Feedback takes time.
Sometimes that’s time teachers feel they just don’t have.
Time constraints threaten quality feedback
“Unfortunately, the use of feedback as a pedagogical tool in higher education is still a dilemma. Carless (2007) stated that feedback activity can be a challenge in teaching large classes. Many good answers go unrecognized in a large group as teachers are constrained with heavy workloads. Ultimately, this will push the teachers to think giving feedback is both impractical and too time-consuming (Carless, 2007). As a result, it becomes incompatible with the demands of schooling” (Zher, Hussein, Raja & Saat, 2016).
With class sizes growing each year, some higher education instructors feel that feedback is the deadweight that needs to be cut.
“This imbalance in the student-teacher ratio means that instructors often have to read and comment on a considerable number of assignments. . . . This situation has been reported in a number of studies (e.g. Hyland, 2003) as having negative effects on the feedback students receive” (García-Yeste, 2013).
To give specific, tailored feedback to each student on each assignment could consume all the time of any well-meaning instructor.
“As university lecturers, we often struggle to provide our students with good quality feedback in a consistent manner. This is usually caused by the increasing imbalance in teacher-student ratios (Hounsell et all., 2008), as well as the pressure of academic life and the lack of time (Sadler, 2010)” (García-Yeste, 2013).
It seems naive to hope that class sizes of all college classrooms (or any classroom) will improve the student-teacher ratio any time soon. Educators have a lot to do, and feedback often takes a back seat.
Of course, educators want to give good feedback. It’s just hard. “This tension between the teacher’s desire to provide effective feedback and the lack of resources (e.g. time) has been reported in the literature. For instance, Sadler (2010) points out that ‘the desirability of feedback cannot be separated from the practical logistics of providing it [. . . ] feedback should not only be of an appropriate type but also be provided within the available resources, especially time for academics to give feedback to individual students” (García-Yeste, 2013).
Leveraging peers for effective feedback
Because of the difficulties instructors face in giving quality feedback to so many students, researchers have begun to examine the efficacy of peer feedback, with some championing it as an effective teaching and learning strategy.
Students appreciate good feedback; they also appreciate peer feedback and consider it useful.
“Overall, 90% of learners reported the peer feedback they received useful or somewhat useful. Sixty percent of learners perceived that peer feedback was useful. Learners reported that feedback helped them identify holes in their case analysis and ideas that had been overlooked or that could be analyzed deeper. Useful peer feedback also gave them suggestions on how to improve their work” (Ching, 2014) .
Peer feedback allows for the instructor to not worry as much about providing each student with feedback on every assignment. Through the use of peer feedback, instructors can be sure students receive the feedback and attention that they need. It also speeds up the feedback cycle for large classes: “Peer feedback should be capitalized as students received more feedback from peers and more quickly in comparison to receiving feedback from lecturers (Liu & Carless, 2006)”(Zher, Hussein, Raja & Saat, 2016).
In addition to being a quicker option for giving students feedback, peer feedback helps students inhabit different roles which provide different peer interactions.
“Peer feedback activities engage learners in cognitive interactions of sharing relevant experiences, exchanging ideas, and negotiating meanings”(Ching, 2014).
Peer feedback offers valuable insight to students. In one study, “when students discovered that peer reviewers were unable to understand their work, they would rewrite it with more extensive explanations and adopt feedback to generate new ideas or research directions. Finally, the students made valuable modifications to their work with the help of feedback from others, and most of the students had a positive impression of peer observation after participating in online peer assessment activities” (Liu & Lee, 2013).
Peer feedback helps both sets of students: those receiving the feedback and those giving the feedback. “Benefits have been found for both receiving and providing peer feedback. When receiving feedback, learners invite peers to contribute experiences and perspectives to enrich their own learning process (Ertmer, et al., 2007). When providing feedback, learners actively engage in articulating their evolving understanding of the subject matter (Liu & Carless, 2006). They also apply the learned knowledge and skills when assessing others’ work” (Ching, 2014).
In fact, some researchers suggest that students learn more giving feedback than receiving it. “Examining how undergraduate peer reviewers learned from giving comments, Cho and Cho (2011) found that students improved their writing more by giving comments than by receiving comments. Giving comments involves evaluative and reflective activities in which students identified good writing, problematic areas in the writing, and possible ways to solve the problem” (Ching, 2014).
All these benefits to peer feedback are all great, but if your students don’t know how to give good feedback, your students won’t get good feedback. “Instructors should encourage students to provide more specific and detailed feedback, which includes more suggestions to guide their peers in the process of revision” (Lee & Chen, 2009; Liu & Lin, 2007).
To help your students know how to give good peer feedback, researchers suggest role-playing.
“The findings revealed potential positive impact of role-playing on learners’ generation of constructive feedback as role-playing was associated with higher frequency of problem identification in the peer comments.” (Ching, 2014).
Role-playing places students in the position of giving feedback without the stress of actually giving feedback, making students feel more comfortable. “When learners were asked about their experiences of using the role-play strategy to provide feedback to peers, it was found that the role-play strategy alleviated cognitive challenges of peer feedback, made the activity more engaging, and relieved the affective barriers of providing peer feedback” (Ching, 2014) .
In addition to helping students give better feedback, role-playing increases the investment of students in feedback. “Learners also thought the role-play strategy made the peer feedback activity more engaging and authentic as they were put into stakeholders’ shoes to make sense of the analysis and use the corresponding perspective to address complex issues” (Ching, 2014).
For convenience, if you’re considering using peer feedback, remember the following ten things from (Evans, 2013):
- “A more detailed look at the higher education literature on peer feedback highlights the following:
- For accuracy: Multiple peer markers are preferred over single markers (Bouzidi & Jaillet, 2009).
- Peer assessment is most effective when included as an element within a holistic assignment design (Nicol & MacFarlane Dick, 2006).
- Peer feedback can be a positive experience for many students but not for all (Fund, 2010).
- The nature of the implementation and roles of assessor and assessee influence outcomes (Gielen et al., 2011).
- Receiving feedback has less impact on future performance than giving feedback (Kim, 2009).
- The academic ability of the feedback giver and recipient is important (Van Zundert et al., 2010).
- The affective dimension is very important, as is the provision of choice—most recommend the formative use of peer assessment rather than summative (Nicol, 2008).
- The nature and type of feedback peers are asked to give impacts on performance (Tseng & Tsai, 2010).
- The importance of training students in how to give feedback (Sluijsmans, Brand-Gruwel, & Van Merrienboer, 2002).
- The need to enhance research design and reporting of results (Strijbos & Sluijsmans, 2010).
- Peer feedback can be a positive experience for students (De Grez, Valcke, & Berings, 2010;Fund, 2010), leading to enhanced performance (Carillo-de-la-Pena et al., 2009; Sluijsmans et al., 2002)” (Evans, 2013).
On the one hand, teachers don’t have all the time in the world for all their students. On the other, students need valuable feedback to improve. The answer is a well-structured peer feedback system that provides students with insight for improvement and opportunities to apply what they’ve learned.
Want to learn more about giving feedback? Read How Formative Feedback Improves Learning.