If students generate feedback by making comparisons against comments,
why should comments be the only comparator? [David Nicol, 2020]
This website and the arguments herein do not just represent an addition to the literature on feedback, some ideas about how to make current feedback practices more effective. Rather the ideas herein are a challenge to the notion of feedback itself as currently conceptualised.
This website re-examines feedback through the lens of comparison. It starts from the premise that students learn by comparing their work against both their inner prior knowledge and against different sources of external information and that they generate inner feedback out of those comparisons. Based on this, it investigates what students learn when they compare their work against information, other than teacher comments, such as information in journal articles, in diagrams, in the work of peers, in rubrics, exemplars, videos and other resources online and offline. They might also compare against information derived from observations of others or events. I use the word comparison deliberately rather than evaluative judgement as all judgements at core involve a comparison, and research on evalutive judgement tends to assume the the comparators are either, rubrics or sssessment criteria and/or exemplars. I argue that anything that would improve students ability to think critically might serve as a comparator. The word comparison also begs the question 'what is being evaluated against what?' whereas evaluative judgement does not always surface this consideration. Furthermore when people analyse, problem-solve, make decisions, self-assess or reflect a comparator is always implicated. Internal emotional reactions might also serve as comparison information influencing what students produce or what feedback they generate.
Initial evidence across a range of disciplines shows that when students make comparisons of their work against different kinds of information, they generate more varied feedback than from comments alone, as each comparator takes students to a different place. They see their work through different lenses. Also inner feedback builds and becomes more elaborate from one comparison to the next, and multiple comparisons lead to feedback that surpasses what students generate from teacher comments.
This idea is easy to implement as it builds on a natural process - the making of feedback comparisons - something that we are all doing all the time anyway, even without receiving comments. These ideas have been researched at the University of Glasgow, University of Manchester, University of Padova, Italy and have been piloted across a range of disciplines at Trinity College Dublin and in Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and University of Utrecht. This new lens on feedback has not to date been the subject of systematic research so there is a lot to learn.
What is clear however from current research is that the key to unlocking the power of inner feedback is to have students mindfully make comparisons of their work against different kinds of information and to make their learning from these comparisons explicit through writing self-feedback, through discussion with peers or through actions to improve their work. Writing their own self-feedback comments is especially powerful as it makes visible to students their own feedback capability which is empowering. This approach:
- Acknowledges that students are the architects of their own feedback while recognising that learning from feedback can be improved by approrpriate learning designs that scaffold students' feedback productions.
- Helps build students capacity to regulate their own learning, as inner feedback is the catalyst for the self-regulation of all learning.
- Improves students' attainment and the range of feedback students generate without placing excessive burden on the educator as comparison opportunities can be accessed in any claaroom situation and comparison resources are reusalbe
- Gives teachers better information about what feedback students are generating and hence about what comments they really need.
And conference presentation by Geetha Selvaretnam on appliations of inner feedback model in two stage exam setting is here.
Nicol, D., N. Quinn,, L. Kushaw, and H. Mullen. 2021."Helping Learners Activate Productive Feedback; Using Resource and Dialogic Comparisons, Presentation at the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS): Teaching, Learning & Student Experience Conference, 29-30th June. Online. Paper HERE. Uploaded November 2021.
David Nicol and Suzanne McCallum. 2021 “The Power of inner Feedback: Comparison changes everything. Presentation at Student Experience Expert Group Meeting 4 November for JISC UK. Slides and link to JISC event page
November 18th 2021: Keynote by David Nicol with input from colleagues Suzanne McCallum and Nick Quinn for SLO: National Institute for Curriculum Development in the Netherlands. Title of keynote "Improving Learning by building on pupils' natural capacity to generate inner feedback". Description can be found here and full video presentation here.
26 January 2022: Presentation ‘Generating inner feedback from self and peer review’ by Dr Maxine Swingler and Dr Lorna Morrow, School of Psychology and Neurosciences, & Professor David Nicol, Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow to TILE (Teaching Innovation and Learning Enhancement) network. Link to abstract and recording HERE
29 March 2022: Presentation on ‘Active Feedback’ by Willie McGuire (School of Education), David Nicol (Adam Smith Business School) and Gemma Haywood (School of Education), at the Learning and Teaching Conference, University of Glasgow. Link to recording HERE
1 June 2022: Podcast produced by Sarah Knight and Mark Lennon of Jisc UK as part of their updated Guidance and New Principles of Assessment and Feedback in March 2022. David Nicol starts by taking through the thinking behind the research undertaken into feedback in the Adam Smith Business School. Suzanne McCallum (Accounting and Finance), Dr Lovleen Kushwah (Economics) and Dr Nick Quinn (Entrepreneurship) then discuss the methods they are using to bring this new feedback approach to life. They disucss how this approch benefits students’ learning and attainment and they also discuss how students respond to these methods. Podcast can be accessed HERE
28 June 2022: Centre for Teaching and Learning in Economics: University of London Conference: TeachECONference2022 Day 2 Session 3 “New Ideas in Assessment and Feedback”. Presentation ‘Thesis Supervision: Improving Student feedback by Harnessing Resource Comparisons". An economics example’ by Dr Lovleen Kushwah and David Nicol, Adam Smith Business School. Recording HERE [Note: the presentation starts after approx. 21 mins and questions occur from 33 mins to 41 mins approx.]
***NOTICE PRACTICAL RESOURCE FOR INSTRUCTORS 2 JUNE 2022***
Below is the First Practical Guide for Instructors (Teachers, Lecturers, Faculty) who want to implement comparison-based feedback. This Guide is unique. It differs from any other guidance about feedback published anywhere in the world. It is also short with 10 examples of implementation.
Nicol, D. 2022. “Turning Active Learning into Active Feedback”, Introductory Guide from Active Feedback Toolkit, Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow AVAILABLE HERE
Rose, J. 2023. “ChatGPT as a teaching tool, not a cheating tool” Times Higher Education
Quinn, N. and Gibb, A. 2023. “The power of active feedback to prepare students for professional experience” Times Higher Education.
Times Higher Education Podcast: "How to use generative AI in your teaching and research". Jenni Rose and David Nicol discuss generatvie AI in teaching and learning (first 40 mins) and Brook Szucs duscusses the research aspect
Jenni Rose 2023 provides an excellent short 4 minute explanation of the inner/active feedback approach with a helpful infographic. She also explains how she used this approach with over 600 business school students.
Nicol, D. and McCallum, S. Keynote presentation at the Feedback Fruits inspirED conference in Amsterdam in June 2023. "Using active feedback to develop students’ critical thinking". This recording is 1 hr 20 mins but it was an interactive session with Q&A throughout. Useful if you want latest thinking.
David Nicol & Lovleen Kushwah 2023. "Shifting feedback agency to students by having them write their own feedback comments" Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, The article is open access. It challenges current thinking with regards to how to develop students' feedback literacy.
Nicol, D. 2014. An older article on peer review that is relevant but not widely known about. Guiding Principles for Peer Review: Unlocking learners' evaluative skills". Proposes eight principles for the design of peer review and some practical suggestiions about how they might be implemented. It can be found HERE
FURTHER DETAIL (click section headers to expand)