Latest developments in feedback research

Photograph of Prof. David CarlessCRADLE Honorary Professor David Carless offers an overview of selected recent developments in feedback research.

Feedback research and publications continue to evolve at a lively rate, with CRADLE and its associates being at the forefront of developments over the last few months.

In September 2020, the DAFFI event involved a meeting of minds between the Connected Intelligence Centre, University of Technology Sydney and CRADLE researchers from Deakin. Dave Boud presented some work-in-progress with Phillip Dawson on teacher and student feedback literacy. By revisiting data from the Feedback for Learning project, they seek to tease out empirically-derived features of teacher feedback literacy to add further weight to the ideas proposed by CRADLE associates (Carless and Winstone, 2020). In our conceptual starting-point, we suggested that teacher feedback literacy encompasses: a design dimension focusing on designing feedback processes for student uptake; a relational dimension representing the interpersonal side of feedback exchanges; and a pragmatic dimension addressing how teachers manage the practicalities of disciplinary and institutional feedback practices. The mutual interplay between teacher and student feedback literacy looks like a ripe field for further research and development work.

The CRADLE conference in October 2020 was a major success, including keynotes by Aly Wise and Monika Nerland, and an assessment-related symposium involving Rola Ajjawi, Phill Dawson and Michael Henderson. Sin-Wang Chong presented a socioculturally-informed ecological model of feedback literacy, building on his previous publication (Chong, 2020). His work can be contrasted with Karen Gravett’s (2020) paper on feedback literacies from sociomaterial theoretical vantage points. She reframes and critiques the notion of agency by bringing out the dynamic, contested and situated nature of feedback literacies.

Our most recent open access publication (Winstone, Balloo & Carless, 2020) uses as its evidence base National Qualifications Frameworks from six countries and UK Subject Benchmark Statements, supplemented by data collected from subject-matter experts.  We present a curriculum framework for the development of discipline-specific feedback literacies, and conclude that disciplinary feedback practices can be developed through authentic learning activities and assessment tasks. There are useful synergies between this paper and the one led by Phill on authentic feedback (Dawson, Carless & Lee, 2020).

October saw the publication of a major new open access paper by David Nicol. He proposes that feedback should be reconceptualised from an internal feedback perspective. A key element of this approach is the idea that students learn from comparing their work-in-progress with that of multiple other attempts at the same task. Nicol makes a pertinent point that feedback researchers have tended to focus too much on how students engage with and process feedback from others, and not enough on the design of student generation of feedback for themselves. There are also possibilities to link this agenda with the idea of feedback seeking or feedback requests brought to the fore by CRADLE researchers in other recent work (Joughin et al., 2020; Malecka et al., 2020). In order to frame a feedback request, learners are already likely to have generated internal feedback that informs the kind of comments they are eliciting.

In November 2020, CRADLE and its associates were also involved in a conference spearheaded by Veronica Villarroel of the Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile. Building on work in authentic assessment, Phill presented our paper on authentic feedback (Dawson, Carless & Lee, 2020): feedback processes that resemble those of the discipline, profession or workplace. Phill concluded by posing a useful question to inform practice: How closely do our feedback designs resemble the feedback practices of practitioners in the discipline?

In the same conference panel, I reported some work-in-progress on teacher feedback literacy derived from interviews with teachers who had won awards for ‘good feedback practice’ at the University of Hong Kong. The data from this particular group of educators revealed plenty of emphasis on relational aspects and somewhat less evidence of design or pragmatic dimensions. A further theme in the data related to refinements and adjustments to feedback designs, leading to an ongoing research interest into how and why teachers change their feedback practices.

To conclude, there has been plenty of productive activity on the feedback front in recent months. It is worth noting that the majority of the papers I have reviewed here are conceptual in nature, and this opens the way for further empirical publications in 2021.

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


Carless, D. & N. Winstone (2020). Teacher feedback literacy and its interplay with student feedback literacy. Teaching in Higher Education.

Chong, S.W. (2020). Reconsidering student feedback literacy from an ecological perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education.

Dawson, P. Carless, D. & Lee, P.P.W (2020). Authentic feedback: Supporting learners to engage in disciplinary feedback practices. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education.

Gravett, K. (2020). Feedback literacies as sociomaterial practice. Critical Studies in Education,

Joughin, G., Boud, D., Dawson, P., & Tai, J. (2020). What can higher education learn from feedback seeking behaviour in organisations? Implications for feedback literacy. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education.

Malecka, B. Boud, D. & Carless, D. (2020). Eliciting, processing and enacting feedback: Mechanisms for embedding feedback literacy within the curriculum. Teaching in Higher Education.

Nicol, D. (2020) The power of internal feedback: Exploiting natural comparison processes. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education

Winstone, N., Balloo, K. & Carless, D. (2020). Discipline-specific feedback literacies: A framework for curriculum design. Higher Education

Feature image: freddie marriage on Unsplash

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