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Durham e-Theses
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An Investigation into the Impact of Formative Feedback on
the Student Learning Experience

IRONS, ALASTAIR (2010) An Investigation into the Impact of Formative Feedback on
the Student Learning Experience.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



In recent years there have been a number of indications that there are issues with the provision of feedback to students in Higher Education, for example the National Student Surveys, 2005 – 2008 QAA Institutional Audit Reports showed low levels of satisfaction with the feedback that students received. .
The aim of the research undertaken in this thesis was to explore the issues with feedback from the point of view of students, academics and institutions and to determine whether the provision of feedback to students in an Institute of Higher Education enhances the learning experience of those students, addressing the research question - can formative feedback enhance student achievement ?
The purpose in carrying out the research in this thesis is to use the results from the research to inform and improve teaching practice in order to enhance student learning opportunities. The work is important for students, staff, and institutions.
The research evidence from the literature suggests that “assessment for learning” and the provision of formative feedback enhances the student learning experience. The “assessment for learning” (AfL) approach is currently widely advocated in Higher Education. However, the quantitative data gathered for this thesis suggests the impact of the AfL approach is not as positive as is suggested by the AfL advocates.
The evidence in this thesis indicates that despite the provision of feedback to students there is little indication that the student learning experience improves as a result. The quantitative analysis in this thesis compared student groups, over a three year period, who had experience of formative feedback and student groups who had not. The results, based on the summative assessment performance of the student groups, suggest despite the development of formative interventions and detailed formative feedback being provided to students there was little or no correlation between the provision of feedback and the enhancement of student learning.
The qualitative findings from this thesis, based on pilot studies on the types of feedback students want and a series of focus groups, suggest that students want and expect feedback. They want feedback that they can understand and that they can use in their learning. However there are issues in the type of feedback that is given to students.
The qualitative data indicates that there is a difference in perception between students and academic staff on what constitutes effective feedback. The difference is mainly around the understanding of the language used in the feedback but also the expectations of what to do with the feedback. Academics expect students to use the feedback in feedforward for future learning, but students are unsure as to what they should be doing with the feedback.
The data gathered in this thesis suggests that students want to use feedback to enhance their generic academic skills rather than to “close the gap” on their subject knowledge and understanding. This finding conflicts with current AfL literature; conjectures about the discrepancy are explored.
If formative feedback is to “close the gap” on student understanding students need to be encouraged to engage with the feedback and guided in how use the feedback to enhance their learning. For feedback to be valued by students the feedback needs to be high quality and be understandable. The findings from the case studies are used to make recommendations for changes in academic practice in the provision of feedback.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Education
Keywords:"assessment", "feedback", "formative", "student" "experience", "student learning".
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Education, School of
Thesis Date:2010
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:10 Jun 2011 10:43

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