Nigel GibsonModerator Post 1 • 18 May 2020, 14:12 • Edited by the author on 18 May 2020, 19:54
Section 5, Activity 2
This thread is for section 5, activity 2
The activity invites you to consider how OU Tutors mark assignments. In particular, what are the main issues you foresee in marking at a distance?
These are examples of the type of posts we might expect to see:
"It could be difficult to make sure that students understand the feedback"
"Scope for misunderstandings can lead to students becoming upset?"
Use the "Reply" button below to contribute to this discussion
From my own f2f experiences, the days after feedback is released is often really busy for tutors. There is usually a flood of students coming to tutor’s offices asking for reasons for their mark - or asking for further clarification on their feedback. To cope with this, in the face to face setting, I know some tutors who have a ‘drop-in’ session after feedback is released, this helps to calm students who are getting stressed about their feedback. There are also opportunities around campus to spot if a student seems dissatisfied after feedback has been released.
I see an issue that in the OU model there is a risk that after feedback the students feel upset and isolated if they do not get the feedback they were expecting; and don’t know what to do – because there is no physical door to go and knock on. While the student is upset, the tutor might not even recognise this is a problem.
I think keeping channels of communication open is essential – but also to make sure the channels allow students to speak as freely as they wish. Maybe a virtual drop-in time, where the student knows they can turn up and get issues off their chest?
keeping channels of communication open is essential
Yes, this is important and different tutors do this in different ways, but we do encourage students to contact us. I often find students are reluctant to bother their tutors, so I make a point of saying that we are paid to be bothered (although not at 2am!!), which seems to help.
I have noticed that when I hand back work in class the first thing students look for is the mark, followed by where they lost marks and look for why. This can then be followed up by a discussion with myself as to why. So I am always ready to discuss/explain straight away.
This is slightly more problematic for distance learning as the student will receive their feedback but may not understand and this can lead to a bit of stress if they cannot access either the full solutions (in my experience these don't come at the same time as the feedback) or be able to contact their tutor. This is why I feel feedback is a critical element of the course.
Yes, feedback is very important, and there is always the possibilty that some students just look at marks and maybe summary points, and don’t even look at their scripts, so it can be useful to cover your main feedback and feedforward in the summary.
As you said there is also the chance that feedback may not be fully understood. I always try and give examples to support my feedback and suggest students contact me if they need help making sense of their feedback. Sometimes students get in touch, most by email, some by phone, to gain more understanding. You can always direct them to course materials orother OU materials (e.g. referencing) too for further examples.
For me it would be communication styles and what can get lost in translation. Experience has taught me about how differently 2 people can interpret the same written information. In a setting such as the OU that has many students whose first language is not English and also many more whom are either neuro-diverse or have significant physical/mental health challenges, there will be many students that will interpret the same information differently, especially something as personal as TMA feedback. So much can be lost in translation with written communication and therefore intention and context need to be clear for the intended recipient.
A good way to make sure this happens is to clarify what has been understood by the communication that has been given.
Understanding and interpretation definitely play a part in feedback and, as you said, there is a need to consider who you are writing to and writing clearly and concisely, and in a supportive way.
Asking students to summarise their understanding of your feedback to you could be useful
As others have said, there is potential with written feedback to be misunderstood. Although that's the same in a traditional university setting too. However, OU students are more isolated from other students. In a traditional setting, students are likely to discuss how they did on a piece of work with other students who may have had similar issues with their assignment, or can chat about how they approached it differently. Students can also informally tutor each other. So there's an exchange. I guess this could happen to some extent with OU students on the same module, but it would depend on there being informal communication between students. I'm not sure it is something that would happen on the module forums?
I agree with the other commenters that the provision of feedback is an area where issues could arise. However, I wonder if the prior support structure might actually help the students reach out to the tutor after assessments are given? It seems that if a good relationship has been established, and the student and tutor have worked out a good way to communicate with each other, the technology might actually be an easier way for shy students to find out more about the assessment they were given. In the same way, do tutors reach out to individual sessions to explain assessments?
