Recently I had the pleasure of attending a workshop facilitated by Professor Chris Anson (North Carolina State University) on the topic of “Writing and Enquiry: Providing higher-order feedback on written assignments“. The workshop examined issues surrounding the provision of higher-order feedback on students’ written assignments (where higher order feedback focuses on argumentation, concepts, and structuring in comparison to lower order feedback that focuses on language/grammatical issues).
Most academics will agree that the traditional mode of writing assignments in Higher Education – the so called “one and done” model where students submit an assignment at the end of term and receive a mark for it – is problematic and limits student learning. Essentially because students receive no formative feedback on their writing (instead receiving a final mark or perhaps even just a pass/fail), they miss a valuable opportunity to learn from the experience, to refine and further develop their understandings of the subject matter at hand and to improve their communication and academic writing skills. (For an overview of key academic writing skills see this Academic Writing Handbook from my former colleagues Dr. Ciara O’Farrell and Dr. Marian Fitzmaurice.)
In addition to outlining the different types of feedback (for more on this see Peter Elbow’s “Summary of Ways of Responding“), Anson spoke about the merits of a goal-based model of writing which includes response and revision. As we all know, academic writing is challenging and we rarely achieve perfection in the first draft: as a creative activity, academic writing requires revision, redrafting, rephrasing and polishing often over several drafts. Anson spoke about how “the writing struggle” which many of us have is at the heart of learning but it is often unsupported. (For another take on the writing struggle see this post from Professor Pat Thomson: Good academic writing – its about revision not editing.).
So how do we support revision?
We looked at three methods of supporting the revision process:
1. Group-based peer review (45 minute face-to-face session): Students are randomly allocated into groups of three. Each student should have written a short paper in advance. Each students’ paper is circulated to the relevant group in advance of the face-to-face meeting and students are expected to have read it. Students are also given access to a discussion board for pre- face-to-face discussions. During the class time, each paper is allocated 15 minutes for peer review discussion and feedback.
2. Self review: where each student reviews their own work with a critical eye supported by guiding questions/rubric. With this strategy it is important that the tutor provides a set of questions or rubric outlining what he/she is expecting that piece of writing to accomplish. (Click here for examples of rubrics for assessing/evaluating academic writing.)
3. Teacher review: Anson focused on this traditional review method and looked at a number of tools that can be used to enhance the quality and effectiveness of feedback.
Text expanders: these automatically replace abbreviations with frequently used phrases, making the process of giving written feedback quicker. See for example aText for Mac.
Speech Transcribers: these allow you to dictate your feedback by just using your voice. The software then transcribes your feedback creating a text document for the student. See for example:
- Dragon Naturally Speaking
- Speech Recognition for Windows
- Dictation: this app uses the built-in speech recognition engine of Google Chrome to transform your voice into digital text. (For guidance on how to use this app see http://www.labnol.org/internet/dictation-for-google-chrome/24719/.)
Screencasting/Audio feedback: although the concept of audio feedback is still relatively new, there is an increasing body of research which points to its effectiveness and particularly to the benefits over written feedback. Some of the benefits noted by Anson included:
- Ability to communicate on a more personal level.
- Feedback tends to be more supportive and encouraging (as opposed to critical/negative which written feedback often is.)
- Feedback is more accessible. (Consider those with visual impairments, dyslexia or any student struggling to read illegible hand-writing!)
As for screencasting/audio feedback tools, there is a wide range available, both free and license-based. See my curated collections below for more information. (Note these are a work-in-progress!)