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Project Progress Report: July 2011

NTFS Projects end of Year Report (submitted July 2011) 


Our vision statement is captured within our research questions:

  • How can a ‘transmission’ model of feedback be replaced with a model of feedback linked directly to learning and reflection?
  • What practical strategies can we develop for encouraging dialogue between staff-students and student-student?

The focus of our project was for feedback-dialogues to be embedded into feedback strategies within the disciplines of History, Politics/IR at the three institutions involved in the project (De Montfort University, University of Warwick and London Metropolitan University). We still feel that these questions ultimately reflect what we hope to achieve.

However, due to several institutional changes beyond our control (at the lead institution) the community of practice that we had hoped to embed into the Department of Historical and Social Studies is no longer possible. This is because the Department of Historical and Social Studies has been restructured: Education Studies has moved into the Faculty of Health and Life Science, History is part of a new Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities; and Politics has moved into the Faculty of Business and Law to form a new Department of Politics and Public Policy. The project director, Alasdair Blair, will now be based in the Department of Politics and Public Policy, of which he is the head of department.

The positive aspect of these structural changes is that the project now has access to and will be working with a greater range of disciplines at De Montfort University. This process of change started in the 2010-11 academic year, with the project funding small-scale surveys as part of a cascade partner strategy in the Department of English and Creative Writing and in the subject areas of Education Studies. Approval for this strategy was given in the July 2010 end of year report.

The upshot of these developments is that as the project enters its final year of funding from the HEA, the project is taking on a more embedded role within De Montfort University. The focus of the project has broadened to include other disciplines (but with the same commitment to the subject disciplines originally outlined – Politics, History and additionally Education Studies).

What is significant about this development is that it is timely in assisting with the promotion of feedback-dialogues across a range of subjects and faculties sustainable beyond completion of the project. To this end, the future sustainability of the project will be much improved by these developments. The opportunity to work with new subject areas has also provided an opportunity to look at cost-efficiency in terms of budgeting for the final year, with a view to ensuring value for money for the HEA. A revised budget for the 2011-12 academic year is included at the end of this report. Please see Section 5 – Thinking ahead for our strategic focus for the final year of the project.


Intended Outcomes:

As discussed in the first section of this report we still envisage the project shaping and promoting feedback-dialogue practices within all three institutions at both a discipline, departmental and faculty level. We have a clear idea of who will benefit from this (students and lecturers) through the structures that are being embedded. Furthermore, we have a clear grasp of how this will benefit both groups: through support for feedback provision from the project, better understanding of feedback for students to ‘close the gap’, a reduction in barriers to communication between students and lecturers, and the promotion of more social and collegial learning environments.

The main beneficiaries of this process are the students. Through the development of feedback- dialogue mechanisms, it is hoped that student understanding of feedback increases and this in turn alleviates issues of misunderstanding and encourages student motivation and improved learning. Already, our qualitative interview data from this year has demonstrated:

  • Students have a clear concept of what a feedback-dialogue is and that in many cases feel that this is something they are experiencing;
  • The development of a provision for exam feedback has been welcomed;
  • Students do experience a mixed economy of feedback provision and the project will continue to promote and develop this with lecturers.

We have also created a range of tips for students to support them in recognising and getting the most out of feedback-dialogue tips. This work was developed in conjunction with students and the Students Union at De Montfort and Warwick University. The publication of these feedback-dialogue tips will be made available through both Student Unions as well as at a more local level for History, Politics/IR and Education studies Students.

We are also supporting lecturers to develop feedback-dialogue practices. This is being done through our website – itsgoodtotalk/ (also linking to the Warwick Teaching Excellence website).

Support through feedback dialogue tips for lecturers:

  • Explicitly state when you are providing feedback.
  • Consider the nature of your discipline and how this influences the types of feedback you currently use and how it may be developed further.
  • Differentiation between types of feedback (formative, summative, generic, personalized)
  • Create participatory conversations: ask open-ended questions, use a responsive ‘3rd ear’ listening technique
  • Build in opportunities for questions and challenges
  • Incorporate a mixed economy of feedback delivery: audio, verbal, written, email, peer
  • Create a range of spaces for feedback delivery: seminars, tutorials, workshops, drop-in sessions
  • Build peer-to-peer feedback into module design
  • At the outset begin with a culture of sharing/feedback dialogues
  • Timing of feedback for maximum effectiveness

We have created a range of resources for lecturers:

  • Empirically based feedback-dialogue tips for lecturers (and students)
  • A range of case-studies that have trialled feedback-dialogues as part of our project
  • A range of models based on our empirical findings and case studies
  • A discussion piece underpinning our theorisation of feedback-dialogues
  • A range of articles (written from the project) and other pertinent research literature.

