Group feedback on individual papers

Motivation for the activity

My experience with feedback on written exams is that:

  • the students have a very narrow perspective on their own assignment and it can be difficult as a lecturer to explain a given assignment's qualities and deficiencies
  • the students are often unprepared for post feedback, and thus cannot make much use of my comments
  • I often say the same things to many students
  • on the one hand, 10 or 15 minutes is plenty of time to say what I have to say, but for the students, it is very intensive
  • I myself as a lecturer can be a little 'dizzy' after a whole day of 10 or 15 minute sessions.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

The students receive feedback on their written exams in order to learn from their deficiencies. In addition, the activity attempts to improve the students' understanding of what constitutes a good written exam paper and to contribute to understanding of why written exam papers receive a given grade.

Description of the activity

In light of the above challenges, I therefore as a rule only provide feedback in groups (2-5 people). The objective is to ensure that I have longer sessions, where I can say more without becoming 'dizzy' because I can cross-reference the other papers in the group.

I also have 'rules' for what you should do to 'earn the right to' feedback, so that I avoid having students who are not properly prepared turning up without getting much out it. In addition, I expect the students to have read one another's exam papers and that they can say something about what they have read.

Written instructions

"The requirement for receiving post criticism from me is that you have read your paper prior to the meeting and noted you strengths and weaknesses. You should expect me to ask you the question "What would you do differently, if you now were to write the same paper again?" so you must have an answer to this.

You must also have read between one and three of the other papers, where you should have noted a minimum of two strengths and two weaknesses. Once everyone has said something about each individual assignment, I will respond to each of them while the others are present. This will take about 10 minutes per person."

Division in groups

When I know who has signed up for post criticism, I divide them into groups. The challenge is to divide the students into groups in a way that means everyone can learn from the others, which means that I have to carry out an assessment based on topic, academic 'handicraft' and grade. It is difficult to provide guidelines for such a division, but as a general rule I try to make sure that you can use the individual assignments in relation to each other: You might find that

  • several assignments solved the same problem in different ways
  • several assignments have the same problems with the argumentation
  • an assignment found a good way to communicate and discuss something that others could learn from
  • or perhaps an assignment has received a grade that can best be explained and not least understood in comparison with a similar assignment.

Feedback

I give feedback by taking one assignment at a time:

  • the students present his/her own feedback (good and what could be better)
  • the other students present their comments cf. my guidelines (see above)
  • I comment on the preceding and give some additional comments.

Outcome of the activity

First of all, the students who come to this type of feedback have been explicitly positive. They state that this is due to several things:

  • that there is on the whole response from the lecturer and that it is nice to receive a tangible response to their work.
  • that it has been very instructive to read the other assignments.
  • that it is nice to have the time to think about my comments while they listen to the response to other assignments.
  • that they afterwards have someone to discuss everything with: what did I say, what did they themselves say etc.

There are in my view a number of interesting benefits from providing feedback in groups compared to individually:

  • the students actually read other written exam papers and not just their own, and they know in advance which grade they have received.
  • the students read their own written exam paper again - and now perhaps also through “other people's eyes".
  • by allowing the students themselves and then their fellow students to present their comments first, I firstly hear what they themselves believe to be important (which is important for me as a lecturer), and they say a lot of what I would otherwise have said. I often only have a few comments myself because the students have already said it all and my role is then to confirm or clarify the feedback that has been presented so far.
  • I do not have to say the same to multiple students, since I can cross-reference during the course of each individual session.
  • There is often time to take general discussions, both on writing assignments and on the course as such.
  • I personally keep a clearer head for longer because there is not so much turnover in my office. The longer sessions give me more equanimity.

The disadvantage is that you may frighten some students away because they do not feel secure about letting others read their assignments. There are many solutions, including offering a 'backdoor' by writing that if you do not wish to receive response together with others, then it is also possible to do so.

I myself have not thus far openly said that it is possible to avoid the group, but have dealt with it if someone has contacted me and said that they would really like the feedback but preferably alone. This is, however, one of the aspects where I need to find a better solution.

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