I recently read an article entitled, “Generating dialogue in assessment feedback: exploring the use of interactive cover sheets,” by Sue Bloxham and Liz Campbell. The premise for this article is that “learning tacit knowledge is an active, shared process.” A desired outcome of this study was to get students engaged in asking questions about where they struggled or to “…shift the balance of responsibility in assessment such that it moved the learner from a passive and powerless role in the feedback process to one in which they could take some responsibility for their interaction with the marker.” Pinpointing specific areas of confusion or misunderstanding in which the student would like more explanation require advanced critical thinking skills. In first year students these skills aren’t always present and can be difficult for students to understand but through practice and continuous feedback from the instructor the skills gained can contributed to an increased understanding and is transferable to other learning activities.
When I first read the abstract for this article I thought that the interactive cover sheet was more developed and gave student prompts for asking questions. CDE has been providing a “cover sheet” for print-based independent learning assignments for years. It serves as a class management tool (student identification, course and assignment details, lesson grade) as well as providing a return mailing label. Most of the cover sheet is blank providing a space for student and instructor comments. At some point CDE added some question prompts giving students the opportunity to remind instructors of student’s deadlines while leaving most of the cover sheet open for general comments. I found that very few students made any comments or asked questions about the assignment. Most instructors did use the space for overall lesson feedback and often included an encouraging statement to help students stay motivated. From what I gather from the article their cover sheet just asked students to “identify particular aspects of their work on which they would like feedback.”
Perhaps because their question prompt was so open ended, one of the challenges that the authors found was that students struggled with knowing how to pose the question to gain feedback – they weren’t able to make a connection to pinpoint the progress they were making with the expected standards (or requirements) of the written assignment. One student commented that if he could pinpoint where he thought he had gone wrong, wouldn’t he be expected to fix it before submitting his work? While another student said, “you just want to hand your work in and you don’t want to think about it any more.” I love that one. Obviously, this student was taking the class because it was a requirement and not in her major!
For those students who were able to ask specific questions about their own work, the instructor was able to save time by zeroing in on the student’s concern and give specific feedback to help answer the questions, although most of the instructors said that they also looked for other trouble areas the student might have missed. Using the cover sheet helped “staff to target their feedback comments more effectively in order to support students’ understanding of their performance and thus to support self-regulation.” CDE has been encouraging instructor to add self-reflection type questions into their courses to give students the opportunity really stop and think about how their own learning is going. Some instructors give these reflection question as assignments that are shared between the student and the instructor but other instructors ask students to post their thoughts to the entire class through the discussion board. Often these insights result in revision to the course for the next time it is offered.
In the article, instructors and some students said that they felt this initial process was good but that they all felt like the discussion needed to continue beyond the one exchange of question and answer. Often instructor would pose questions back to students which then led to a conversation, and that “questions needed to part of an ongoing process for the full value of this approach to be exploited.” In the results there also seemed to be a disconnect between what types of questions were meant to be asked. Some of the questions seemed to be about the mechanics of fulfilling the assignment requirements and other questions seemed to be targeted on the content.
I think that the general concept is a great way to provide students with some life-long skills at critical thinking not only in regards to their own work but also to help give feedback to others. Helping to guide this type of thinking needs to be shaped with prompts, examples, and continued discussion.
“Generating dialogue in assessment feedback: exploring the use of interactive cover sheets,” by Sue Bloxham and Liz Campbell. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol. 35, No. 3, May 2010, 291-300