Frequent assessment and feedback

Offering feedback frequently is one method to foster regular study effort as well as to raise the level of engagement of a student with his course programme.

Students’ study effort or time spent on studying is a predictor of study success. The more time students spend on learning, while the quality of education remains the same, the better they perform (Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999). Intermediate assessments support students in increasing their time on task and spreading their learning efforts more regularly throughout a period of time (Clouder, 2012; Jansen, 1996; Webber, 2012) and affects learning outcome positively (Admiraal, Wubbels & Pilot, 1999; Hernandez, 2012; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). However, intermediate assessments may be either constructive or inhibitory towards learning, dependent on the way it is designed and implemented (Kingston & Nash, 2011; Yorke, 2003). Regarding the design of feedback, Hattie and Timperley (2007) make a distinction between feedback about the task (FT), about the processing of the task (FP), about self-regulation (FR), and about the self as a person (FS). They argue that FS is the least effective, FR and FP are powerful in terms of  deep processing and mastery of tasks, and FT is powerful when the task information subsequently is useful for improving strategy processing or enhancing selfregulation (which it too rarely does).

Feedback used in the contexts of higher education is generally regarded as crucial to improving knowledge, skill acquisition and motivating learning. Formative feedback may either support or inhibit student learning, dependent on how teachers provide feedback (Shute, 2008). However, how feedback should be designed to support student learning efficiently and effectively is largely unknown. Moreover, students generally seem to be dissatisfied with the content of the feedback they received from their teachers on written assignments (Nicol, 2010; Price, Handley, & Millar, 2011). Research examining improvements of teacher feedback focuses, amongst other things, on qualities of written feedback (Lizio & Wilson, 2008), teacher-student dialogue (Nicol, 2010) or debates (Healey, 2012) on feedback, and the use of technology to support the feedback process (Gleaves & Walker, 2013). Other researchers focus on the capacity of students to understand and interpret teacher feedback. This requires students to understand what is expected from them, the quality that is required and criteria that should be used to assess and improve their work (Sadler, 2010).

Research shows that formative feedback based on for example a series of assignments or tests supports students in their attempt to spread their learning effort more evenly throughout a period of time (Admiraal, Wubbels & Pilot, 1999; Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Hattie, 2009). This evenly spread learning positively effects learning outcome (Black & William, 1998; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Although many studies seem to support the power of formative feedback, more recent studies indicate that these results may not be that strong (Dunn & Mulvenon, 2009; Kingston and Nash, 2011).


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