Our last year of the project will focus on embedding these feedback dialogue tips. A before and after comparison seems appropriate to indicate the distance travelled with the promotion and development of feedback-dialogues. We will be conducting a large survey with students to note the extent to which they feel the provision of feedback-dialogues has been improved, with especial attention being paid to the provision of exam feedback and the use of the feedback-dialogue tips. In addition, we will be highlighting any nuances in this data through the provision of qualitative interviews with students. The use and implementation of the feedback-dialogue tips for lecturers will also be evaluated through focus-group discussions.


Activities and outputs


  • Semi-structured interviews with lecturers and students
  • Questionnaire for lecturers and students
  • Data analysis
  • Development of feedback models with lecturers and students
  • Support for lecturers to effectively implement feedback dialogue initiatives
  • Project resources to enable ownership of pedagogic practice for lecturers
  • Articles written to disseminate our research findings
  • Finally, it needs to be noted that a considerable amount of effort has been invested in the administration of the project. This applies to compliance of internal audit procedures and the overall strategic and operational management, for instance meetings of the project team and steering group

Activities: Aug 2010-July 2011 Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July  
Support for project partners, project holders and cascade partners                          
Exam feedback survey                          
Peer feedback survey                          
Student interviews                          
Interview transcription & analysis                          
Feedback-dialogue model development                          
Feedback-dialogue ‘tips’ for lecturers and students                          
Working on conference papers and journal articles                          
Away day focussing on assessment, feedback and dialogue                          
  Outputs: Conference papers   Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July
Paper presented at the 3rd PSA Teaching and Learning Conference, De Montfort University, 14-15 September 2010.                        
Paper to presented to the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, February 11-13 2011                        
Feedback workshop for postgraduates, University of Newcastle                        
Paper presented to the 13th Annual History Subject Centre Teaching and Learning in History Conference, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, 4-5 April 2011.                          
Paper presented to Higher Education Academy Assessment and Feedback Seminar, Empowering Students through Effective Feedback, De Montfort University, 10 May 2011.                          
Paper presented at Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for History conference, What do History Students Want, Loughborough University, 3 June 2011.                        
Paper presented to the 3rd Assessment in Higher Education Conference, University of Cumbria, 6 July 2011.                        
  Outputs: Articles   Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July
Blair, A. & McGinty, S. (2011) From consumption to construction: building BRIC’s for assignment feedback, Studies in Higher Education, awaiting peer review                        
Blair, A. & McGinty, S. (2011) Politics students experiences of assessment feedback: a British Perspective, Journal of Teaching and Learning in Political Science, awaiting peer review                        
Blair, A. & McGinty, S. (2011) ‘Feedback-dialogues’: rhetoric or reality? The student perspective*, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, awaiting peer review                        
Blair, A. & McGinty, S. (2011) Developing assessment practices in Politics, in Gormley-Heenan, C. & Lightfoot, S. (eds), Teaching Politics, London: Palgrave, forthcoming                        
An additional activity that we implemented is the work with another subject – Education Studies. This has developed the more theoretical, philosophical aspects of the concept of dialogue, moving the research from practitioner-based implementations to a deeper understanding of the implications and process of dialogue. We will continue to develop this theoretical side of the project work to enhance and support pedagogic practice.

Critical reflection

In our last July report we felt that the concept of a feedback-dialogue should be greater theorised and we have addressed this issue. Firstly, we perceived at a feedback workshop event held at Warwick University that there was much talk about dialogue, but we were conscious that in many ways this was under theorised. There seems to be little discussion of what a dialogue might entail or the best mechanisms to facilitate this. This gave us the impetus to hold a feedback workshop where we discussed with both staff and students what a feedback-dialogue might look like and how this should best facilitated. Having also reviewed the literature of dialogue as a concept we were able to develop a definition for this term. We have also proactively tested our feedback-dialogue tips in conjunction with the Student Unions at our institutions and gained positive responses from quality assurance. Therefore we feel that our project has been able to make a contribution to the pedagogy of feedback based on our research findings whilst framing this within a theoretical framework.

Additionally, we have identified the nuances within our questionnaire data and have addressed the gaps in opportunities for dialogue, in particular exam feedback is a key area where the opportunity for feedback has not been utilised. There is very little in the research literature in this area and again we felt that again not only was this an opportunity to improve the student experience, but also an opportunity to comment on a much needed resource. We have began to implement exam feedback opportunities, initially within one module for History, but now this is being taken forward by the whole department and the next year will see this being fully embedded into the feedback provision for History students at DMU.

