Feedback in online learning – CRADLE Seminar Series

An enthusiastic and engaged audience joined us for our largest-ever online CRADLE seminar, a special panel exploring feedback in online learning. Here, CRADLE doctoral student Juan Fischer reflects on the panel’s timely and thought-provoking discussion of feedback in online learning, with particular consideration of the current pandemic context, and you can also catch up with the seminar recording.

This seminar about feedback in online learning was the first CRADLE seminar streamed on YouTube rather than Zoom. It was also the first seminar, to the best of my memory, to include three presenters instead of one: in this case, A/Prof. Rola Ajjawi (CRADLE, Deakin University), Prof. Michael Henderson (once one of my lecturers at Monash University) and Prof. Michael Sankey (Griffith University), along with chair A/Prof. Phillip Dawson (CRADLE). I feel that this experiment echoes one of the most relevant points made throughout the seminar: we can’t miss the opportunity for reimagining assessment and feedback during the current pandemic.

But at this point, you might be thinking that I’m getting into another one of my ‘meta’ rambles about the seminar, with potential sci-fi references, so I’d better start writing about the main arguments that Rola, Michael H. and Michael S. brought forth during the session.

Rola’s presentation started with the premise that feedback requires deliberate design, while taking this idea forward and arguing that feedback design needs to consider both relational and cognitive aspects. My favourite moment was when Rola described “online learning” as an awkward term, as learning is never a fully virtual or purely face-to-face activity; learning is always embodied and mediated by artefacts in spaces (thank you!). In a Covid-19 context, she advocates rethinking how to create connectedness in online education without falling into the trap of trying to replicate face-to-face interactions.

In a similar way, Michael H. recognised the importance of understanding students and teachers’ experiences since, while online teaching is not necessarily new, it is a new experience for many people in education. Michael H. highlighted that Covid-19 has become a longer-term situation than we initially thought, and suggested that we need to start thinking about the extra layers of feedback design in a way that focuses on helping students making sense of feedback – with the richness of the medium as a support, not as a driver.

Michael S. presented a different spin, and not only by addressing online assessment design at a more sector-wide scale. He showed us that, despite the exam and invigilation fetish (my words not his) that still abounds in higher education, not that many institutions in Australia chose to use remote proctoring services like ProctorU. One of the reasons behind this decision was students’ discomfort with being observed by third parties… a fear that came to fruition with news of ProctorU being hacked and students’ information made public online. Michael S. highlighted how some institutions were able to approach professional bodies and negotiate their summative assessment requirements, while others claimed that professional bodies would not allow accommodation of the current PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS!!! (Sorry, I got agitated.) The main point here is to remember that designs like interactive oral assessment or open book exams are still possible.

I feel that the underlying theme of these three presentations is that education and learning are human phenomena (who would have thought?!), and an important element of human life is connection, not automation. Hence, feedback design that connects and supports people, and assessment tasks that are flexible to the learners’ (and teachers’) needs, may be more important than figuring out how to use technology to provide tonnes of information and control potential cheating behaviours. Maybe less Orwell’s 1984 and more Asimov’s human-friendly robots (I needed a silly reference somewhere!).


For more of the panel’s research, follow them on Twitter: Rola @r_ajjawi, Michael H. @mjhenderson and Michael S. @michael_sankey. You can also follow Juan @JuanFischer_.

Category list: CRADLE Seminar Series, News

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