Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

Assignment feedback: Relating to student expectations

Alistair Reid
Department of Construction Management
Curtin University
Traditionally, it seems to be the lecturer alone, from an authoritative position of knowledge about the subject being taught, who decides what will be "good" and "relevant" feedback. But, is it realistic to assume that students will see it in the same light? Could it be that our feedback, no matter how well intentioned, may be viewed by some students as irrelevant, a statement of the obvious or even irritating?

I believe pertinent assignment feedback must not only consider the lecturer's views of an assignment, but must also take into consideration and acknowledge the separate views of the student who submitted the work. In an attempt to achieve this balance, I have been using a very simple pro forma, which the students complete and return with their assignment. In this session, I would like to share with you both my approach to assignment feedback using this pro forma and the views of senior students who trialed its use last year.


Introduction

To achieve a successful outcome to a set class assignment there are at least three tasks which I believe must be effectively completed by a lecturer; Perhaps task one and two can be so simply learned by a lecturer from direct experience because of their inherently objective nature. However, the objectivity of the first two tasks may be responsible for an assumption that we should consider only the objective feedback their analysis identifies. By doing so we are possibly at odds with the student's own opinion of the value and quality of the submission. By giving feedback based only on the lecturer's opinion of where the student met/ did not meet the lecturer's stated objectives, is it any wonder that the student may adversely react to it? Ironically, it is most likely to be the poorer performing student who rejects such feedback - the student most in need of help and whose assignment we are likely to spend most time marking; such a waste if our comments are ignored.

For feedback to be effective, it must be accepted by the student. He/she must therefore be comfortable with the lecturer's comments and the manner in which they are presented. But, as lecturers, how are we to know what the most effective approach will be, especially as we are dealing with a variety of individuals, each with their own subjective concepts of right and wrong, good and bad? More information is needed than is provided by the student in the assignment alone.

Last year, I developed a simple pro forma, which was issued with other assignment information to all students, the intention being that it should provide me with the additional information necessary to recognise and respect student expectations in my feedback. I now would like to go on to explain the format of the pro forma, discuss some important points which I think need to be considered when introducing it to a class and provide details of a survey I carried out on final year students who trialed the pro forma in both semesters of last year.

Assignment pro forma

From my experience in discussions with students after returning assignments to them, two points seemed to be raised more than any other. The first related to the awarded mark and the second to areas of the assignment in which the students believed they had performed particularly well. Invariably, the point being made, with varying degrees of directness, was that the mark awarded was less than expected and the areas in which it was believed they had excelled had not been acknowledged (with further possibilities of marks being increased). From my point of view, I found these students tended to overlook aspects of the assignments which had not been covered well and this resulted in unreasonable expectations on their part.

To provide students with effective feedback, I realised I must also take into consideration their expectations. However, it would be a hard and wearisome task if these expectations continued to be unrealistic. It was necessary to find a simple and consistent way by which they could assess and advise me of their views. The outcome was a simple three point pro forma, which I entitled Student Feedback Form. I used this form in addition to, and not in place of, my usual Assignment Feedback form for advising students of the build-up of awarded marks and giving specific objective feedback comments (copies of the Student Feedback Form and the Assignment Feedback form are appended for your reference - they can be conveniently issued back-to-back).

The pro forma (Student Feedback Form) requires students to perform and record a self-assessment of their assignment in the areas which seemed to cause most contention. They are required to;

  1. identify a mark range which is considered to be a fair appraisal of their efforts.

  2. list three aspects of the assignment which are considered to have been covered particularly well.

  3. list three aspects of the assignment which could have been improved upon. To ensure the students get some direct benefit from this insight, they are also required to reflect upon the reasons why they did less well in the identified areas and consider how the circumstances might be avoided in future assignments.
From the information included on the completed pro forma, I was able to provide additional specific tailored feedback relating to the expectations of each individual student in a way that I believe helped them build-up, or at least maintain, their self-confidence, while also fostering a good personal relationship between us, ie;
  1. If the student's anticipated mark was lower than the one I awarded, it gave me an opportunity to reinforce to them how well they had done. If their anticipated mark was higher, I could draw the student's attention to the areas that prevented them from achieving the mark, but in a positive way that showed them how the anticipated mark could have been achieved (quite often the disparity had resulted from the student having an unrealistic perception of their performance in the three areas identified as being covered well).

  2. Often students did select three of the best aspects, which gave me the opportunity to commend their performance. If the identified areas had not been covered as well as they anticipated, I could give normal feedback advice. However, in both cases it also gave me the opportunity to emphasise and praise other areas which had been covered well.

  3. This section requires a lot of courage for the student to fill out honestly, and it is important, therefore, not to be judgmental. By taking a non-judgmental attitude, I believe it showed the student I was genuinely interested in them and my perception of them was not dictated by the level of mark they achieved. I found the students were mostly harder on themselves than I would be, which again, gave me the opportunity to relate good positive feedback to them.