We assume that all students want to engage with feedback and that dialogue practices can be further enhanced through a range of strategies (as highlighted in Section 2 of this report). Tutorials are an effective student-tutor dialogue strategy, (however we acknowledge that this is not always the most effective way of providing feedback), subsequently we are developing a mixed economy of feedback delivery to support dialogue for all students (with student-student feedback mechanisms and lecturer and student discussions).

In our last July report we highlighted that more work needs to be done to theorise the project, such as developing the concept of dialogue in relation to feedback. This has now been addressed and we continue to develop this theoretical aspect of our work. Our project partners have been an invaluable resource and produced excellent teaching initiatives based on their data collection and analysis. However, liaising with both institutions and small project holders has at times caused delays with the overall progress of the project. We have in-built some slippage time into our project and anticipate that this year’s data analysis will be completed by August. As the project makes progress and as the files of the project expand, it is important the project both maintains accurate procedures for retaining data both within and beyond the lifetime of the project. The project will be conforming to the ‘Research Records Retention Policy’ that is set out by De Montfort University which notes that data needs to be stored for at least 5 years after the completion of the project. Although there have been no difficulties with the overall staffing of the project, the research assistant on the project has found employment as a lecturer. And while this is a positive reflection of the work undertaken by the project, it nonetheless means that the project will have to appoint a new individual to this post. Staffing changes always create the potential for risk because existing strengths and expertise cannot always be replaced. Nonetheless, the team is confident that we will be able to appoint a capable candidate. Potential risk factors are been mitigated against by making the initial research assistant a project consultant in the final year of the project and by making more use of established staff in the University to undertake small research projects as cascade partners.

Thinking Ahead

  • Cyclical nature of developing and refining feedback-dialogue strategies.
  • Using Turning Point for Electronic Feedback.
  • Exam feedback provision – History DMU – Level 4 & 5
  • Student and Lecturer dissertation poster discussion – Education Studies and Politics – Level 6
  • Blogs – Peer feedback - IR Level 5


The Gant chart for Aug 2011– July 2012 below, provides an overview of our proposed activities.
Activities: Aug 2011-July 2012 Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July
Support for project partners, project holders and cascade partners                        
Refining feedback-dialogue strategies                        
Using Turning Point for Electronic Feedback                        
Exam feedback provision                        
Student and Leturer dissertation poster discussion                        
Interviews with staff and students                        
Interview transcription & analysis                        
Feedback-dialogue model development                        
Feedback-dialogue ‘tips’ for lecturers and students                        
Internal staff conference focussing on feedback                        
Away day focussing on feedback                        
Feedback dialogue workshops                        
Working on conference papers and journal articles                        
Final dissemination conference                        
Working on final project report                        
Website development                        
External evaluator                        
The Gant chart for Aug 2011– July 2012 below, provides an overview of our proposed outputs.
Outputs: Aug 2011-July 2012 Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July
Paper presented to PSA/BISA Teaching and Learning conference, 13-14 September, Cardiff 2011.                        
Paper presented to SRHE Conference, Celtic Manor, 7,8,9 December 2011.                        
Project workshop conference, De Montfort University, De Montfort University, January 2012                        
APSA Teaching and Learning conference, Washington DC, 17-19 February 2012                        
ISA Annual Conference in San Diego, 1-4 April 2012                        
PSA Annual Conference, Belfast, 3-5 April 2012                        
BISA-ISA joint conference in Edinburgh, 20-22 June 2012                        
Final project conference, De Montfort University, June 2012                        


Going forward over the next year – is very much an opportunity for embedding and consolidation in each of the three institutions. With the changes to the department at DMU and the relocation of Faculty building, the project has the opportunity to make use of high-tech smart boards that are located in all the teaching rooms in the Politics Department. This will allow the use of ‘Turning Point’ technology for student feedback. In addition, as the project will now be spread across a range of Faculties at De Montfort University, we intend to appoint feedback champions in each of the three faculties to support the implementation of these strategies and to hold a series of workshops based on our feedback-dialogue tips to ensure that the significance of dialogue is put at the forefront of our feedback strategy. As we see the future of the project being concentrated on a message of a mixed economy of feedback we will spend time addressing the appropriateness of different feedback strategies at different times and indicating to lecturers how they can best facilitate this. We intend to draw together our range of case studies to go forward as a published output to be used as a pedagogic resource to be used by lecturers.