Is less more? The Goldilocks of assessment

After my tirade in one of the EARLI/Northumbria Assessment Conference sessions about the true meaning of ‘feedback’  (see the second posting in this Blog, 30th July 2010) here I go again, doing exactly what I mutter at other people for doing. Just for now please bear with me and take ‘feedback’ to mean the words we write on a student’s assignment.

Peter Rawlins from New Zealand  reported on an interesting study which found that whilst teachers said ‘there is no point giving more feedback; students won’t use it’, students actually found the feedback useful and used it. This finding rather contradicts some of my work (which has found that although students might say that they find feedback useful, they don’t necessarily make much use of it). However, perhaps the issue is ‘how much feedback is the most useful’. I have a feeling that less is sometimes more.

I’m not advocating no feedback at all, rather that, in the context of my own marking practice (where I have always given extensive and detailed feedback – sometimes excessively so) perhaps better quality or more appropriate feedback (whatever that might mean) might be more use to the students. So perhaps Peter Rawlins’ teachers were giving brief feedback because they didn’t believe it would be used in any case; perhaps that turned out to be just the right amount!

In the UK there is a question in the National Student Survey that definitely implies that more feedback is better feedback. I’m not sure that I agree.

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