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Formative feedback fundamentals

A post by Donna Peach @Donna_Peach

Producing video guidance for students who are in the process of developing their essays is something I have been committed to and blogged about since I undertook my postgraduate certificate in academic practice.  At that time, I was a new academic, but I instinctively understood the benefit of formative feedback. Since then, I have learned a great deal from working with both undergraduate and postgraduate students. There are two principles which need to be explored, the first is the benefit of formative feedback, i.e. before an assignment has been submitted for grading, and secondly the value of video casting.

The importance of when we provide knowledge.

If you wanted to travel from Land’s End to John O’Groats, you are likely to look up the route on a map and you may even check with others what routes they would recommend.  An alternative would be to drive to John O’Groats, and upon your arrival be informed by a ‘smart-alec’ that they knew of a route, which would enabled you to arrive three hours earlier.  Admittedly, there is benefit in life to learning where we went wrong, but often, much greater learning can happen if we can avoid spending too much time repairing our mistakes.

Homer Simpson

Matt Groening

In my experience, the main reason academics give for not providing formative feedback is the fact it is time consuming.  They are right, it is.  Nonetheless, I would argue that the time invested at the formative stage, makes grading much easier, as the work submitted is of a better standard.  This also serves to save students the anguish of failing to achieve and having to resubmit work, which negates the time they then have available for their next assignment.  Thus, we hamper students who have most to learn, as they have to complete work for their next and previously failed assignments simultaneously.  However, this is not just about students who need extra support. As a doctoral student, my supervisors provide formative feedback on my draft chapters.  Why would I not want the same support for my students?

It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it 

The human brain is a marvellous organ, but most of us cannot retain or recall each piece of information we  impart or receive in any conversation. In tutorials, students will ask me to repeat something I said, but it was not stored in my short term memory. I encourage students to use their phones to record our tutorials so they can revisit what we discussed. However, they then have to make sense of what I was actually referring to once they are back at home. I also have déjà vu as I find myself repeating the same information to numerous students, as I try to find ways to assist them to ‘get it’, i.e. to understand what they are yet to fathom.

I first used ‘screencastomatic’ (Salford staff use this link) to assist students completing an ethical approval form for a module assignment. I got lots of positive feedback which reflected the value of the student being able to repeat any part of the video when it was most needed.  So, I decided to have a bash at providing video advice and guidance on a student’s draft assignment.  This was a lengthy and detailed process and the examination of an introductory paragraph became a half hour video. This level of detail could not be given to each student for each paragraph, but it will form part of an additional resource that they can use.  It enables the student to access visual and audio information which they can revisit as they begin to construct their own introductions.  So far, the feedback has been very positive from both students and colleagues. This has encouraged me to plough ahead and there will be more videos online in the coming weeks. I would encourage other tutors to do the same, the students really value the time we give to vary the support they can access.


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