What Types of Feedback Should Students Receive?

Throughout the school day there are hundreds of small reactions, judgments, and decisions that are tossed around in a student’s head. The question is, when, where, and how can students be given additional information that nudges these thoughts in directions that will lead to better learning outcomes. At the moment most teachers have their own systems for providing feedback and guiding students, but pair of new studies on computer learning suggests that there are certain best practices when it comes to giving students information about their learning.

The first study examined the effects of positive feedback on learning, and the findings suggest that correct judgments should be reinforced at all possible times:

We hypothesize that positive feedback works by reducing student uncertainty about tentative but correct problem solving steps. Positive feedback should communicate three pieces of explanatory information: (a) those features of the situation that made the action the correct one, both in general terms and with reference to the specifics of the problem state; (b) the description of the action at a conceptual level and (c) the important aspect of the change in the problem state brought about by the action. We describe how a positive feedback capability was implemented in a mature, constraint-based tutoring system, SQL- Tutor, which teaches by helping students learn from their errors. Empirical evaluation shows that students who were interacting with the augmented version of SQL-Tutor learned at twice the speed as the students who interacted with the standard, error feedback only, version.

The second study examined task selection, and it found that advising students on what to do has the potential to be detrimental:

A positive effect on learning is expected when learners select tasks that help them fulfil their individual learning needs. However, the selection of suitable tasks is a difficult process for learners with little domain knowledge and suboptimal task-selection skills. A common solution for helping learners deal with on-demand education and develop domain-specific skills is to give them advice on task selection. In a randomized experiment, learners (N = 30) worked on learning tasks in the domain of system dynamics and received either advice or no advice on the selection of new learning tasks. Surprisingly, the no-advice group outperformed the advice group on a post-test measuring domain-specific skills. It is concluded that giving advice on task selection prevents learners from thinking about how the process of task selection works. The advice seems to supplant rather than support their considerations why they should perform the advised task, which results in negative effects on learning.

Taken together, the studies have a number of important implications for the classroom. First, teachers should make every effort to give positive feedback, particularly when students seem unsure about something. Second, it’s important for teachers to elicit student explanations for why one task logically follows from a previous task.

Of course the broader takeaway is that a room full of computerized tutors will ultimately be able to do things a single teacher cannot. Cognitive tutors can provide positive feedback every time a student d0es something correct, as well as neutral or negative feedback when they don’t. In addition, although the above study suggests cognitive tutors should not give straightforward advice on task selection, the ability to allow students to choose from among multiple tasks has the potential to guide them in the right direction while at the same time allowing them to figure out why it’s the right direction. A teacher’s inability to be in 25 places at makes it impossible for them to efficiently accomplish these things.

Mitrovic, A., Ohlsson, S., & Barrow, D.K. (2012). The effect of positive feedback in a constraint-based intelligent tutoring system Computers & Education DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.07.002

Taminiau, E.M.C., Kester, L., Corbalan, G., Alessi, S.M., Moxnes, E., Gijselaers, W.H., Kirschner, P.A., & Van Merrienboer, J.J.G. (2012). Why advice on task selection may hamper learning in on-demand education Computer in Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2012.07.028


One Response to What Types of Feedback Should Students Receive?

  1. Pingback: Remainders: A hundred books to read (or be read) before age 6 | GothamSchools

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