• Creating a feedback-dialogue: exploring the use of interactive coversheets

    Sue Bloxham and Liz Campbell
    University of Cumbria

    Research seminar

    Themes: assessment as learning

    Tuesday 2 September 2008, 09.00-10.00 in Penthouse A

    This paper discusses how involving students in generating feedback can reduce the ‘gap’ between the standards they are expected to achieve and their current level of achievement (Sadler 1998).  ‘Assessment as learning’ is challenging ideas about the separation of formative and summative assessment and replacing it with the notion of ‘learning-oriented assessment’ (Carless et al. 2006; Hounsell 2007).  From this perspective, involving students in assessment is considered to provide an authentic opportunity for them to learn what ‘quality’ is in a given context (Sadler, forthcoming), a key step in improving achievement.

    Furthermore, studies have examined the extent to which tutor feedback better enables students to ‘close the gap’ (Brown & Glover 2006). Evidence suggests that feedback tends to focus on assignment ‘content’ whereas students value comments on their ‘skills’ for future writing (Walker, 2007). Feedback which explains corrections is rare (Millar, 2007), but is considered more likely to help students make the link between the feedback and their own work (Brown & Glover).

    Failure to understand feedback is associated with the tacit discourses of academic disciplines (Higgins 2000). However, learning tacit knowledge is an active, shared process, and thus writers (Ivanic et al, 2000, Northedge 2003) stress the importance of feedback which seeks to engage the student in some form of dialogue.  This theoretical approach suggests that tutor-student dialogue could significantly aid feedback for learning, enabling students to understand feedback so that they can act on it to ‘reduce the gap’.

    This study emerged from concerns that staff on an Outdoor Studies Programme were devoting considerable time to written feedback whilst students were reporting that they did not receive enough, nor was there evidence that feedback was being used to improve future assignments.  Consequently, staff attempted to use the assessment process as a better opportunity for learning.  They endeavoured to both create a dialogue with students and provide them with explanatory feedback. Tutors asked students to generate questions about their work; the tutors answered the questions in the form of coursework feedback. In the second year of the experiment, training was given in asking effective questions.

    Data was collected in the form of their feedback questions, interviews with staff, administration of the Assessment Experience Questionnaire (Dunbar-Goddet and Gibbs, 2006) and a supplementary questionnaire asking students for their preferences for guidance and feedback.  Coding of students’ questions indicated that they differed markedly in the quality of their questions and rarely posed queries about the ‘content’ of their assignment, being much more concerned with their ‘skills’.  The quantitative data indicated high mean scores for ‘quantity and quality of feedback’ and ‘use of feedback’ although students gave mixed preferences for different types of feedback. Staff reported achieving a sense of dialogue, finding it easier to write feedback in response to specific questions. Evidence of the impact of ‘question’ training will also be presented.

    Discussion will consider whether the research findings support conceptual models regarding assessment as learning, ‘assessment dialogues’ (Carless 2006) and self-regulation in assessment (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick 2006).

    References supplied with paper.