Coming from the book publishing world I know that when you send back a file with all the comments regarding improvements it's really common for authors to become discouraged and disengage - and this is authors who are writing a great first draft and are being published. Over many years I have learnt to really be almost overly positive about all the good bits to try to mitigate their sense of overwhelm with all the 'not so good' bits. When I transitioned into mentoring editors I took that approach - to point out where they could better but also to really buoy them up still - with me. And of course I took that into the school classroom too.
Students not understanding the tutors comments or suggestions for improvements.
Students getting demotivated and upset about their marked TMA.
A suggestion is that students could, after they receive the marked assignment, have an opportunity to fill out a feedback form and email it to the tutor with what they understood about the feedback and what they did not understand to make sure there is student-tutor dialogue.
This could be followed up with a session when the tutor is available to be called/contacted.
It could be useful to get a feel for a student's understanding of feedback, however a form may be a bit formal. As part of feedback you could suggest that students contact you if they are not sure about anything, and you might want to contact some students yourself following feedback if you think they may need further help.
The major challenge that I see with marking at a distance is providing a detailed feedback that is helpful and personalized to each student. The personalized feedback is important because the tutor doesn't have a face-to-face interaction with the students. And with so many other students requiring feedback within a limited time, the tutor has quite a lot of work to do, bearing in mind that different students will require different feedback based on their strengths and weaknesses in the TMAs. All these can be quite challenging as the tutor seeks to provide feedback that will encourage and not discourage some student who might already be at risk of disengaging from their studies.
Issues with marking at a distance :-
- Encouraging students to read feedback - not all do, particularly if the mark is disappointing, they may find it hard to face looking at it immediately
- Establishing a way to make the student feel comfortable with asking for more details on feedback - this can feel intimidating for students who are worried they look like they are questioning your judgement
- Tone doesn’t come across at a distance - unless the tutor-student relationship is well established it can be all too easy for the most innocuous and well-intended comment to come across as unduly critical, judgmental or patronising
- Balancing how much feedback to give. Some students like tons of it, some don’t
- The balance between critical and positive. Some students find critical very hard to cope with and there needs to be loads of positive in there to make it palatable. Others (I’m one!) mainly want to hear every single way it could be improved
- In a school setting, where I’m used to teaching, you can get to know your pupils well enough to tailor feedback to the individual’s personality and goals - that’s harder to do at a distance (as a student I tend to tell my tutors that I want to know how to improve even if I get 99)
By the way - one of you lovely people running this course could have warned me I’d be confronted with my own face at the start of Section 5! :-D (i did actually agree to its use of course - just took me by surprise!)
Some excellent and detailed overviews of the challenges faced in providing feedback.
To maximize the value of the feedback process, I feel that the written or dictated feedback should provide the foundation for a discussion between marker and student. This provides an excellent framework for a detailed dialog into what the student should continue to do well, in addition to what and how they can improve their work in future submissions.
The remoteness reduces the non verbal clues that you can glean from a face to face conversation. This is particularly relevant when the student has perhaps scored lower than expected or even failed the assignment.
From my own experience with the OU I have at times found feedback a bit generic, therefore it is important to have a feedback loop for comments to be discussed with students, especially if the mark is lower than expected.
I agree that the main issue is that the students interpretation of the feedback given may differ from the tutors intended response, particularly where the student may not have English as their first language.
In my experience as an OU student I have always found the TMA00 useful to be a first indication of the tutor's feedback style, although not all tutors have made use of this, particularly in later modules. For level one students its use should definitely be encouraged.
That's a good point re TMA00 - the dummy assignment submission for a module - it can be useful for testing the electronic submission system and for initial 'getting to know' the style of a tutor, for example, how they present/structure feedback and feedforward. There is no obligation for a student to submit TMA00, however tutors can encourage students to submit it.
In my current experience as a tutor I what to understand why he got it wrong, not what he got wrong. Often this is a matter of study skills and therefore I need to propose a different approach to the problem rather than explaining the correct answer.
