Earle Abrahamson, Course Leader and Senior Lecturer in Sports Therapy at the University of East London (UK), has been using Turnitin Feedback Studio to provide feedback to his students on their written work for several years. In 2015, he was honoured with a Turnitin Global Innovation Award for his resourceful approach in using technology to model good academic writing practice for his students.
In early 2020, as schools and universities all over the world scrambled to make the switch to online learning environments, Earle was already well-versed in using digital feedback tools. This meant he had a strong advantage over many educators who were hurriedly learning a new skill set, plus his students were also already very comfortable learning and receiving feedback digitally. Nevertheless, like many educators from around the world, Earle needed to refine his practices to ensure the digital feedback he was giving his students was effective and useful. He also deeply wanted to ensure that his feedback was appropriate and reflected the unique and unprecedented situation in which the academic world found itself.
After just a few weeks of remote instruction, Earle saw that there was an even deeper need for his feedback to be holistic, to function as a genuine and consistent way to check in on students' progress, mental health, and overall well-being. With all of that in mind, Earle synthesised all he knew about feedback and established his own revised pedagogy on how best to support student feedback engagement, during the pandemic and beyond:
- Understand for whom feedback is intended. Consider the recipient of feedback and how they may react to or use the feedback. This requires understanding the purpose of feedback and how the recipient may act upon the feedback by engaging in a dialogue. Be aware of how social, emotional, and cultural elements impact how feedback is delivered, compiled, and received. Often, circumstances or specific events can distort or undermine the benefit of feedback.
- Relate feedback to specific areas for improvement. This seems logical but often feedback may appear broad or directionless and is therefore lost on the recipient. When providing feedback, it is important to focus on exactly what needs to be addressed as a priority. Try delivering feedback in stages so that key aspects of the feedback can be internalised and acted upon appropriately by the recipient.
- Embrace the concept of “Less is more.” Focus on what needs to be prioritised in the feedback and deliver key messages in accessible language. Often, feedback is written for the giver and not necessarily the recipient. The language of feedback can often be troublesome and inaccessible – it is important to provide feedback that is unambiguous and easy to relate to and understand.
- Recognise that feedback is a two-way process. Ensure that the receiver is able to question and feed back to the giver. By entertaining this dual approach, feedback becomes a lived experience, not simply a learned one.
- Seek improvements to your feedback loop. Use post feedback questionnaires to evaluate how feedback has been interpreted, used, and adapted to inspire change and develop confidence. As educators, we spend time feeding back but rarely do we spend time evaluating the feedback we deliver. It is important to assess how individuals use or value feedback. A good technique is to ask a student to discuss how they have acted upon specific feedback ahead of providing additional feedback. This could provide the giver of feedback with some insight into how the individual has received and used the initial feedback.
- Consider the “Amazon” approach. Prioritise consistent delivery and let the recipient of your feedback know exactly when they can plan on receiving your feedback. If an individual is having to wait a long time for feedback, then the value, purpose, impact, and reach of the feedback may be lost. Using an “Amazon” approach that signposts when feedback can reasonably be expected prepares the recipient for feedback and may further help to engage the recipient in the feedback provided.
Above all, Earle feels that “feedback is part of learning, not additional to” it. He has discerned, over years of experience and through months of remote instruction, that effective feedback needs to be specific, succinct, consistent, and open to change. And because a majority of these key conversations between educators and students are now occurring online, it’s imperative that instructors prioritise holistic, authentic feedback in order to support student learning success in every learning environment and at every level.
Read more on Earle’s approach to student-centred learning in a recent article published in Teaching & Learning Inquiry where he advocates the need to connect subject-based academic knowledge with life-long learning skills to create a holistic student experience where students can thrive in the world beyond higher education.