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Discussion: Assessment and feedback

Feedback and speech bubbles

  1. What concerns would you imagine people having with feedback and assessment online who were new to this form of teaching? (for example, uncertainty about how much time to spend giving feedback).
  2. Imagine you are an online student. How much feedback would you want? How many times per course would you want to be assessed?

My answers:

  1. In our current situation at the moment, we are all being forced to rush into this and get it working. Students, lecturers and course organisers all face unfamiliar procedures and technical challenges. The one good point is that we are all in the same boat and so we will ideally have more patience with each other and we are all motivated to make it work.
    In a more normal time, I might be more concerned about online assessment and feedback being impersonal, and perhaps more likely to be misinterpreted (in both directions). I would also be concerned about students becoming discouraged if they don’t get good grades and are remote from everyone else in their learning community.
  2. If I were an online student, I would want to begin with regular small assessments, as I feel this would reassure me if I was on the right track, and help me not to stray too far off it if I wasn’t. Once I was familiar with the learning environment, learning community, course subjects, teaching methods and assessment processes, I would be more used to organising my studies to suit an online format, and have more confidence about tackling more substantial, more widely spread out assignments remotely on my own.


What did my fellow students say?

An art lecturer made a very interesting comment that I think might also be relevant to other subjects where study might include discussing a physical object, or perhaps practical techniques:

In my field students get regular formative feedback either 1:1 or in small crit groups. The feedback is thus face-to-face and verbal rather than written. The difficulty most colleagues would have is with the thought that teaching online involves time-shifting, meaning that it’s not “live” and has no room for improvisation and dialogue. I imagine that there would be concern that ‘liveness’ would be lost (albeit that it doesn’t have to be if a webinar or group chat is used). The other issue is that we are often conducting feedback in front of an ‘artefact’. The artefact is what’s being assessed. Unlike an essay, the artefact can’t easily be reproduced and shared. Sometimes the artefact is ‘live’ (a performance). It’s important to witness it unmediated. Working online is mediated rather than immeditated. That presents a major problem for us in art.

They also commented, “Assessment isn’t important for artistic learning (art courses were not assessed until the early 1970s), feedback is all that really matters.”

A teacher of computer programming discussed wanting to know about different technical options available, and also said,

“I know, as a student, I would like lots of feedback. But as a teacher (I know we aren’t meant to think it here) I would like to think of ways to minimise the feedback needed as we would be hoping for large numbers of students on the course, running as and when they want to, so this would make the feedback workload enormous. So, to re-phrase, as a student I would like the means of knowing if I were right, whether or not this is from feedback from the lecturer, or a video with the correct answers or a paper or document with correct answers.”

In response to this concern about balancing engaging feedback with the workload of providing that for large scale courses, someone else commented,

“I think front loading formative feedback in the form of online quizzes or interactive learning objects that goes beyond “correct/incorrect” answers is one way to manage feedback to large cohorts. Yes, it requires work upfront but it can provide a useful way of knowing how students are doing at specific times throughout your course.”

This comment emphasised the usefulness of dialogue in formative assesments, and the importance of setting expectations with clear rubrics for such informal styles of assessment:

“Depending on the nature of the assessment, how to deliver feedback can vary. In formative activities, it’s not unusual for feedback to turn into a dialogue, if the student has follow up questions about the activity – especially if the activity is supposed to feed forward and the student needs clarity. So I’d want to know about the options for engaging in that kind of dialogue in the online space. What are the tools that could be used? Discussion boards, emails, chat channels, screen-casting with annotation and so on. With ‘alternative’ forms of feedback, such as blogs, student generated videos, portfolios, I think it’s important to have clear rubrics established beforehand so students are aware if things like production quality are considerations, and also to keep the grading as standardised as possible. So I’d probably want to have access to some resources that help to develop practical rubrics.

As an online student I’d want feedback whenever an activity had some element of assessment. Feedback needn’t always come from faculty though. Peer feedback, even in the form of ‘likes’ can be motivating and confirm that something was helpful, insightful etc to my peers. But how much feedback has a lot to do with the weight of the item being assessed. If it’s a weighty item, it probably deserves more feedback, in which case you can’t anticipate a very quick response.”

This commenter emphasised the importance of authenticity and relevance in formative assessmants, the practicalities of choices made by academics teaching large scale courses, and the importance of competence with technologies being used for keeping feedback timely:

The answer to this question is based on the assessment support I have given academics over the years. I have observed how pressures to turnaround feedback in 10-15 days and size of cohort have influenced the form of assessment chosen. Whilst academics may be encouraged to offer innovative forms of assessment, if the cohort is large, and with no TA assistance, the academic will invariably chose an exam and essay with a higher weighing placed on the final exam.
Particularly in an online environment, being competent with the technology that requires the academic to provide feedback is important to make the marking process as efficient and timely as possible.

As a student I would want formative and summative assessment to be authentic to the discipline I was studying, sometimes that correlation isn’t obvious to students. I would want feedback that fed forward to support summative assessment. The feedback doesn’t always have to be personalised, group or class could be used. Designed properly, formative assessment can be a useful way of checking student understanding and engagement at key points during a course. I would want no more than two forms of summative assessment per course.

Someone else made the same comments as me about wanting frequent feedback early on, and also expressed concerns about how to provide standardised assessment of creative assignments, and they got this reply:

You bring up valid concerns about creative assessments. One way around this might be coming up with a explicit rubric that instructs the learners what they will be graded on, so whether they choose video, audio, blog or essay it is clear as to how they are being marked and what criteria will come play into their grade.

As for your second point, this could influence the actual design of the course. Front loading activities that require input or feedback and reserving the more independent activities or tasks for the latter part of the course. – Andres (course tutor).


(Feedback balloons: Free image by Pixabay. Pixabay Licence)

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