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Students and the science of feedback

by Vijay Garg
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Feedback for students should be constructive, positive, and timely to augment the interlinked, symbiotic relationship between learning and teaching.
Feedback should be treated as a dialogue between the faculty and students.
For students, feedback comprises an integral part of effective learning. Whether in college or school, the principles of using feedback to facilitate better learning remain the same. Not only does it help students understand subjects better, but also guides them on how they can improve learning skills.
Educationists believe that academic feedback is more strongly and reliably linked to achievements compared to other teaching modalities. Moreover, it can enhance a student’s self-awareness, self-confidence, and eagerness to learn and be extremely useful in the choices of higher education and beyond.
Boosting learning outcomes
Significantly, effective feedback during the first year in university can facilitate their transition to higher education and beyond, simultaneously supporting student retention. However, students must accept and assimilate it to augment their learning and boost assessment outcomes. While educators should explain what has been done correctly and incorrectly, the focus must be on what is being done right. By providing the latest information about students’ grasp of theories, facts, or the achievement of a specific skill, feedback improves the ability of professors to teach as per the requirements of the situation.
Although feedback can be formal or informal, one must not forget that, consciously and unconsciously, professors provide immediate feedback in their classes. In most instances, this happens via gestures, facial expressions, and comments. Whether formal or informal, faculty must ensure that feedback provided in class is always constructive and solution-oriented. Harsh or negative feedback will be counterintuitive and defeat the common cause of ensuring students perform well in academics and higher educational pursuits as well as professional careers.
Accordingly, professors should take note of how students react when given feedback before others in the classroom. Besides comprehending the immediate reaction, this will help assess whether the student is reflecting on the message conveyed and then works as per the feedback.
Where informal feedback is concerned, it is instant and, often, more effective. For example, professors may amble across the class and, standing by a student’s desk, comment about his/her work. In this manner, students could be commended for good work and offered immediate suggestions for further improvement.
Conversely, grading every assignment can be counterproductive as students tend to compare themselves with classmates instead of focussing on their work and ways to improve it. Marks or grades must only be given during formal assessment.
Research has shown that students progress more when feedback is received via comments rather than grades. Not surprisingly, the degree of motivation and achievement remained higher in students who only received comments as feedback, unlike those given grades. Therefore, in the case of slow learners particularly, it is best to offer feedback via positive comments only as their already-low self-esteem may fall further if negative/harsh words are used.
Feedback on feedback
Considering the key role of feedback, it is sometimes said that professors must be given more feedback on feedback. Various student surveys across the globe show that they feel feedback is inadequate and not timely. However, teachers assert students don’t heed their advice.
So, where does this leave the feedback process, especially from the students’ perspective? The best option is for professors to reconsider the process of providing feedback and customising their teaching modalities going by students’ valid feedback.
Additionally, merely giving feedback isn’t enough. To enhance its effectiveness, it should be treated as a dialogue between the faculty and students. In this way, there will be opportunities for tutors to bridge the gap between the current and expected performance. This can be achieved by redoing the assignment and ensuring improved work that meets the expected standards, clarifying that the faculty’s feedback is effective.
Ultimately, teaching and learning can become a truly symbiotic relationship, benefitting both students and tutors while providing more productive outcomes for all stakeholders.

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