Feedback is key to learning

May 1, 2008

It was interesting to read the two articles about assessment ("Group says marking impedes learning" and "Learning is a two-way street", 24 April). The first stated that the Weston Manor Group (or at least one member, Colin Bryson) thinks that it is a mistake to assume that students will engage in a task only if it involves summative tasks.

There is, however, much research - backed by a recent survey at the University of Brighton - that shows that many undergraduates, especially those in their final year, will shy away from any task that is not summatively assessed, believing it to be a waste of time.

The same article, again quoting Bryson, states that "teachers spend too little time on good feedback ... ", although David Nicol, in the second article, recognises that those who do spend time providing feedback "often find that students don't collect their assignments".

Both Bryson and Nicol seem to fail to appreciate that students are not a homogeneous group. Research shows that first-year students are desperate for feedback as soon as possible after starting their course. But by the final year they are far more strategic and also recognise the idiosyncrasies of individual lecturers.

Neither article addresses the importance of ensuring that a process exists to help students to address any feedback they receive.

Alison Bone, University of Brighton.

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