Closing the Feedback Loop

Michael Meehan Beginner, FOLC, Learning Series

Designing and Delivering Formative Assessment Online

‘A Mermaid falling into a Black Hole’ was how one critic described the experience of listening to the experimental feedback based music of the Irish group My Bloody Valentine. When I saw them live in the Nineties, I had to escape the venue they were playing as I thought my ears would burst. As a teacher I always think of this experience when the issue of student feedback is raised. Poorly designed feedback is often somewhat akin to mermaids falling into black holes!

I raise this issue because I am interested particularly in the issue of the quality of feedback and how there can be different perceptions of feedback between students and teachers, between teachers themselves, and between students concerning its role, its value and its content.

How can we make sure that teachers and learners are communicating clearly and in a successful and productive way in designing and delivering formative assessment and feedback in an online environment?

The importance of feedback

Feedback is how teachers communicate what they value to learners.

Why is student feedback important?

  • Feedback is a key part of learning
  • Feedback is a key feature of a student’s experience of learning
  • Feedback is the articulation of their success or otherwise
  • Feedback expresses how they can improve performance

What is feedback?

“Feedback is a process whereby learners obtain information about their work in order to appreciate the similarities and differences between the appropriate standards for any given work, and the qualities of the work itself, in order to generate improved work.”

 [Boud and Molloy: 2012]

What is  formative feedback?

“All those activities undertaken by teachers (and by their students in assessing themselves), which provide [formative] feedback to shape and develop the teaching and learning activities in which both teachers and students are engaged.”

[Black and Wiliam: 1998]

What is  feed forward?

Online formative assessment can help close the feedback loop by providing formative assessment opportunities that can be used to ‘feed forward’ into, to consider, reflect on, and improve a later summative submission.

According to Ferrell and Gray [

    • “Feedback provides information to learners about where they are in relation to their learning goals. This enables them to evaluate their progress, identify gaps or misconceptions in their knowledge and take remedial action. Generated by tutors, peers, mentors, supervisors, a computer, or as a result of self-assessment, feedback is a vital component of effective learning
    • Feed forward is equally important to learners’ progress. While feedback focuses on current performance (and may simply justify the grade awarded), feed forward looks ahead to the next assignment. Feed forward offers constructive guidance on how to improve. A combination of feedback and feed forward ensures that assessment has an effective developmental impact on learning (provided the student has the opportunity and support to develop their own evaluative skills in order to use the feedback effectively)
    • Ipsative approaches approaches allow tutors and learners to acknowledge personal progress by comparing previous and current work, regardless of overall achievement).”
    • Reconceptualising feedback

      Boud and Molloy [2013] claim that there are a number of ‘myths’ concerning teachers’ understanding of feedback today. People erroneously think that:

      • All feedback is good feedback
      • The more, the merrier
      • Feedback is telling
      • Feedback ends in telling
    • Delivering feedback online
      • Online submission, marking and feedback
      • Quizzes, tests and surveys
      • Online office hours
      • Discussion Boards
      • Recorded audio feedback, or podcasts
      • Electronic voting systems (for more straightforward yes/no questions)
      • Use of online whiteboard facilities to record student views/ comments
    Wren & Cotton [2008]
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