Feedback opens the gateway of learning

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.

References

  • 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

Author: Dr Prabhat Pankaj

Dr. Prabhat Pankaj is a postgraduate in Economics and a Ph.D. in applied economics. He is a teacher by choice and started his career 30 years ago in 1991 from Arunachal University. He has been teaching Economics at postgraduate and undergraduate levels for about 30 years, in Universities and B-Schools in India and abroad, including 7 years in Bhutan. Dr. Pankaj has also obtained his Executive Education in "Management and Leadership in Higher Education" at Harvard University, Boston, USA. Furthermore, He has written for the Times of India and other popular publications. Currently, he is serving as the Director of Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur.

23 thoughts

  1. Never thought that feedback can have such deep implications. This article now encourages me to be more specific while seeking feedback. Thanks sir yiu deserve a praise for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Definitely….Feedback works as a magic wand, this article has strengthened my view!!!

    Thank you so much for sharing such well researched thoughts Prabhat Sir😇

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 360 degree, holistic, transparent, unbiased and unprejudiced assessment, feedback is must for learning & progress. When Prof Deepak Paintal started for the first time 360 degree feedback in DU, predictably long entrenched, vested interest lobby and white elephants from senior so called, ‘know all’, ‘we know the best’ seniors revolted aggressively. I really lost track to know if it was ultimately implemented.
    Still, horizontal (peer gr), top down and bottoms up feedback is must else learning would be compromised, rusted, would give rise to in breeding and currying favours.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Sir for sharing your thoughts on importance of giving and receiving feedback, well researched and wonderfully written. I would like to use my Learnings from the article in my course on Performance Management where Art of giving and receiving feedback is a very important topic.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Not only to students but employees also expects feedback from their Manager/(s).
    In my first organization, I was at the place of Arti, and I started loosing enthusiasm in doing every project afterwards…

    When the feedback thing did not happen continuously for a certain amount of time, I decided to move out of the organization for the sake of my career growth.

    So, the written article is absolutely an important one and not just faculties but also Seniors, Managers and Team leaders should understand this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You are absolutely correct Sir, feedback as a tool is necessary and important for improvement and development, be it for the individual or the institution. However, when it comes to students giving feedback for a course pthere are a few issues:
    1. Most of them do not want to give feedback. This could be due to several reasons, may be they feel it will not be liked by the faculty (I will mention what I do to overcome this fear that the students have). The second reason could be that they do not see any major outcome/result of the feedback they provide. Let’s say they do not find any change in the faculty’s style of teaching, or the pedagogy being used etc.
    The third reason could be simple lethargy and disinterest. The course is over so why bother now, this is why mid-term feedback is important.
    2. How & when is the right time to take the course feedback is the next issue.
    Offline feedback would mean a lot of work to input the data. Online feedback means there is no control as to when and if the student would give feedback at all.
    Incase, the feedback is collected in the offline mode in the last session of the course, we find since the exam is drawing close sometimes only 20-30 students out of a class of 60 are present.
    If one goes for online feedback, students don’t show up at a common lab to give feedback. If students are forced to give feedback out of frustration they may give a negative feedback or arbitrarily give a feedback which does not give a correct picture.
    This could be dangerous if as you mentioned the scores are used for the faculty appraisal, promotion etc.

    All this makes a very important and fruitful process like feedback invaluable.

    Anonymity of the feedback giver is important if one wants to get an honest feedback. For this what I do is ask the class CR to collect the feedback on a Google Sheet, with the choice left to the students to remain anonymous and then he forwards the feedback to me. This feedback I take as a Mid-Term feedback on my own and its not an Institute requirement.

    Another great way of getting feedback from students regarding their understanding of the subject while the course is on, is to use the different forms of CAT (Classroom Assessment Techniques) such as the Muddiest Point, One Minute Paper. These CAT are easily available online.

