Feedback is a crucial component of learning but is difficult to carry out effectively in mass higher education. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that feedback processes are complex and that much well-intentioned feedback fails to achieve its objectives (Evans, 2013; Jönsson, 2013). The pedagogic implications of the Bologna process place renewed emphasis on learning outcomes; and the use of assessment feedback to support student progress towards intended outcomes (Flores et al., 2015). The development of effective feedback processes thus becomes a crucial element of teaching, learning and assessment in European and international higher education.
Productive feedback processes involve some degree of partnership and interaction between teachers and students. How students react to and use feedback is critical because feedback is only useful if it leads to some student action. The objectives of this paper are to investigate how a small group of undergraduate students respond to feedback processes; and how these perceptions evolve over time.
The theoretical framework is based on conceptualizing the learner role in feedback; reviewing how students’ perceive feedback; how they process and understand feedback; and their affective reactions to feedback.
In recent literature, some emerging principles are becoming established: feedback is a process rather than a product which is delivered to students; feedback processes need engineering to promote dialogues of various forms; and emphasis should be placed on what the learner does with feedback information (Boud & Molloy, 2013). Consistent with this perspective, for the purposes of this paper feedback is defined as a dialogic process in which learners try to make sense of information from varied sources and use it to enhance the quality of their learning.
The emphasis on the learner in this definition makes their perception and response to feedback particularly important. Scott (2014) infers a learner definition of feedback as the means by which students gauge their progress in terms of the knowledge, understanding, and skills that will determine their course result. In a phenomenographic investigation of students’ conceptions of feedback, McLean, Bond and Nicholson (2014) found that most students perceived feedback in terms of telling and guiding but ideas about developing understanding and opening up different perspectives also occurred.
There is a range of evidence that students are not particularly satisfied with their feedback experiences. The review by Jönsson (2013) indicates a number of perceived problems: students often find feedback difficult to understand; they lack strategies for using feedback; and generally perceive it as being not particularly useful. Students appear to desire clear and specific feedback that can be directly acted upon (Winstone et al., 2016) rather than seeing its longer-term developmental function (Price et al., 2011).
Feedback is an emotional business in which students’ personal dispositions influence what is attended to, encoded, consolidated and eventually retrieved (Forsythe & Johnson, 2016). Students sometimes see critical feedback as a threat to their self-esteem but critique can also be a catalyst for improvement. Many students become progressively disengaged from feedback during the course of their studies as a repercussion of repeated unsatisfactory experiences (Price et al., 2011).
More research is needed on how students understand and process feedback (Hattie & Gan, 2011). Significantly for the current project more research on feedback requires a longitudinal perspective, tracking students’ views on feedback across the duration of their university careers (Brown, 2007). The current research aims to fill these two gaps and contribute to the theory and practice of how students respond to and use feedback over time.
Boud, D. & Molloy, E. (2013). Rethinking models of feedback for learning: The challenge of design. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(6), 698-712. Brown, J. (2007). Feedback: The student perspective. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 12(1), 33-51. Evans, C. (2013). Making sense of assessment feedback in higher education. Review of Educational Research, 83(1), 70-120. Flores, M. A., Veiga Simão, A. M., Barros, A., & Pereira, D. (2015). Perceptions of effectiveness, fairness and feedback of assessment methods: A study in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 40(9), 1523-1534. Forsythe, A. & Johnson, S. (2016). Thanks, but no-thanks for the feedback. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. Hattie, J. & Gan, M. (2011) Instruction based on feedback. In R. Mayer & P. Alexander (Eds), Handbook of research on learning and instruction. New York: Routledge. Jönsson, A. (2013). Facilitating productive use of feedback in higher education. Active learning in higher education, 14(1), 63-76. McLean, A., Bond, C. & Nicholson, H. (2014). An anatomy of feedback: A phenomenographic investigation of undergraduate students’ conceptions of feedback. Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2013.855718. Price, M., Handley, K. & Millar, J. (2011). Feedback: Focusing attention on engagement. Studies in Higher Education, 36(8), 879-896. Scott, S. (2014). Practising what we preach: Towards a student-centred definition of feedback. Teaching in higher education, 19(1), 49-57. Winstone, N., Nash, R., Rowntree, J. & Parker, M. (2016). ‘It'd be useful, but I wouldn't use it’: Barriers to university students’ feedback seeking and recipience. Studies in Higher Education, doi/10.1080/03075079.2015.1130032
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