How students react to feedback from a computer

Returning to Lipnevich and Smith’s interesting work (Lipnevich, A.A. & Smith, J.K. (2009) “I really need feedback to learn:” students’ perspectives of the differential feedback messages, Educational Assessment Evaluation & Accountability, 21, 347-367). And for the benefit of those who attended the session that Lesley and I ran at yesterday’s OU associate lecturer staff development meeting in Cambridge, yes that is how the punctuation is given in the title! And yes, I know that the first sentence in this paragraph isn’t a sentence at all, and the second and third both begin with ‘And’. 🙂

Lipnevich and Smith explored the way in which students react to feedback and one of their variables was whether the students believed the feedback (and in some instances the grade) to come from a computer or a human marker. Interestingly, some were found to be happier with the computer-generated feedback, especially if they hadn’t done very well; they considered the computer to be  impersonal and they didn’t have to worry about ‘their tainted reputation in the eyes of the course instructor’. Students also reported being pleasantly surprised by ‘the level of detail provided by the machine and the relevance of feedback to their essay’. However, despite the undisputed quality of the comments, most of the participants felt that some of the grading and suggestions provided by the computer did not apply to their work. One student commented “I thought the computer didn’t understand what I was trying to say”.  Apparently, when in doubt, students chose to ignore the computer’s comments, justifying their decision with potential flaws in the software.

Sadly, this experience exactly mirrors my own findings. When an answer is marked as incorrect by a computer, it is perhaps easiest to assume that the answer is correct, but the computer’s marking is inaccurate. I believe this is one of the most serious challenges facing computerised marking at present. Carefully targetted feedback may be able to help – this is something I am evaluating further at present.

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One Response to How students react to feedback from a computer

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