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27 February 2012

Students value timely and constructive feedback on their assignments and it can be very helpful to enable further learning that can improve future performance, writes Gerry White in DERN's latest research review.

The use of technology for providing feedback may be a way to improve the usefulness of feedback to students as part of the assessment process. Students in secondary schools, training organisations and universities can find immediate feedback invaluable in order to guide their progress.

A broad canvas of feedback approaches are considered and explored in a recent literature review of feedback associated with assignments and assessments for university students. The review, Using technology to encourage student engagement with feedback: a literature review, is published in the journal Research in Learning Technology which is now openly accessible and a journal worth following.

The review Using technology to encourage student engagement with feedback: a literature review, makes the assertion that ‘Feedback enables learning by providing information that can be used to improve and enhance learning performance’ (p. 117). However, ‘it needs to be timely, legible, and aligned with the specific assessment criteria’ (p.117). Much of the research literature focuses in the ineffectiveness of feedback with issues such as grades and marks, feedback coming at the end of courses, relevance to an assignment and legibility being dominant. Some of these issues can be linked to the pressures within universities and large student numbers especially in undergraduate courses.

However, the potential for technology to assist in providing feedback through publishing online in either or both text and audio formats is now possible and relatively simple. The focus in the review literature was on the ‘production, delivery and process for making use of … feedback’ (p. 119) especially in relation to grades with consideration being given to the adaptive release of grades. That is, releasing grades after some personal planning action to improve learning by the recipient of the feedback.

The use of comments, annotations and tracked changes can be used for individual and group work enabling the students to read and re-read the feedback in their own time, in private and respond in different ways. Then there are further possibilities with feedback templates, statement and question response banks, and a number of software applications. However, one exciting possibility is for the use of audio feedback which is now feasible and simple to do. Audio feedback can also enable more detail and depth of information than written feedback. Audio feedback can eliminate legibility issues and it can be stored for re-use although researchers did find that students did not like the audio feedback stored on their personal devices.

Other forms of feedback built into computer-based testing, online quizzes or assessment using multiple choice questions were also explored. Peer assessment was found to be useful for formative assessment feedback although it depended on the quality of the work of the feedback provider. However, ‘Peer-assessment and peer-feedback activities are increasingly making use of technology’ (p. 123) especially for group and team activities.

This literature review Using technology to encourage student engagement with feedback: a literature review about feedback has succinctly explored a range of ‘effective strategies as well as where the use of technology can support the production, delivery and student engagement with feedback’ and is well worth reading.


Gerry White is Principal Research Fellow: Teaching & Learning using Digital Technologies, Australian Council for Educational Research

This article was first published on the Digital Education Research Network (DERN)

Read the full article on DERN (free registration required)

Photo: Flickr / davidsilver

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