Rona O'Brien

  • Exploring staff and students' mental maps: creating narratives for successful assessment feedback

    Rona O'Brien and Louise Sparshatt, Sheffield Hallam University

    Research seminar

    Themes: supporting learners

    Wednesday 9 September 2009, 09.00 - 10.00 in room G61

    Feedback on assessment has become a pressing topic for Universities in recent years. The implementation of the National Student Survey (NSS) has publicly evidenced the important role that feedback plays in levels of student satisfaction and results from the sector show that there is a common theme of student dissatisfaction with assessment feedback. Institutions and practitioners tend to address issues of assessment feedback by seeking to improve staff's understanding of good feedback practice and managing students' expectations. The solution may be more complex than this - staff may feel that their feedback practice is good and managing the expectations of an ever changing and varied student population may not be possible or desirable.

    To date the sector has struggled to implement good assessment feedback for the majority of students; this paper proposes that this may in part be due to an over-concentration on the promotion of student-led practice to staff, who feel that they know what is good practice, and/or managing students' expectations for students who feel that their expectations should be met, not managed. Therefore it may be useful to look at academics' and students' mental maps of assessment feedback. If academics and students are not aware of each others' views, values and expectations of assessment feedback and how they compare to their own, institutions may experience difficulties in meaningfully implementing changes in practice.

    A way forward may lie in the sector realising that improvements in assessment feedback might be more successfully implemented if a less managerial view of creating successful feedback is taken. Instead of telling staff what good feedback practice is and telling students what they should expect, it might be better to develop an ongoing narrative between staff and students where each party discovers each other's values, views and practice around feedback to create a dialogue in which the nature of feedback and what makes it 'good' can be usefully discussed. 

    The seminar will build on a survey of and interviews with teaching staff's perceptions of their assessment feedback practice and their preconceptions of students' perceptions of feedback on assessed work. A questionnaire for students has also been developed to understand their ideas of feedback on assessment and what students believe to be staff's motivations when they return feedback.

    This investigation will indicate the complexity of achieving the successful implementation of feedback, and may provide an understanding of the failure of attempts to achieve successful feedback using a student-led, managerial approach that is primarily determined by the consideration of students' values and expectations. The paper proposes that consideration of both staff and students' perception of their own and each other's values about good assessment practice is necessary in order to create a shared narrative of 'good assessment feedback' within institutions.