Feedback doesn’t have to be futile: Using Cognitive Psychology to understand and support students’ engagement with assessment feedback
As academics, our efforts in the domain of assessment and feedback can seem futile. We can spend hours providing students with detailed feedback on their work, only to find that they make the same mistakes over and over again. We can develop innovative practices aligned with student requests, but see little pay-off in metrics such as the NSS. It’s very easy to blame students for what might appear to be apathy on their part; indeed, research evidence shows that students engage weakly with feedback, sometimes even failing to collect it altogether. However, it is crucial to consider how we as educators support students to become ‘proactive recipients’ of feedback information. Recent approaches to assessment and feedback in higher education stress the importance of students’ involvement in these processes. Rather than a one-way transmission of information from expert to novice, feedback is best represented as a communicative process involving dialogue between teacher and student. By engaging students actively with their feedback, we open up opportunities for them to develop skills of self-monitoring, such that they become less reliant on external feedback and more reliant on self-regulated learning. Drawing on findings from a series of studies funded by the Higher Education Academy, I will outline psychological barriers to student engagement with feedback, and present a taxonomy of cognitive processes involved in the reception of feedback information. I will then present a series of studies illustrating how students process and remember feedback information, and share our recently-published toolkit of resources to support student engagement with feedback. I will argue that if staff and students share responsibility in the process, feedback doesn’t have to be futile.