Last week, I came across a white paper published by Turnitin, the plagiarism protection software. In their study, Turnitin surveyed over 2,000 collegiate students and asked them about the types of feedback they received and which they found most effective. While a great deal of the study reinforced the importance of prompt feedback directed towards student improvement, a few parts of the study stood out as being rather surprising. For instance, since Turnitin is a software based system and the survey was conducted via their online user base, I thought the rate of electronic feedback would be greater. Looking at the data, however, the frequency of typed comments only outpaced written comments slightly. While 60% of participating students reported that they received typed comments “very often” or “extremely often,” 55% reported receiving written comments on their paper. Very few students report having instructors that use voice (5.4%) or video (4.6%) comments on their papers.
Looking at the delivery methods that students find most effective, the vast majority of students (76%) report face-to-face conversations as being “very” or “extremely effective” means of receiving feedback. This is somewhat surprising since only 29% of students report encountering this method of feedback regularly. Regarding the effectiveness of written vs. typed feedback, students report similar levels of effectiveness across both delivery methods. Moving to the types of feedback, students found feedback that suggested improvement and compared their work to assessment criteria and rubrics as being most effective. The students also reported praise/discouragement as being the least effective means of feedback.
While the study doesn’t specifically reference Grant Wiggins work on Feedback, I found the Turnitin study to resonate with his article on Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. In the article, Wiggins discusses the need for goal-referenced feedback that is actionable by the student. Rather than simply writing “Good job!” on a paper, Wiggins discusses the need to share specific goals and criteria for assignments and help the students self-assess their work to work towards the goal. It’s great to see that the student participants in the Turnitin study echo this need.
Another area that stood out from the Turnitin white paper was the need for timely feedback. While the current study didn’t specifically address this in their research, they referenced a study from 2013 that showed that 28% of students report waiting more than thirteen days to receive feedback on their papers. While most institutions don’t mandate a deadline for student feedback, I think most educators would agree that timely, on-going feedback is more effective than delayed or inconsistent feedback. In her book on the Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning (2104), Jan Chappuis writes “effective feedback occurs during learning.” She writes:
“How do we show students that it’s not only okay to make mistakes but that when they occur, they are to be welcomed as information about next steps in learning? We cultivate this mindset when we offer feedback with opportunities to improve during the learning. Feedback is most effective in improving achievement if it is delivered while there is still time to act on it.” (p. 68)
While the Turnitin study doesn’t discuss this explicitly, the data gathered from students on effective feedback echoes the need for timely, transparent, tangible feedback that can help students learn and improve.