Research tells us that effective feedback can lead to increased student effort, improved learning strategies, and improved outcomes. So how do we get students to engage with feedback?
Probably the two most important things we can do are, to ensure that students perceive the feedback as being relevant and constructive, and to ensure that it is timely.
Perception of relevance
An important step in helping students to understand the relevance of feedback is to talk to them about the feedback process, so they understand how they can use it to improve and support their learning. Giving them the opportunity to talk about their own expectations of feedback will also help get them involved. If students know what to expect from feedback, they will be able to make better use of it.
Following up with practical exercises, like asking students to self-assess their own work against a rubric, is a great way of helping them understand the process. It gives them a direct experience of how meeting the criteria determines their mark. Getting them involved in peer assessment, where they use a set of criteria to evaluate the work of others, is another way of doing this.
The understanding that they gain from peer assessment will help them apply your feedback, as long as you make sure it is specific and constructive.
Consider completing the loop by asking students what they thought about the feedback they received, and if they were able to apply it. This may help you hone your own skills in giving feedback.
We know that the longer a student must wait for feedback, the less likely they are to connect it with their learning, so proximity is important, but it also needs to be timely in the sense that it is given at a point in their learning journey where they can make good use of it. You might write some brilliant feedback on their final essay in a topic, but chances are by the time they get it, the topic is over and so is their interest in the feedback.
I am reminded of an effective use of timely feedback in both senses by Jonathan Boymal, an Associate Professor in the College of Business and Law at RMIT University. He taught a topic that used a series of assessments stretched over the semester, each having a similar format. There were several markers who each used the same rubric to deliver personalised targeted feedback to students on how they could improve their work after each assessment. The feedback was delivered quickly, but importantly, the first part of the second and subsequent assessments required the students to write a short explanation on how they had used the feedback from their previous assignment to improve their current assignment. This ensured student engagement with the feedback and resulted in rapid improvements in their performance.
This particular approach may not suit your topic, but I hope it might spark some ideas about how you can add value to your feedback and make it work harder for your students.