Assessment and Feedback: The Person in the Process

Assessment and Feedback: The Person in the Process: Reflections on the University of Gloucestershire Festival of Learning

Dr Naomi Winstone reads the runes…..
Email: n.winstone@surrey.ac.uk

On 13th June, I had the pleasure of being Keynote Speaker at the University of Gloucestershire Festival of Learning, for which the theme was Assessment and Feedback. In his welcome, the Dean for Academic Development spoke of this area of practice as something that the University really cares about. This was certainly evident in the sessions that I attended, which presented a wide variety of innovative practices.

In his seminal paper, David Nicol (2010) argues that students’ dissatisfaction with assessment and feedback reflects the ‘squeezing out’ of dialogue in the feedback process as a result of the massification of higher education. The first session that I attended consisted of two very contrasting talks that made me reflect upon the balance between managing the workload involved in assessing students’ work, and maintaining the important dialogic nature of feedback. The first talk was given by a member of staff and a student in collaboration, who discussed the importance of empathy towards the ‘other’ in the feedback process. The second talk presented an automated marking system as a way of reducing the burden of assessment on staff. The former placed emphasis on the roles of the educator and student in partnership (see Nash & Winstone, 2017a); the latter made no reference to the role of the student. In other sessions I was inspired by innovative uses of peer feedback, and feedback from graduates and industry experts. My reflections on Nicol’s discussion of dialogue were brought back to mind during the presentation of a dialogic feedback model in one of the afternoon sessions, where trust, care, and empathy were positioned as central tenets of the feedback process. The focus was placed on the personal dimension of the feedback process, not the logistics of marking or the nature of comments. During this session I found my thoughts about the day crystallising into two take-away points which I shared during the panel discussion:

 

People not comments

If we lose sight of the fact that feedback is about the relationship between educator and student, not about the comments written on marking sheets, then we also ignore the complex psychology of feedback (see Nash & Winstone, 2017b).

Process not product

If we focus on the production of comments, then the assessment process becomes more akin to a quality assurance procedure to demonstrate that assessment has taken place than a process that is ultimately designed to drive students’ learning, increase their confidence, and develop their skills.

 

In my keynote, I drew upon the distinction that David Carless (2015) makes between the ‘Old Paradigm’ of feedback as the transmission of comments, and the ‘New Paradigm’ of feedback as dialogue. In a stretched sector, it is perhaps inevitable that time, workload, and the efficient delivery of comments will be common themes in discourse. Yet by focusing on the person in the process, I believe that feedback has the potential to be less burdensome, more rewarding, and more impactful for all involved.

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References

Carless, D. (2015). Excellence in University Assessment. London: Routledge.

Nash, R. A., & Winstone, N. E. (2017a). Responsibility sharing in the giving and receiving of assessment feedback. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1519.

Nash, R.A., & Winstone, N.E. (2017b). Why even the best feedback can bring out the worst in us. BBC Future. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170308-why-even-the-best-feedback-can-bring-out-the-worst-in-us

Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education35(5), 501-517.

 

 

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