An interview with...

An interview with… Naomi Winstone

The third interview in our series is with Naomi Winstone, who presented an excellent seminar on maximising the impact of feedback in March 2018. Naomi has helped to implement a new feedback system in Surrey and has had huge success; she was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2016 and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. You can find more about her research and publications here.

What are the most common problems you tend to observe with current feedback practices?

One of the key problems I think we face is the positioning of students as passive receivers of feedback, where feedback is something that is ‘done’ to them, and where the delivery of feedback by their tutor represents the end of the feedback process. In fact, this should be seen as the beginning of the process, where student engagement and action are the most important determinants of the impact of the feedback.

We perhaps unwittingly reinforce students’ position in this way by focusing on feedback as written comments (what David Carless terms the ‘Old Paradigm’ of feedback practice), often provided at the end of a unit or module. We are also perhaps telling students that this is the model of feedback that we value, by asking them in surveys such as the NSS to evaluate the quality of assessment and feedback according to what they have ‘received’. The modularisation of curricula also places feedback into topic-based silos, making it harder for students to see feedback as part of an ongoing learning journey.

A lot of efforts to improve students’ satisfaction with feedback focus on the role of the educator, for example, promoting the use of particular language in feedback comments, or designing new feedback pro-formas. I don’t think we will ever see a transformation in the assessment and feedback process unless we focus not on the feedback itself, but on its impact on student learning and development.

What benefits do students experience through a better understanding of the feedback process?

The ability to use feedback effectively is not just a critical academic skill, but also a crucial life skill. If students gain an appreciation of the power of feedback, and learn how to apply it beyond just the next piece of work, they are developing skills that will support their learning and development way beyond their time at University. Understanding the feedback process enables students to develop the ability to evaluate their own work, making them less reliant on external sources of feedback.

How can Universities help students to understand these benefits?

I think that it is essential to build time into the curriculum to support students to develop and hone the skills needed to implement feedback. We use the workshop tool from the Developing Engagement with Feedback Toolkit (tinyurl.com/hea-deft) to equip our incoming students with these skills. Dialogue is also essential; we should be continually talking to students about the impact of feedback and their role in the process.

What are the most valuable resources/articles you use?

There are so many people whose work has had a huge impact on me, and whose articles I return to time and again, and always gain something new from. In particular, Margaret Price’s work encouraged me to focus on engagement with feedback rather than its delivery, and the work of David Nicol, David Carless, and David Boud has also been very influential. If I were to identify one ‘go-to’ resource, it would be David Boud and Elizabeth Molloy’s 2013 edited volume entitled ‘Feedback in Higher and Professional Education: Understanding it and doing it well’. It’s a really comprehensive and thought-provoking resource with contributions from leading scholars.

What one piece of advice would you give to help improve students understanding of the feedback process?

Don’t focus just on the feedback you get when an assignment is marked. There is potentially no limit to the amount of feedback you can get whilst at University. You can continually gain feedback from tutors, learning advisors, librarians, peers, family members, and through your own self-assessment. In order to gain maximum benefit from these sources of feedback, you need to be willing to ask for it!

What inspired you to first start looking at feedback practice and advocating change?

As a psychologist, I am primarily interested in the reasons behind people’s behaviour. We hear a lot of negativity about students’ engagement with feedback, that they often don’t read or even collect feedback! I think it is important to ask why this might be the case, and better understand why students don’t feel that the feedback holds value for them. In previous roles (Head of Level 4, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Director of Learning and Teaching, Associate Dean Learning and Teaching) I spent a lot of time talking to students, and hearing about the challenges they face when trying to implement feedback. I wanted to explore the impact of feedback by focusing not on what the educator does, but on what the student does.

What one film/book/resource would you like to share with the academic community?

I have really enjoyed reading “Thanks for the Feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Their focus is on receiving feedback in the workplace, but there are so many parallels to educational contexts. I also recently came across a story book for children called “Thanks for the feedback…I think…” which teaches young children the value of feedback. There is an accompanying teacher resource pack which is brilliant!

If you could change one thing about HE in the UK what would it be?

That we move towards a model where we position students as genuine partners in their education. I don’t think it’s enough to tell students that they shouldn’t see themselves as consumers if we don’t then work hard to create an environment where their input, participation and expertise is fully valued and integrated into innovation and decision-making at all levels.

Who was your favourite teacher at school/university and why?

My A-Level Psychology teacher, Mrs Middleton, was the most inspiring teacher I had at school. She brought psychology to life, giving us the opportunity to explore the relevance of theory to everyday life. I had gained a place at university to study music, but in giving me feedback on one of my essays, she suggested that I seriously consider doing a psychology degree. Therefore, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am now without her encouragement!

You can watch Naomi’s Education Excellence seminar here.

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