Assignment pro forma in use

It is important to brief the students well on the reasons for using the pro forma. I have learned that the concept can be extremely threatening to some students. It does take a lot of courage for a student to share with the lecturer his/ her true views of their assignment - particularly before it has been marked.

More than a thoughtful introduction of the pro forma is likely to be required to have it accepted by the students. I believe it is also essential that the students feel the lecturer has a genuine interest and commitment to them. Certainly, the students will assess the lecturer by the way the classes are run, but, when it comes to an assignment, more is needed to convince the students of the lecturer's sincerity. If the lecturer does not make clear his/ her requirements and expectations on issuing the assignment, the students may well feel "set-up" when feedback draws their attention to areas they did not appreciate they needed to cover. If the lecturer does not use a marking plan or system to provide fair and honest marking, it is unlikely students will be open in their comments for fear it may negatively impact on their awarded mark. In addition, if the lecturer is judgemental, the students are unlikely to be open about any negative aspects of their submission and the opportunity for reflection and improvement may be lost.

If providing other more general feedback (eg on Assignment Feedback form), it is important to temper any comments in light of views expressed in the pro forma. If the student openly admits he/ she has aimed to scrape a pass, there is no point in providing a great depth of feedback. I think it is better to accept and acknowledge their views and look to other ways of trying to encourage them.

Allocating some marks for the proper completion of the pro forma is also a good idea. I found the students were more careful in their considerations when marks were at stake - it also reinforced that I took the exercise seriously.

Views of final year students

At the end of the 1994 academic year, a questionnaire seeking student opinion about the use of the pro forma was issued to final year students, who had trialed its use for one assignment in each of the two semesters. The results indicated, that of all the students; The generally high results in the first and last point indicate the students, generally, are aware of, and accept, the real reasons for the use of the pro forma. However, I think the other two results (particularly those unsure) indicate how suspicious the students are of the concept - particularly as I am sure I have never in my feedback told any of them to "try harder" or been judgemental about reasons for scoring low marks.

54.2% thought their expectations were fully understood and recognised by the lecturer (41.6% unsure). There are various reasons which could explain why the unsure score is so high - my own inaptitude being amongst them. However, I believe it may be due to one of two causes, or a combination of the two; firstly, the students were not used to assessing their own performance in this way and it could be a reflection that they experienced difficulties in defining their true expectations, or, secondly, it could be an interesting reflection on the fact that many of the students were still hanging back from fully disclosing their true expectations.

Conclusion

The questionnaire results indicated that the students trialing the use of the pro forma strongly appreciated its value by the end of the year. However, I think the results also reinforced just how threateningly the process can be viewed by some students and this is likely to require a lot of hard work and patience to overcome. There is a strong need to fully explain the process, reinforce its significance and provide continuous encouragement and support.

In my own mind, I am confident that the results more than compensate the effort required by all involved. This year, I will be using the process for assignments in all my classes.


STUDENT FEEDBACK FORM

1Identify the mark range which you believe represents a fair appraisal of your overall performance on this assignment, bearing in mind the assignment requirements:
    [ 50 - 54% ] [ 60 - 64% ] [ 70 - 74% ] [ 80 - 84% ] [ 90 - 94% ]
    [ 55 - 59% ] [ 65 - 69% ] [ 75 - 79% ] [ 85 - 89% ] [ 95% + ]
[ space for lecturer's comments ]
2List three aspects of the assignment you consider have been covered particularly well:
  1. ______________________________________________________
  2. ______________________________________________________
  3. ______________________________________________________
3List three aspects of the assignment you consider could have been improved upon and reflect on reasons why they occurred and how they might be avoided in future assignments:
  1. ______________________________________________________
    ______________________________________________________
    ______________________________________________________
  2. ______________________________________________________
    ______________________________________________________
    ______________________________________________________
  3. ______________________________________________________
    ______________________________________________________
    ______________________________________________________

STUDENT NAME: ___________________



DEPARTMENT OF CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT
BUILDING TECHNOLOGY 342
(QUALITY COMPONENT)


Assignment Feedback


Part A: Separate Report for Each Senior Management Person Interviewed
(scope, adequacy, insight, creative thought, consistency
of approach in all interview write-ups)






/30
Part B: Summary Overview of all Interviews
(scope, adequacy, insight, creative thought)






/20
Part C: List of Questions Used in Interviews
(scope, adequacy. creative thought, appropriateness, balance)






/40
Presentation:
(grammar, fluency, clarity, spelling, fommat)




/5
Registration of Group Members:
(on form, on time, complete information, correctly submitted)




/2
Assignment Feedback Form:
(completed and relevant)


/3

/100


Please cite as: Reid, A. (1995). Assignment feedback: Relating to student expectations. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p217-222. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/reid.html


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