is essential to provide formative feedback. But it is also important that this does not take up too much of your time… It is this idea which lies behind the ‘Personalised Formative Feedback as Standard’ (‘Standaard Maatwerk bij Formatieve Feedback’ – StaMaFF) project undertaken at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. Is it possible to resolve this seeming contradiction with the use of a digital feedback tool? The first experiences yield a mixed picture.
In John Hattie’s 2009 meta-study synthesising a wide range of studies in the field of education research, the significance of feedback ranked an impressively-high 10th place. Formative feedback scored even higher, ranking 3rd. Feedback focused on the task, the process and self-regulation provides the students with guidance which lets them progress towards the desired end goal (‘feed up’). By also devoting attention to the next steps students should take (‘feed forward’), lecturers can provide concrete recommendations as to the best way forward.
So how come, in spite of the demonstrable significance of feedback and despite having the best of intentions, it is so difficult in practice to give my students formative feedback? Of course, the biggest issue here is time. There is not a lot of time available to give feedback over several formative rounds. In fact, I have calculated that an average group size of 12 students per meeting leaves me with approximately 30 seconds to talk to each student individually. When you would like to provide personalised feedback and guidance to every student, this can be challenging to say the least.
In 2014 SURF project SCALA reported that giving feedback via a digital tool can result in substantial time savings. These findings motivated me and my colleagues to start working with Turnitin (one of the two tools used in the SCALA project). Could we also achieve time savings by providing our students with formative feedback digitally?
We have experimented with the tool in two of the courses taught in the fourth year of the degree programme. So far this has yielded mixed results. On the one hand, Turnitin is very user-friendly, and the QuickMark feature works well. You can quickly build up a collection of generic feedback which can subsequently be reused on newly-submitted documents. You can read, select the right comment and drag it into the document. It doesn’t get much simpler than that; even the most IT-illiterate lecturer will be able to figure it out.
However, thinking about the feedback does result in time loss. Where previously you would write comments in the margins in red pen as you went along, now you find yourself asking yourself with every comment: is this specific to this student? Can I create a generic comment for this? If so, how do I word it in such a way that it is truly clear? And what is the quality of my feedback – am I not falling into the trap of giving task-oriented feedback, rather than process-oriented ‘feed-forward’?
This may just be beginners’ stress. We have only been doing this for a few months, and we are suddenly becoming very aware of our competence – or incompetence, as the case may be. This process takes time. That has nothing to do with formative assessment in and of itself. The next few months should be able to tell us whether we can take the next step in our feedback practice. Will we, after an effective analysis of the initial findings, be able to arrive at a more clearly-demarcated set of feedback/feed-forward/feed-up, so that we can achieve both time savings and quality gains? I sincerely hope so!
Innovation scheme: Digital Assessment for customised education
This is one of the 9 projects from the SURFnet ‘Digital Assessment for customised education’ innovation scheme. As part of this scheme, between 1 July 2015 and 1 July 2016 higher education institutions will be experimenting with the use of digital assessment in designing customised education, improving education quality and the fit between learning/teaching methods and the requirements of students and lecturers.
About the author
Esther Arrindell is a lecturer in Pedagogy and Didactics at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences’ second level teacher training program, as well as project leader of the Basic Qualification for Examinations (‘BasisKwalitificatie Examinering’, or BKE) and Senior Qualification for Examinations (‘SeniorKwalificatie Examinering’, or SKE) implementation. As a psychologist and information specialist, she is interested in how digital tools can accelerate and improve everyday practice. As a assessment expert, she is specifically interested in formative assessment and is looking for ways to translate theory into practical applications.