One of the planned outputs from Sounds Good is a set of practice guidelines on using digital audio to give feedback to students. Of course, the guidelines aren’t ready yet. We haven’t even done most of the data-gathering and it’s still about three months before we’re due to publish. But is it possible to say anything about how to give audio feedback to students? Is there any knowledge and experience which could be useful to someone trying or contemplating experimenting with digital audio feedback? Yes.
For a start, there’s plenty of literature on giving feedback and much of it will be relevant, regardless of medium. So, for example, whether we’re writing or using audio, it will be sensible to follow George Brown’s recommendations that feedback should be timely, perceived as relevant, meaningful and offering suggestions for improvement which are within the student’s grasp. And we probably shouldn’t ignore Phil Race’s advice to ensure that our comments are intimate and individual, empowering and that they ‘feed-forward’ (contain pointers for the student’s future work). The ‘what’ and ‘how’ of feedback both matter. As experienced teachers know, it’s easy to make mistakes when responding, with the result that we confuse, irritate or damage learners.
These risks don’t disappear if we use audio. In some respects they may be greater: audio is a richer medium than written text, revealing much more about the person providing feedback – whether they are warm or frosty, caring or sneering, genuine or insincere. On the other hand it is probably easier and quicker to speak rather than write what we mean. As ever, it ain’t (just) what you say, it’s the way that you say it. And with audio, the additional non-verbal communication can be a double-edged sword. Beware!
So what about some tips to be going on with, before Sounds Good’s practice guidelines are ready? For a while now, the item 'Giving feedback by MP3 recorder' has been in the ‘Documents’ section of the website. It’s a one-pager, derived from my own experience. After a few practicalities on handling a written student assignment, I outline the general structure of my audio feedback. It’s usually along the lines of:
- Introduce myself to the student in a friendly manner.
- Say which assignment I’m providing feedback on.
- Outline the main elements of the comments which I’ll be giving.
- Work steadily through the assignment, amplifying and explaining notes I’ve put in the margins and, especially at the end, making more general points.
- Refer to the assessment criteria.
- Explain my thought processes as I move towards allocating a mark.
- Give the mark.
- Offer a few reasonably attainable suggestions for improvement, even if the work is excellent.
- Invite comments back from the student, including on the method of giving feedback.
- Round things off in a friendly way.
Sound or not?
(Posted by Bob Rotheram, Project Manager, Sounds Good)