Feedback is a magic wand which can open several gates of learning for students. However, the efficacy of feedback as a tool of learning would largely depend upon the manner in which feedback is given as well as the time when feedback is executed. As a faculty we must also learn the art and science of taking and giving feedback, of course both formal and informal.
Arti, a student of management program, was very disappointed that she did not get to hear anything from faculty on her assignment submission. She prepared this assignment with utmost attention, devoted a lot of time researching, revised the write up 2-3 times before submission. If she was so careful, meticulous and mindful in her submission, why she needed any revert from faculty? In fact, when the marks were announced, she was one among the few first in the list. Perhaps, she knew that she did well but still expected if she could hear some words from the faculty. Was she expecting too much and also unnecessary? Often, we think that feedback should be given only to students who have not done well. Slow learners need to be handhold and given feedback. Yes, this is true but the deep-seated urge to hear about the performance is central to a student’s progression. Feedback is not just a course correction but a deciding factor for students approaching learning with enthusiasm and care. Arti has a reason to be disappointed and perhaps her unmet expectation would greatly affect several aspects of learning including a vital ingredient called enthusiasm.
Students love feedback. More than anything else, they look forward to receiving feedback from faculty. It is a sheer disappointment for them, if they do not hear anything back from faculty. A delayed feedback is as good as no-feedback. It works as a magic wand, if feedback is given in appropriate format, length and on time.
Feedback as a developmental tool
Feedback is central to a progressive learning system. It is a perpetual source of learning for students (when it comes from faculty to students) and a great source of course corrections (when it comes from students to faculty). Both are important for a progressive education system striving to grow qualitatively.
From faculty to student
Eraut (2006): When students enter higher education . . . the type of feedback they then receive, intentionally or unintentionally, will play an important part in shaping their learning futures. Hence we need to know much more about how their learning, indeed their very sense of professional identity, is shaped by the nature of the feedback they receive. We need more feedback on feedback. (p. 118)
The importance of feedback from faculty to student has been various emphasized and reinforced. Nevertheless, it has also been a kind of ‘black-box’ for higher educational institutions and there is still a sense of skepticism prevailing around the notion of feedback. It is considered difficult but at the same time essential. Survey results have pointed out that students are largely dissatisfied with the feedback they receive on course works and it is largely inadequate, untimely, while teachers’ complaint that students did not apply the feedback properly (Orrella 2006, Nicol 2010).
Md. Mamoon-Al-Bashir and other (2016) in their work suggested following actions to make the feedback work for the learning of the students:
- Make students understand what good performance or goal means.
- Simplify the improvement process of self-assessment or reflections in learning.
- Providing quality information to students about their learning.
- Allow peer dialogue in understanding the feedback.
- Inspire positive motivational beliefs.
- Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance.
Faculty finds it easy to provide oral feedback to students. It has its own value but it is not a substitute of written feedback. Both oral and written feedback are complementary and works differently for students. Faculty must take the pain of writing precise, clear and specific feedback. There is also a need to focus on both formal and informal feedback system in higher educational institutions.
From students to faculty
Student feedback on teaching & courses can serve several objectives. Within higher education, engagement, motivation, self-determination, and self-improvement are not only significant but vital for academic success and students’ feedback can serve as a perfect source of achieving all these. As faculty we get motivated looking at positive feedback, while we also learn to make teaching more student-centric and exciting for students. In view of continuous efforts to improve teaching-learning-assessment process at higher educational institution, following objectives need to be looked into:
- Student feedback as a source of motivation for faculty
- Student feedback as a source of enhancing student engagement and self-improvement
- Student feedback as a source of reform/adjustment in teaching/pedagogy
- Student feedback as a source of curricular improvements and closing the loop
The above objectives are largely developmental rather than administrative in nature. It is to be understood that in our urge to ascertain administrative purpose, we have been losing sight of student feedback as a developmental tool. The quantitative feedback serves good purpose for faculty appraisal, however, it is far from ascertaining ‘teaching quality’, not even a proxy. Developmental objectives can be served well if we allow students to write meaningful and useful feedback to pertinent questions. In a formal feedback system, open ended questions should be asked.
Importance of timing in feedback
Whether it is from faculty to students or from students to faculty, feedback works well if given on right time. We should never delay in providing feedback to students. Feedback on formative assessment works well if given instantaneously or at best with least time lag. The summative assessment feedback works well when it is given in a written form. The feedback needs to be specific rather than using generalized words like ‘excellent’, ‘poor’, or ‘needs improvements’. These words are immeasurable for students and they do not convey specific improvement required. Students do not find them implementable.
Feedback from student to faculty on courses need to be placed both at mid-term and end-term. Mid-term feedback allows mid-course corrections in teaching such as its pace, coverage, pedagogical effectiveness etc., while the end-term feedback is comprehensive in nature and works well in curriculum improvements and innovations. There is also a question of quantitative vs qualitative feedback. Should we ask students to rate various aspects of teaching-learning in a course on a scale or should we make them write about it. Quantitative feedback has its own utility and it can be used for variety of purposes, including faculty appraisal, incentives, cut-off for minimum acceptable level etc. However, making students write a paragraph will have profound uses. In the first place, feedback itself becomes a learning tool for students and an indicator of whether students are learning from the course or not. Further, such write ups can be handy as an input in curriculum reforms and closing the loop in the next cycle.
Stakeholder perspective of feedback
Stakeholder perspective of feedback is a cornerstone of a progressive educational system. It allows the institute to broaden the perspective and help in making overall improvement. It is also a part of inclusive institution building and continuous improvement process covering comprehensive aspects of teaching and learning. It brings about relevance and helps connecting with society to create impact through teaching-learning and outreach programs.
Here is a comprehensive framework of stakeholders’ feedback system which an institution of higher learning may like to look at:
*Open House is a system where Dean meets the class once or twice in a term and indulge in a candid conversation on several aspects of learning and other facilities.
*Student Council is a formally constituted student body empowered to lead, organize and suggest on various aspects of the functioning of college, including academics.
*Student Satisfaction Survey is an unanimous, end of the year survey taken from students through a structured questionnaire asking them to rate on a 10 point scale.
*BoG is College’s Board of Governors
*AC is college’s Academic Council
*AACRC is college’s Academic Area Council for Revisiting Curriculum
My colleague asked me: what should we do when feedback is not of my liking? Of course, some feedback may disturb you or you may not like to hear. But then, the very purpose of feedback gets lost if we start differentiating between ‘good feedback’ and ‘bad feedback’. I told my colleague, feedback is feedback—there is nothing called good or bad feedback. The only thing we should do to a feedback is to Act Upon It! He laughed.
- Eraut, M. Feedback (2006) Learning in Health and Social Care. 5:111–118
- Md. Mamoon-Al-Bashir, Md. Rezaul Kabir, Ismat Rahman (2016). The Value and Effectiveness of Feedback in Improving Students’ Learning and Professionalizing Teaching in Higher Education, Journal of Education and Practice, Vol.7, No.16.
- Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 501-517.
- Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education, 31(2), 199-218.
- Orrell, J. (2006). Feedback on learning achievement: rhetoric and reality. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(4), 441-456