Why assessment isn’t really like central heating

Back in the early days of this blog, I muttered about our misunderstanding of the word ‘feedback’ in the context of assessment and gave examples of positive and negative feedback from everday life. I talked about the thermostat on a central heating system as an example of negative feedback.

The trouble is, it isn’t quite that simple. Whereas a thermostat acts in a predictable way to close the gap between the actual and reference temperature (by causing the heating to switch off and on as appropriate),  humans respond to feedback interventions in complex (if understandable) ways. For example, Kluger and deNisi point out that if a student does well on an assignment, he or she may ‘raise the bar’  i.e. make their target level higher, effectively making the gap that has to be closed larger than would otherwise be the case.

Mind you, feedback in other contexts is also more complicated than may initially appear to be the case – global warming is a case in point!

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