Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Art of Giving Feedback

(Photo Credit: Veer)

Giving feedback is truly an art that one needs to master. Before I go ahead, let me make it clear that I am referring to feedback given for assessments. We had this really interesting #KernLearn session on Twitter last week on Designing Assessment in eLearning. Given below is the transcript.
rnarchana 1. Do assessment questions aid learning? How can they be designed so as to enrich the learning experience? #KernLearn
partvinu #KernLearn yes, they do, the strategies are dependent on multiple variables, formative or summative, blooms level, audience maturity etc
shana1729 @rnarchana 1) IF designed better, assessments enrich, otherwise kill learning. understand learner motivation n design acordingly. #KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana how to design assessment in elearning- a guide: #KernLearn
@rnarchana A) Numerous no. of qn kills interest B) design in innovative way- dare 2 move out of traditonal methods, yet learnable #KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana C) Make assessments more visual, but avoid unnecesary images. In elearning, a dry screen de-motivates learner.. #KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana D) Challenge the learner (if the profile of learner fits it) E) Make it game based F) Design around a story..#KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana F) Don't let learner think that "I am being examined" #KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana #KernLearn 2. I think max is 10 if it is designed in traditional methods - mcq, mmcq etc..

geetabose 1. Assessments in refresher courses: used an exercise to help learners recall skills & clearly identify areas to brushup & focus. #KernLearn

geetabose 1. What was special abt this exercise - it cud guide learners across levels based on response & help zero in on thr focus area. #KernLearn

rnarchana 2. Assements in eLearning: How much is too much? Any thumb rules you follow? #KernLearn
geetabose @rnarchana Clearly depends on the key testing points identified and their impact on learning outcome... 1-2/ LO is a good measure #KernLearn
geetabose RT @shana1729: F) Don't let learner think that "I am being examined" #KernLearn | this is an interesting point...
rnarchana 2. Learner will think its too many only if he does not see the purpose. If designed well, a quesn will have him wanting more. #kernlearn
geetabose For adult learners, their motivation is high if they know upfront they r being examined & know the consequences @shana1729: F) #KernLearn
rnarchana 2. 2 many/2 little is relative. How many testing points do U have 4 the learning objectives is. imp & R they motivating enuf #KernLearn
partvinu #KernLearn 3 screens 1 AQ, and final assessments generally 1 per objective, or 2 per topic
geetabose RT @rnarchana: 2 many/2 little is relative. How many testing points do U hav 4 learning objectives is imp & R thy motivating enuf #KernLearn
geetabose Most critical aspect of assessments that aid learning is the 'diagnostic' feedback that the learner receives - #KernLearn
rnarchana Assessments should have rewards and punishments. Increases impact. These should be designed based on the learner's motivations. #KernLearn
rnarchana RT @geetabose: Most critical aspect of assessments that aid learning is the 'diagnostic' feedback that the learner receives - #KernLearn
rnarchana Designing assessments is not about tricking the learner into making errors. It is about making them think rather than guess #KernLearn
geetabose Use assessments creatively- enable learners to demonstrate knowledge, explain reasoning, develop argument or evaluate a situation #KernLearn
geetabose What's the most creative use of assessment that you have seen? Share some examples? #KernLearn
vijeesh @rnarchana Assessment Qs: Response and analysis based assessment Qs can work wonders #KernLearn
vijeesh @rnarchana 2. 10 interactive and motivating Qs per half an hour #KernLearn
vijeesh 1. Most important! RT @shana1729: @rnarchana F) Don't let learner think that "I am being examined" #KernLearn
rnarchana An example for interesting assessments: Check Employee Security, Front Line Loss Prevention, #KernLearn
rnarchana Examples of interesting assessment in ELearning Check examples of scenario based learning #KernLearn
rnarchana Examples of interesting assessments in eL Check Pre-Op intro and Main Surgery #KernLearn
varmarashmi RT @rnarchana: 2. 2 many/2 little is relative. How many testing points do U have 4 the learning objectives is. imp & R they motivating enuf #KernLearn
varmarashmi RT @geetabose: RT @shana1729: F) Don't let learner think that "I am being examined" #KernLearn | this is an interesting point...
varmarashmi RT @geetabose: Most critical aspect of assessments that aid learning is the 'diagnostic' feedback that the learner receives - #KernLearn
varmarashmi Assessments enhance learner involvement and interaction (also visible in twitter sessions) #KernLearn

While there are several thoughts here that interest me, the one that mattered most is the one shared by Geeta: Most critical aspect of assessments that aid learning is 'diagnostic' feedback that learner receives.