What he got wrong, can be
discussed by going over an ideal answer. This can then be compared
to the individual’s answer to see how he can improve and where he went wrong.
I need to remember that the feedback process is simply a continuation of my "conversation" with the student. This conversation mode requires particular attention when simply adding correspondence on the TMA.
I also would like to remember that positive feedback of praise is always nice to have. Sometimes it helps the receiver feel good in circumstances of hardship (having nothing to do with OU) and encourages him to continue.
I think it is important to include positive and feed forward comments in feedback and ensure feedback is personalised and constructive.
The biggest challenge is ensuring that students read the feedback and don't misunderstand. Some common errors can be dealt with in the forum where students can then share their thoughts and understanding of where they might have gone wrong. Other situations might be better dealt with on a one-to-one basis.
Building a relationship with each student is essential here to ensure they (1) feel confident in approaching you with further questions if necessary and (2) the tutor can identify situations where a follow up email/phone call might be appropriate.
I can remember receiving results where I got 98% and was disappointed and annoyed, but also getting 60% and feeling disappointed and annoyed (for different reasons).
The higher score disappointment faded very quickly, however it took me a bit of time to get through my disappointment of the 60% score. I had to re-read the feedback a number of times, re-read the question, re-read my answer, a few times, before acceptance set in.
I think this could have been mitigated by having a discussion with my tutor (who for that particular module was excellent), however I opted not to do that. I think I felt this was my mistake and I had to deal with it myself, rather than bother the tutor.
I think that having the opportunity, or manufacturing the opportunity, to discuss, either general issues in a group forum, or individual issues in a 1-2-1 forum, either via email, telephone, forum or other mechanism could help students start the reflection process earlier.
So, provide the feedback, then allow for a follow up session to support the understanding of feedback would be a suggestion.
Coordination and monitoring of marked assignments
The challenge with marking and providing feedback on student work at a distance is similar with all remote communications. When communicating face to face we are very used to picking up on aspects of communication such as body language, so when providing written feedback there can be misunderstanding and a perception that there is a lack of empathy.
As well as being more empathic , providing oral or face to face feedback is quicker. Providing written feedback is more useful as a permanent record but does require more time (although a growing stock of feedback phrases would address this)
Written feedback needs to be detailed and explain clearly what was done well and what could be improved and also how it can be improved. Ideally I would also signpost to specific material. Unclear feedback could lead to the student becoming upset and feeling unmotivated and unsure of what s/he is supposed to do.
I think it is important to offer a call to talk through the feedback. Getting feedback is not easy and as a tutor I would need to be conscious of that.
I think one possible issue is the fact that when we read a comment we tend to attribute a more negative tone than what it was ment. So, the right style and tone are crucial.
ANother possible issue is losing the communication and engagement if the student gets disappointed.
I prefer to release feedback before grades so the students go through the feedback and have an expectation of the mark, this usually dissolute the bad effects the grades might have.
I always use a sandwich technique in my feedback: PRAISE, CRITICISE AND PRAISE AGAIN at the end. It's very important to keep a positive feedback at the end.
I think it is very easy to just list the negatives, but I think it is important to also say what was done well or shows promise or else students are at risk of becoming demotivated. THey also need to know what they did well so they can keep doing it as well as what they did wrong so they can change or improve. Tone should also be careullly pitched to give the best chance of it comping over as intended.
I do think it is possible to write feedback in such as way as to have this balance, however there is also still a risk the student doesnt receive it as it was intended. As well as trying for balance I believe tutors shoudl try to keep communications open by variosu means so that things can be discussed over the longer term and follow ups are easy if the student is disappointed or not sure why ther got the mark they did.
There is always the risk also that students don't act on the feedback or don;t even read it at all which is certainly not unknown once a learner sees a score and may feel thats all they want to know.
Marking and feedback at a distance can lead to misunderstandings or an inability to get a particular point across the right way - think about the misunderstandings that can occur in emails or text messages in other areas of life! Thus, care needs to be taken.
Additionally, good feedback can only be given if the groundwork is put in place initially to understand the student, and how they work. If those foundations are not in place then it is difficult to feedback effectively.
