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Photograph of Prof. David CarlessCRADLE Honorary Professor David Carless shares his thoughts on how evaluative judgement and feedback literacy can help learners to develop autonomy and take responsibility for their own learning – two important attributes for lifelong learning.

A goal of higher education is for students to become autonomous learners who take responsibility for their own learning progression. Two inter-related recent publications involving CRADLE staff and associates address this learning goal.

The first paper, led by Joanna Tai (Tai et al., 2017), discusses evaluative judgement: capabilities to make decisions about the quality of work of oneself or others. The development of evaluative judgement provides a cogent rationale for a number of key learning activities, such as peer review, student self-evaluation, the use of rubrics and the analysis of exemplars.

The second paper, which I co-authored with CRADLE director Dave Boud (Carless & Boud, 2018), focuses on student feedback literacy: the understandings, capacities and dispositions needed to make sense of comments and use them for enhancement purposes. The catalyst for this paper was the realisation that students are at the heart of feedback processes, yet find it difficult to understand, appreciate and use comments.

At conferences, we often heard colleagues refer to feedback literacy and mentioned it ourselves but there has been little in-depth treatment of the topic and its implications for pedagogy. I presented some initial ideas at the Assessment in Higher Education conference in Manchester in June 2017, had some conversations with Dave, and multiple iterations of the paper ensued. The first submission to Studies in Higher Education was appreciated by one reviewer but not the other, and eventually the paper found a suitable home in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.

We conceptualise student feedback literacy as involving four inter-related components: appreciating feedback; making judgements; managing emotions; and taking action (Carless & Boud, 2018). These are presented in figure 1 below.

Figure 1 - Features of student feedback literacy

Fig. 1 Features of Student Feedback Literacy (Carless & Boud, 2018, p. 5)

Students need to appreciate feedback processes and see their value. Students need sustained practice in making sound academic judgements about their own work and that of others. Students need to minimise defensive affective reactions to critical feedback and summon the volition to work with feedback as a tool for improvement. These three elements converge on a crucial aspect of feedback: the need for uptake. Students need to use feedback for improvement purposes. Without action, comments do not become feedback.

The teacher role lies mainly in designing curriculum and assessment in ways which can promote student feedback literacy. So a topic for another paper would be teacher assessment and feedback literacy and how it can be developed further.

There are plenty of common threads between the evaluative judgement and feedback literacy papers. Both highlight peer review and the analysis of exemplars as seeding students’ capacities to make academic judgements. Both papers espouse pedagogy involving engagement with criteria, the making of judgements, feedback dialogues and the development of more refined understandings of quality. And both papers are published open access, which seems a good way of maximising impact, especially when combined with Twitter activity.

Finally, feedback and evaluative judgement are, of course, long-running themes in the work of CRADLE. The edited collection, Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education (Boud, Ajjawi, Dawson & Tai, 2018) has, in fact, just appeared in print.

For more feedback insights, follow David on Twitter: @CarlessDavid

Boud, D., Ajjawi, R., Dawson, P., & Tai, J. (Eds), (2018). Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education: Assessment for knowing and producing quality work. London: Routledge.
Carless, D. & Boud, D., (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: Enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.
Tai, J., Ajjawi, R., Boud, D., Dawson, P. & Panadero, E. (2017). Developing evaluative judgement: Enabling students to make decisions about the quality of work. Higher Education. doi:10.1007/s10734-017-0220-3