Grading and Feedback: Changes in online pedagogy

  • 4 Min Read

In part one of this blog series – Grading and Feedback: Can it be simpler and more effective? – we covered the impact technology has had on the feedback and grading process, which continues as we discuss the changing landscape in assessment type.

Moving grading online has meant there is more variety of feedback given – it’s no longer just a case of ‘Good work. Next time think about ….’, as annotations, rubrics, video, and audio feedback allow academics to provide detailed comments quickly and easily.

Somewhat conversely, it’s only recently that assignments themselves have begun to evolve beyond essays and quizzes as the demand and importance of soft skills and skill assessments has come to the forefront.

Shifting landscape

When was the last time your employer sat you in a room and asked you to write down everything you know about a topic without notes in an hour? Not recently, I’ll bet. Lots of skills aren’t usually assessed online – think about presentations, experiments, demonstrations – however, just as traditional paper-based grading has moved online, so have activities performed in the real world.

Innovative assignment types where students submit videos of musical performances, a demonstration of them coding, or even a conversation in another language, are ways to bring activities traditionally done outside a learning environment, inside. Instructors can not only watch the videos more than once so they have time to write detailed feedback, but can time stamp feedback in a video submission to help point out exactly where the students tone didn’t hit the right note, or which line in their conclusory statement was convoluted.

Interactive videos for interview style assignments allows students to analyse situations on the spot, echoing real life decision making that can be applied to multiple educational disciplines, and in a less academic workflow, help career departments support students in their applications beyond education.

Feed back or feed forward?

As the demand for more tangible skill assessments increases, the ideology behind feedback has begun to shift as institutions seek to implement a ‘feedforward’ methodology, which is largely based around the way feedback is voiced from an instructional point of view.

For example, an essay is on particular topic, and so students often give its feedback attention based on its perceived relevance – the feedback is tied to their understanding of that topic with less focus on core writing skills, so the grade is more important to them as an indication of what level they’re at. Feed forward, however, is an instructional approach that focuses on the areas of that essay which are core skills, areas that need to be improved on in future essays on different topics like how an argument is developed, how they’ve used critical material; all key learning outcomes of the course when viewed programmatically.

Part of feedforward is enabling reflection on, for lack of a better word, feedback. It’s about making the feedback process two-way where students can ask for more information or tips around improving a skill, clarify phrases, and essentially engage with the feedback and reflect on what points have been suggested.

The move towards skills assessment

Degrees have become the norm for the new workforce, and with more people than ever graduating university, there is increased competition for entry level roles afterwards. Employability has consequently become a strategic priority for most universities who are looking at competency based education as a way to achieve this so graduates leave university with demonstrable skills that help decrease their time to productivity when they get into the workforce.

A key part of competency-based education is that students can reattempt activities to achieve learning outcomes which, when coupled with this ‘feedforward’ approach, helps scaffold improvements for their second attempt. Having a competency structure embedded in a learning environment helps track learner progression towards competencies, but more importantly, if that structure records not only activities done online, but those in the real world, students can have a holistic view of their progress over a programme as opposed to a single course.

Bringing activities that happen outside a virtual world into a learning environment has a wealth of benefits like keeping feedback in one place that students can refer to afterwards, but also allowing more flexibility in terms of participation and submission of these activities for assessment. As student demographics evolve and they are faced with more economic burden, more students are studying part time to support the costs. Making sure that students can do their submissions at a time that suits them, instead of having a hard participation date, gives more people the ability to access and complete education. For those who don’t want to go down a traditional education route, or for various reasons, don’t excel at essay-based assignments, offering a multitude of assessment types can really help engage them in their own education and progress.

Final thoughts?

Assessment is changing, and for the good – bringing more things online has meant that there are more ways to provide targeted feedback to help all students, regardless of ability, get the detail they need to improve. Tangentially, the increased range of assessment type is a move towards a more inclusive educational model; one that taps into what students need to prove and track their skills attainment, whilst giving them the opportunity to take ownership of their learning moving forward.

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