    This would be my take on FEEDBACK PROCESS. Would love to get a response from you and others. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dr Nina for your interest in my article on feedback and your very comprehensive and meaningful reply. I agree with both your points. Feedback is indeed considered to be important but yet very difficult and challenging. Never mind, but if a faculty is interested in students learning and in his/her own improvement, giving and taking feedback will be necessary. One way to remove the fear of feedback is to delink it from appraisal or any administrative purpose. CAT as you proposed looks like a great way forward. I am really happy that you have a view on this subject and already started working on the way forward. I am sure many more faculty would have the similar urge of taking it seriously, regards

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  7. Yes feedback is an important component of any system. It really works well if it is done in the right time and with the right intention. But the feedback can be biased, irrational n immaturish at times. However, as rightly pointed out by you Sir, a feedback is a feedback how bad or good it may be. But then it needs to be properly evaluated by the person acting on the feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Indeed very interesting article Sir. The voice of students and the voice of faculties in form of feedback indeed form up the house of quality of educational system. No doubt in that, Sir. Article is in sense of realization for us to be commited to quality in education.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Feedback is integral to the process of teaching and learning. It is the secrect to communication to be intentional, purposeful, and worthwhile. It is a act if faith – feedback.

    It is heartening to receive this insightful examination of the vital elements and rationale of feedback from a renowned and practised professional in the field.

    Thank you for this gem, Dr. Pankaj.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The debate on feedback has taken a new turn and grown in intensity.

    Feedback or constructive criticism mentions an HBR article about the brain’s ‘fight or flight’ mechanism.  Research also suggests that feedback that looks into the strengths of the individual and the work done help in increased competence and performance of the individual. Yet, and constructively, this post corroborates the idea of how to make an individual thrive and excel through the feedback mechanism. Feedback also acts as a necessary mechanism to develop the skills that one is missing.

    I liked the promising tone of the post as to how feedback can be a significant tool in an educational institution to boost the morale for students, teachers and professions where this mechanism operates. Enjoyed reading the story-telling cadence throughout. I could not agree more with the idea of giving feedback in an ‘appropriate format, length and time’. The idea well demonstrates the need for ‘peer dialogue’ as a crucial factor to stimulate and channelise discussions thereby mirroring and matching competencies of an individual and is a trigger for an individual to excel.

    The comprehensive tabular framework for stakeholders of institutions of higher education may serve as a feedback tool of merit which many institutions may pick up. 

    The idea of open-ended questions as a qualitative measure for accruing feedback and putting it into constructive use adds as a token of seal for this post on feedback as a developmental tool. 

    A wonderful read to keep my spirits high!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Enjoyed reading this thoughtful article. No matter what is the age of the learner, or the which field in which one is making progress, feedback always is helpful in achieving more … This was a lovely article and thought provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Very nice post! Feedback is one of the commonly misused terms in education, and most often used without situating it into the epistmological framework. In behaviorist epistemology, which is behind the rigorously defined learning outcomes (e.g. Murtonen, Gruber & Lehtinen, 2017) the learning goal is a predefined precise standard, and offering “feedback” for students to meet that goal is vastly different from the constructivist practice of using feedback to support students’ learning process. The behaviorist feedback is certainly the most common one in education, workplaces and espectially in human resources practices, or in the summative evaluations conducted to inform the stakeholders. But is it really beneficial for students’ deeper learning? Most likely not.

    When we want to support students’ deeper learning and their self-regulation, we need to use feed-forward type of feedback (e.g. Bandura & Locke, 2003), where students are engaging in regular peer feedback and we as faculty have a dialogue with students about their learning plan and the next steps to improve their project or essay. Choices are so VERY important for deeper learning, which certainly is the end goal of progressive education. https://ninasnotes.fi/2018/06/10/choices-are-important-for-deep-learning/

    Bottom line: only those mistakes that are allowed to be corrected can help students to learn more (and become life-ling learners). Cult of pedagogy has a great post about feedforward: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/feedforward/

    🙂
    Nina

    Murtonen, M., Gruber, H., & Lehtinen, E. (2017). The return of behaviourist epistemology: A review of learning outcomes studies. Educational Research Review, 22, 114-128.
    Bandura, A., & Locke, E. A. (2003). Negative self-efficacy and goal effects revisited. Journal of
    applied psychology, 88(1), 87-99.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Dr Nina: It was a pleasure reading through your comment on my post. I liked the references and links you shared. Thanks for that. I have also followed your blog through email. I would be looking forward to reading all your posts. It looks like that we share common interest and are equally passionate about student learning … let’s stay in touch. prabhat

      Like

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