I often find that students go directly to their mark and where they have lost lost marks. It is easy to discuss this face to face, but doing remotely has it's own specific problems. Tutors may not be available when the marks are released and some students might want to discuss them there and then. Feedback maybe misunderstood and email can often be slow.
Sometimes you may find you don't understand a piece of work and it may delay marking until you can discuss meaning with the student. Also, some marking and results might be down to how specific criteria have been met, rather than reflecting the quality of the work overall. It may be disheartening for a student to initially see marks online, without a supporting conversation.
Being a new tutor, I would be anxious about the differences in strong and weak students may make my feedback. I sometimes have just ticks in my answers and a summary feedback. But when I have had a bad answer, the tutor corrects it in different colour and explains where I am wrong. Then, I get advice on how to prevent these kind of mistakes.
I think communication is the key with marking distance learning. As an OU student myself, there have been occasions where I have wanted to ask questions about certain feedback I have been given, which is more difficult when you are not with your tutor in person. However, if channels for communication are kept open and the student is given an opportunity to discuss feedback if required, this would hopefully resolve that issue.
I haven't read the whole correspondence workbook but I liked the example of the tma00 example feedback. I would assume having different tutors across different modules it must be hard for some learners if the style of feedback is different each course.
Asking if they have done other modules how they prefer it marked up might make sense. Although not if everyone prefers a different style.
Trying to write in as plain english as possible to account for people where english isn't their first language or are neurodiverse might be a good idea. As well as having a "call to action" in places like read up on this section next etc so it feels more constructive than subjective possibly.
I guess I have a question though, are we expected to mark on spelling and grammar too, as grammar especially isn't something I might notice where someone else might.
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I tutor on level 1 and I would normally comment if they are getting something wrong, but there are not always marks attached to spelling and grammar.
I'm really looking for clear communication rather than being a grammar pedant. If the spelling and grammar get in the way of clear communication I would be looking to get some specialist help for the student.
If you are looking to tutor the post grad and level 3, I would hope that this isn't too much of a problem.
Does that help?
I really like the idea of a virtual drop-in for students to discuss their feedback. Like many others have said, interpreting written feedback can be very subjective so being available to clarify what comments actually mean would be hugely beneficial for the students as well as the tutor. Without this opportunity the tutor may not even realise that a student is upset or disappointed. It would allow student and tutor to agree areas to focus on to see improvements in the next TMA.
A key element is to check whether feedback is being addressed. Before marking a TMA, I always open the feedback from the previous TMA to see what has been addressed. Sometimes a student hasn't accessed the feedback at all, so tutors must not assume that feedback has been considered, and students may need help in doing this.
The only real differences to my current HE institute would be possibly having a critical friend near by for a second opinion on an assessment although this could be conducted remotely. Also providing feedback which is clear in the first instance and not misinterpreted before verbal feedback is given
I would say some of the main issues are very similar as the students will have. Delivery of the marked assignments within the allowed time frame and making yourself understood in the feedback.
Giving constructive feedback must be at times hard. I myself have on occasion have submitted a TMA in that I felt I had under preformed, normally because one or two questions require evaluation of papers or journals, something I struggle with. But without fail the comments from my Tutor, even when the mark were low, have made me feel a lot better about my work. And more importantly they have helped me to continue with my studies. I would find it saddening if I had given feedback that led to a student giving up on their studies.
My immediate response to the question is wonder why 'distance' is really an issue. If I handed a student back their TMA as a hardcopy with the feedback, would there be less of an issue? The difference is not you are marking at a distance, but that it is more difficult for a student to get back to you if they don't understand their mark and your feedback.
Because communication with the students is not generally interactive, but via the written word, there is a big need to express ones feedback clearly, and to make it as positive and encouraging as possible - which is probably more important if you have been obliged to give a poor mark rather than a good one. One thing which is likely an issue is if a student does poorly on a TMA, it is likely that they are struggling with some concept. And there is a danger that if you make a mistake about which concept they do not understand, your feedback might only compound the problem