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From 3-5 September 2018, CRADLE and Monash University’s Digital Education Research (DER) group held a joint International Symposium at the Monash University Prato Centre, titled ‘The Impact of Feedback in Higher Education’. We were joined by 19 eminent and emerging scholars in the field of feedback research, from countries including Canada, Hong Kong, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, and of course Australia.

The symposium included a mix of panel discussion, individual talks and small group activities in the service of three aims:

  1. understanding the nature of feedback impact;
  2. identifying pedagogies that might promote feedback impacts; and
  3. generating research approaches to explore and track the impacts of feedback processes.
Photograph of discussion amongst symposium delegates

Photo: Michael Henderson

Most contested was the definition of feedback; however, despite divergent views, all agreed that better understanding and promoting feedback that makes a difference is a priority.

There was lots of rich conversation problematising notions of impact in higher education – for example, a sociocultural perspective cannot separate inputs, processes and outcomes, and indeed sense-making is intimately woven with the social, cultural and historical structures of pedagogy. The research conversation was particularly generative where particular principles might be used to drive the research – including, for example, ensuring alignment between conceptions of feedback, metaphors of learning and assessment tools (or data collection tools). I continue to mull over how we might attribute learning to feedback information within long-loop learning as opposed to more tightly structured tasks.

Another interesting observation was that in order to research sense-making around feedback, and thus its impact, we need to visibilise this sense-making and perhaps constrain it into action through work. Finally, a comment on pedagogy: this aim was perhaps the more unitary amongst all the participants. Wanting to make things better for our students and their learning was key, and here programmatic assessment, promoting feedback literacy and engaging students in making judgements about the quality of their own work, and that of others, were clear and important principles.

I would like to thank the organising team (Paige Mahoney and Helen Walker from CRADLE; Tracii Ryan from DER; and Sarah Gore from the Monash Centre) for such a well-run event, and all the participants for their generous engagement. I feel privileged to work with such a dedicated group of researchers. The output of this symposium will be a book titled The impact of feedback in higher education, to be published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2019. Beyond this, I hope to continue this fruitful collaboration through continuing the conversation and joint grants, research and papers.

Group photograph of Prato delegates (courtesy of Michael Henderson)

Symposium delegates. Photo: DER Monash