Friday, January 27, 2017

Form or quantity of digital feedback has more effect on learners?

Starr (2016) reports on research into how the form of feedback students are given effects their engagement with it. In particular he looks at different ways to annotate when marking using the Turnitin product, and suggests individually composed text and audio comments are preferable to templates and rubrics. However, there may be an alternative explanation: bespoke comments take longer to compose, resulting in fewer, which students can better engage with.

Starr (2016)reports;
"It was found that GradeMark on-script ‘Bubble Comments’ and off-script ‘Voice Comments’ may both positively influence how valued learners feel and encourage and support their use of feedback for development by positively influencing their motivation and ability to engage. On-script ‘QuickMark Comments’ and off-script ‘General Comments’ and ‘Rubrics’ may negatively influence same." (Starr, 2016, p. 2)
The study (as the author admits) only looks at the form, not content of the feedback, nor the time required for different types of feedback. An assessor has only a fixed and limited amount of time to mark each assessment item. If providing feedback in a particular way takes longer, then the assessor will be able to provide less, or less considered feedback.

Turnitin's QuickMark provides a way to select from a pre-prepared set of comments. Similarly Rubrics make use of a structured template. Bubble and Voice comments are bespoke, composed each time (although there is no technical reason Turnitin could not provide a way to record a set of standard voice comments).

Starr's research suggests the bespoke comments are preferred by students, which is not surprising. However, does this take into account the additional time which it would take to prepare such comments? If it takes, for example, four times as long to compose a bespoke comment, the students will receive one quarter the quantity of comments. It may simply be that students are able to engage better when they receive fewer comments.

Correcting every error in a student paper is a waste to the marker's time and not helpful for student learning. I suggest more concise comments, in analogue or digital form, from templates or bespoke, text or audio.


Starr, S. (2016). An exploratory investigation into influences of form of digital feedback on learners’ engagement with their feedback (Doctoral dissertation, University of Edinburgh). Retrieved from

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