Student Peer Review: Student Feedback on Staff Feedback

Image Credit: Title: Rokeby, Artist: Cattermole, George, Catalogue No. Corson P.1557, University of Edinburgh Collections. Remix by Joe Arton

In this post, Job Thijssen a Lecturer in the School of Physics and Astronomy describes how by taking a different approach to student feedback and by making feedback the beginning of the discussion and not the end we can enhance the student experience and student satisfaction…

It is no secret that feedback is a recurring theme at The University of Edinburgh [1]. Student feedback, including the NSS, consistently highlights that our students are not satisfied with the timeliness and the content of the feedback they receive. In general, a substantial proportion of students across the UK feels that feedback does not address how they can improve future performance [2]. This is worrying, particularly because staff spend increasing amounts of time on providing feedback to students. It seems likely that providing constructive feedback in a timely manner will contribute to both the student experience and to student satisfaction.

Volumes have been written on how to improve feedback to students [3]. Over the years, I have used these resources and my own experiences as a teacher in higher education to develop an approach to feedback that seems to be appreciated by my students. In short, I provide an overall mark that is typically the numerical average of five sub-marks, which correspond to the assessment rubric published well in advance of the submission deadline. I then provide written feedback using the following structure:

  1. A sentence of “overall” feedback i.e. what was my overall impression of the student’s work.
  2. One paragraph on 1-3 things that I think the student did well (referring to the rubric).
  3. One paragraph on 1-3 things that could be improved (referring to the rubric).
  4. A final paragraph on “main advice for the future”, typically the one thing the student should focus on to improve their grade in future (similar) assignments, though occasionally I provide ‘non-rubric advice’ if I genuinely feel that will benefit the student most (for example “make sure to allow sufficient time to proofread and edit your report before the submission deadline”).
  5. A PS to refer to the highlighted inline feedback in Turnitin, explaining that these are quick, on-the-go thoughts while I was reading the student’s work.

To test whether this approach to feedback worked, I decided to re-design a coursework essay in one of my courses. The original version asked students to write a News & Views article about a course-material related paper from the literature. My first change was to co-create the assessment criteria with the students, to promote discussion and engagement with how professional writing is assessed [4]. Secondly, I introduced an anonymous peer-feedback round: the students submit a draft, they give peer feedback to one other draft, they can use the peer feedback to improve their draft, and I only mark the final draft. The peer-feedback form was structured i.e. the four questions on it essentially asked for the first four points in the list above. I also asked the students to complete a self-review form i.e. having reviewed another student’s work:

  1. What is the main advice to yourself to improve your own draft?
  2. Should other/additional questions be asked on the peer-feedback form?

The two most prevalent replies to the second question were:

  • Ask the reviewer to summarize the essay in 50 words;
  • No other/additional questions needed.

The first reply is a good suggestion and I will consider that for future installments. The second reply implies that the students think it is a good idea to structure essay feedback around these four questions. Note that an additional benefit was that students were prepared for this style of feedback as and when they received mine on their final draft.

Overall, I get the impression that this approach to feedback works rather well. The reason why was perhaps best summarized by an anonymous student in a Teaching Awards nomination: “I have seen people receive grades below what they were hoping for, but still walking away very happy because they actually know how to improve and what to do better next time”. All the same, there is room for further improvements: I have recently tried individual verbal feedback in the form of an audio recording, to add a more personal touch to the feedback. However, I think the game changer in student satisfaction with feedback is when we stop treating feedback like the end point and start treating it like the beginning of a discussion. The above-mentioned redesign of the coursework essay is essentially a structured ‘conversation’ but I have also had in-class conversations about feedback and I have found them tremendously helpful: it gives the students a better understanding of why you have chosen your approach and the students help generate good ideas for future improvements that you can implement.

[1] https://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/welcome-to-the-january-issue-of-teaching-matters-innovative-assessment-and-feedback-methods/ (accessed 14 July 2020)

[2] NUS, NUS Student Experience Report (2008), https://www.nus.org.uk/PageFiles/4017/NUS_StudentExperienceReport.pdf (accessed 14 July 2020)

[3] The Higher Education Academy, HEA Feedback toolkit (2013), https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/hea-feedback-toolkit (accessed 14 July 2020)

[4] Catherine Bovill, Co-creating Learning and Teaching, Critical Publishing, St Albans (2020)

Job Thijssen

Job Thijssen is a Lecturer in the School of Physics and Astronomy. He teaches on undergraduate courses in Soft Condensed Matter Physics and Experimental Physics. In addition, he supervises Senior Honours, MPhys and PhD research projects. His research focuses on the physics and application of soft materials, especially those in which interfaces are crucial and those that have potential for            applications in coatings and energy materials. He is also a co-investigator on the University’s Inclusion Matters eBase project.

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