Tell me something...

1. While designing feedback, do you ever think, 'How will my learner react to the tone of the feedback?'
Why is this important, you ask? What is the standard feedback that you use "That is correct. or That is incorrect? I will tell you what I think is wrong with these (I could be biased as I hate conventional ways).
a. It just sounds too robotic! The learner will find no joy in getting it right. On the other hand, if he does get it wrong, it is going to have 'zero' impact on the learner.
b. It sounds condescending. If your learner is the sensitive/timid/introvert/self-respecting type, he is going to be offended. Learner motivation dips and you have lost him.

What can you do instead?
Think about the tone. Think about the feeling that you want to evoke in your learners. Use direct feedback to make them feel good (You are right! or Absolutely! or We agree!). Use milder (but still effective) ways to tell him he got it wrong (Oops! or Nope. or Really? or Are you sure?). Please do not reprimand. We want to encourage him to learn and not make him feel small.

2. Do you ever think about what you want the feedback to do?
For example, how does the following feedback help?
Feedback for incorrect answer: That is incorrect. Rakesh falls in the low income group.

This learner has got this assessment wrong. This means that 'something' went wrong. She has not understood what you have explained previously. (Remember that is also not her fault) This is your opportunity to ensure learning is checked. This is your chance to set things straight. Here, you can explain why Rakesh falls in the low income group. If you don't, the learner is not going to go back and check (not even the studious ones go back). He will move ahead and your learning objective is already in danger.

What can you do instead?
Do not underestimate the role of feedback. It can play a very crucial role in checking misconceptions/understanding. We all know that assessments are designed to check understanding. But checking does not mean identifying whether they got it right or wrong. By checking, I mean providing them the rationale. Tell them why they went wrong. It is not important to prove them wrong but to make them understand why it is wrong. Even if the learner gets it right, the rationale reinforces all that she has learnt. When she reads it, she feels good that she also had the same logic in mind. If it was good guess work, at least she can read why it is right.

3. Feedback can be more than just text!
Text is just one way of giving feedback. Coming back to a point that I have touched briefly, what is the desired impact? Do you want to the feedback to have a high impact? Make the learner think? Use more than just 'That is correct. or That is incorrect.'

What can you do instead?
Audio: You can use audio to let them know how they have done. Audio is a very powerful medium of getting feedback across. You must have seen how games such as Mario Brothers, Pacman, Tetris, and others use audio to indicate whether your move was a good one or bad.
Visual: Show the consequence of an action as a visual. For example: image of a happy or a angry customer.
Rewards and punishments: Add a challenge and raise the stakes. This ensures high impact. Some simple ways to do this could be points system, a (virtual) pat on the back, a big jump ahead, happy ending, and so on.

3. Choose my feedback strategy based on my learner.
But most importantly, chose your feedback strategy based on your learner (or as we say at Kern, learner persona). Why? Imagine this.
Your learner has to take your course because your research shows that this is a skill that he needs help with. But your learner believes otherwise. He thinks he knows everything he needs to about the topic.
So what will you do? I would suggest you go for rewards and punishments. If you go by the conventional method, he will think he knows better and that the exercise itself must be flawed. So, challenge him. Trust me this works like a dream. At the end of the course, the learner still feels good about himself and he has also learnt a lot.

If your learner persona is a shy type who is afraid of getting it wrong, keep your strategy fairly simple. Encourage him all the way and he will do his best to learn. Therefore, chose your feedback strategy based on who your learner is. Understand their motivations and design your feedback accordingly.

Next time you are writing feedback for an assessment, ask yourself 'What do I want to do with this feedback?' (I pray the answer is not 'nothing' :)) Let us work on mastering the art of giving good feedback. Do share instances of how you use (un)conventional feedback to teach better.