What do our students say?
The University of Glasgow partnered with the University of Connecticut’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Master’s programme to bring three rising second-year students in order to research the student-facing component of the Toolkit. Their research involved speaking with Glasgow students about their opinions on good assessment and feedback practice.
The HESA team ran a focus group with University of Glasgow Students in May 2016. The purpose of the group was to answer the research questions set out by the team and to gather an overview of how students view assessment and feedback at the University. Full transcripts of the focus group and the data gathering protocols can be found in the HESA report.
The Toolkit is a developing resource, and we are always looking for more feedback from students at the University of Glasgow. If you would like to share your opinion on assessment or feedback at the University, don't hesitate to get in contact.
What assessment practices and resources do students at the University of Glasgow find useful, if anything?
- Students described continuous assessment as the major factor that influences effective assessment practice.
- During the focus group, students discussed that without continuous assessment, it is often difficult to gauge how well they are grasping the material or performing in a course.
- Additionally, students perceive frequent assessment as providing more opportunities for them to apply the feedback they receive.
Marc, a focus group participant, stated:
"And also if there were more continuous assessment, because then you can actually take it right into your next assignment, whereas at the moment you only have an assignment a semester so you have to wait and such, then hopefully incorporate the feedback."
What feedback practices and resources do students find useful, if anything?
Students described several factors when describing feedback that is beneficial to improving their course performance.
- Feedback is perceived as helpful when it is timely, actionable, clear, and detailed.
- Further, students perceive feedback as coming from multiple sources including lecturers, GTAs or their peers.
In general, students perceive feedback as timely when it is given back to them with enough time to apply it to their performance in the same course. An example of this would be if a student receives feedback on an essay with enough time to adjust their performance to make any needed improvements on their next essay or draft. Helen stated:
“The only reason that feedback was useful was because the lecturer talked to us immediately after the meeting was over, and we didn’t need to wait for weeks to get the written feedback.”
Students described the most helpful type of feedback as immediate feedback, in which they were able to apply it right away to their performance. Some students felt that it was more difficult to apply feedback when they only receive it after their final exams, as they have to wait until the following semester or academic year to potentially apply it to a different course. Fernando explained:
“With my course … it’s fairly hard because the only feedback you get is after the essay or the exam at a point where you can’t really improve immediately, you’d have to wait until the next year before you can start thinking about it because it’s very rare at the end, only after assessed work, it’s not particularly helpful for the immediate future, so you can use it to improve in later years.
Students also describe helpful feedback as being actionable. To them, this means feedback that includes a direct way or action in which students can improve their performance. Isla stated:
“I think in general the more actionable the feedback is the better it’s going to be. There’s no use giving feedback that is not in any way applicable to further assessment or development of skills.”
Additionally, students perceive specific and detailed feedback as being helpful to improving their course performance. Gabrielle explained:
“But otherwise usually when it’s essays, especially in History but not so much in Politics I find, I get very thorough, developed feedback about my entire essay which really helps me later on.”
Students spoke to the idea of receiving feedback from their peers as a type of feedback, too. Generally, the students in the focus group have not received much peer feedback in their previous courses, but believe that it could be beneficial to their learning without greatly affecting staff workload. Regarding staff workload, Dawn stated:
“I think if that’s an issue, it would be worthwhile considering courses should have more formative sessions where people mark each other and do the whole peer assessment thing, because then it’s not really more work for staff and it means you’re gaining from other people’s ideas and what they think you can improve on this, kind of in the middle."
How can the design and content of the Assessment and Feedback Toolkit be a viable resource to meet the needs of students, if at all?
Students expressed several ways that the Assessment and Feedback Toolkit could be beneficial to their needs. Two major results that emerged were
- providing specific examples
- and having online academic support.
Although these two points emerged from the data, the research team suggests continued research into the resources and tools students would find useful. Types of specific examples that students mentioned included
- model answers, example questions and past essays.
- Further, students mentioned it would be helpful to see the feedback that would be given to these example questions for their own reference.
- In the focus group, the majority of students discussed how having access to model answers can provide them with a more explicit view of the work that is expected of them.
- Students stated that model answers could help guide how they approach assessment.
"I think a lot of the time, people don’t do as well because they don’t really understand what the person that’s asking the question is looking for or the level of detail or the angle that they want me to go down, so it would be really useful."
Specifically, one student mentioned having an example showing how feedback can be incorporated into an assignment over several drafts. This could provide an explicit example of how feedback can be applied to improve performance on assessments. Isla stated:
"I guess, comparative examples of the before and after, if you see what I mean, so you got a piece of assessment, you’ve got the feedback that was given on that, and you’ve got how that, like an example all the way through, how that was actually incorporated and how that would look different and how it would be done differently."
Based on the focus group and meetings with Student Learning Services (now LEADS), some students and staff perceive a lack of formal support around writing and language skill development. Therefore, there is an opportunity for the Toolkit to be an online resource to support students in their writing skills, study skills, or other academic skills relating to feedback and assessment. Specifically, students expressed their want for the Toolkit to contain tips and advice for academic performance. Dawn explained:
"If it was like an online resource, I think it would be quite useful to have tips and advice for essay writing and stuff like that if you’ve never done it before and formatting them, or even laying out a presentation."
Additionally, students expressed that they find feedback to often be vague and not actionable. The toolkit therefore could be a helpful resource for students by providing specific ways and methods in which students can apply their feedback or better explain what is meant by certain written comments. For example, Dawn stated:
"...I’ve very rarely had good feedback. Quite often you’ll just have a few tips or sometimes they’ll underline something, but they’ll never say why they’ve underlined it. It’s just not very helpful."
Therefore, a resource that may help clarify comments that may appear vague or unclear to students could be a beneficial resource.