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Professors lack detailed feedback

Staff Reporter

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 00:02

Richard McKinney | The Houstonian

Richard McKinney | The Houstonian

“Weak.” This was the only word listed on a paper I was handed back recently. After diligently working on the assignment (a quiz), all I was handed back was a paper with one word at the top, “weak.” I understand the professor was grading them on a sliding scale of ‘weak’ to ‘strong,’ but I have no idea why my paper was weak. Did I not understand the concepts? Did I do the work correctly?

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened either. Last year I attended a class with tests that included a written component. Four essays were to each be graded on a 10 point scale. I had no problem with this until I got my grades back. This is because often I would get grades of seven or eight with no information as to why I received that grade. Granted, I’m not perfect, I’m here to learn and I do that through making mistakes. However, I cannot learn from my mistakes if I don’t know what they are.

Throughout my time here at Sam Houston I have learned a great deal of things – all of which were learned through feedback.  Recently, for me, it has seemed as though the feedback has gotten less descriptive. This poses a problem for effective education.

According to study in higher education, good feedback includes seven components. I am going to address the first three: 1) it helps clarify what good performance is, 2) facilitates the development of self-assessment in learning and 3) delivers high quality information to students about their learning.

The first component discusses the need for specificity in assignments. Often professors will provide instructions ranging from vague to informative. However if a professor hands out a sheet of paper with a simple set of instructions, I am going to hand back a simple set of answers. This is usually followed by a lower grade and the cycle begins over again. Professors, please insure that you are informative with instructions; otherwise students do not know what to do.

The second component is referring to the idea that students need to be able to facilitate learning on their own – without you. This may seem contradictory but what this is saying is, more than practice assessments (though those certainly do help), students need to know what they don’t know and how to find the answers to their questions. Simply asking “Does this make sense?” every half hour is hardly the epitome of facilitating self-assessment. Professors, please help us by giving us more opportunity to create self-assessments.

The third component is the biggest one (in my opinion): delivering high quality information about learning; in other words, substantial feedback. Nicol and Macfarlane of higher education say it this way, “Research shows that teachers have a central role in developing their students’ own capacity for self-regulation, they are also a crucial source of external feedback…teachers are much more effective in identifying errors or misconceptions in students’ work than peers or the students themselves.” In essence, detailed feedback is the key to much educational success. Professors, please give details with what was wrong with assignments or tests.

I know, I know – professors do so much and don’t have the time. This is the universal lament for educators. By saying you don’t have time for detailed feedback, you are saying that you don’t have time for effective education.


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