Feedback to Move Forward

feedforwardlogoOne of the most valuable contributions anyone can make to another person’s learning is constructive feedback. Feedback on performance, when effective, is widely considered to be integral to learning. People learn faster and more deeply if they know what the strengths and weaknesses of their performances are and most importantly, how to improve future performances.

This potential to influence future performance is what is known as feed-forward. In order to generate feed-forward, feedback must not only identify the learner gap between actual and desired performance (by indicating the standard achieved on any given criterion for example) but also provide information needed to close that gap. When specific guidance is provided to close the gap, the feed-forward effect is even greater and the focus of feedback quickly becomes learning rather than grades or marks.

We all know how important the feedback and assessment loop is for producing learner autonomy and improving student performance. The question we hear more often than not is how do we convince students that it is important for them. Maybe one way we do is to practice what we preach. Maybe we need to better demonstrate to students the value of this process, that we do hear their feedback, that we are interested in their experiences, and that we use data-driven results to make improvement decisions. Perhaps it’s time we show students more clearly the value of the feedback loop and a process of assessment.

Some institutions are being proactive in their communication with students about feedback and improvement. Some have even launched what could be considered full on marketing campaigns aimed at building awareness of assessment on their campuses and the value that a culture of D-A-R – that is, Direct, Assess, Redirect – holds. Let’s look at some practices that these institutions are implementing to build buy-in and more deeply engage students in a campus culture of assessment and continuous improvement.

Communicate Value Clearly

If you belong to some of the Assessment Listservs out there, you may have seen some of these tactics discussed. Some institutions email out what they call a series of ‘Assessment and You’ updates to students, providing brief summaries of how assessment results have informed curricular improvements. The emails can be brief, 2-3 paragraphs at the most, with links to additional details that can be posted on the institution’s assessment website page. All of these updates can then be archived here for students. The objective seems to be to provide proactive communication to students that builds awareness of the fact that the institution is making student-centered decisions that not only improve academic programming but directly impact the quality of their experiences at the institution.

Give Students a Committee Voice

Perhaps members of the student body or student government could be recruited to sit on your institution’s assessment committee. These student representatives could add a rich dimension to the conversation and planning that occurs in the committee meetings, as well as serve as ambassadors to the rest of the student population about how the institution uses assessment results. They could report out the happenings at committee meetings at various student events, or you could even charge them with finding ways to communicate the activities of ‘their’ committee work to other students. Plus, this provides the committee with the opportunity to hear directly from students about their experiences.

And the Survey Says…

Consider surveying students or doing course evaluations on what they think of the academic offerings, learning experiences, and process of assessment in general. Then, include a section on the institution’s website that provides information from these surveys – another way to give students a voice. It can also include summary info written in student-friendly language about findings from other surveys like the National Survey of Student Engagement. Then show students how all of this information has contributed to and informed some of the decisions on your campus.

And don’t forget to drive students to this part of the website…link to it on the institution’s social media, find ways around campus to make sure students know that there is a place where their voices are heard, and even recruit the expertise of your institution’s marketing communications department to help you get the word out.

In whichever way you do it, the point is simple…to let students know that we do take their needs into consideration and what they say seriously – and most importantly, we want them to know the value that assessment and feedback has for them as a learner.

Has anyone else instituted a similar effort to raise awareness of these issues on your campus? If so what did you do and how did you go about determining its impact? Share with me some examples that have led to feeding it forward.