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Project Bid Details

NTFS Projects 2008-09

Stage Two Project Bid


Project Title: It’s Good To Talk: Feedback, Dialogue and Learning


Lead Institution: De Montfort University


1. Executive summary

Feedback practices have recently come under increasing scrutiny, most notably because of the impact of the National Student Survey. This project will identify, evaluate, develop and promote ways to improve feedback to students within the disciplines of History and Politics/International Relations. At the centre of this project stand the 7 principles of the SENLEF project which has attempted to provide a conceptual framework for feedback, and also to identify the principles underpinning good feedback practices. By taking one key principle – encouraging teacher and peer dialogue around learning – this project will pilot new feedback approaches in different subject areas across three different institutions (De Montfort, London Metropolitan, and Warwick). The project will examine the current state of pedagogic research on the subject, and review the current practices across the sector in the disciplines through surveys, interviews and focus groups, including both staff and students in this process. The project will explore new approaches and develop templates for the delivery of feedback, especially focusing upon the development of a more structured, strategic approach. Through dissemination the project will encourage academic departments to use models and approaches that will significantly improve the student learning experience in this crucial area.


2. Background

Improving feedback to students is a pressing and topical concern. A recent article in the Times Higher Education (THE) stated that “Nearly a third of students think that the feedback they get from their lecturers does not tell them how to improve their work” (THE Sept 18/9/08–24/9/08, p.11). The perceived student experience of assessment and feedback in the NSS is one of relative dissatisfaction, and the scores in NSS 2008 suggest that little progress has been made. This has recently been reinforced by the NUS publishing its 10 principles of effective assessment (THE 29/1/09–4/2/09, p.34). Amongst the points highlighted were that assessment “should consist of effective and constructive feedback” “and “should encourage dialogue between students and their tutors, and between students and their peers”.

The literature has remarked that “feedback has been underconceptualised, which has made it difficult to design effective feedback practices” (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2004, p.1). Scholarly work highlights the need for work in this area (Duncan, 2007; Weaver, 2006), and underlines a dissatisfaction with current practices (Price, 2002). Yet feedback is widely perceived to be of enormous intrinsic value, impacting upon student learning, motivation, self-esteem, and performance improvement.

There is a gap between what students and tutors desire, and their everyday experiences. The shortcomings appear to lie in the area of communication – mainly written, but sometimes spoken. Many studies (e.g. Higgins 2001) highlight that students find feedback difficult to understand, and that staff often find it difficult to explain what they mean. Other research supports the view that students value sessions which create opportunities for dialogue with tutors (Parmar and Trotter, 2004). This point was reinforced in the THE article which outlined that “students commented that they needed a good relationship with their tutor to get verbal help, but such relationships were rare” (THE Sept 18/9/08–24/9/08, p.11).


3. Purpose


This project will explore how tutors and students can develop new ways of giving and using feedback. The fulcrum for this approach will revolve around the second SENLEF principle of encouraging teacher and peer dialogue around learning.

 3.1 Project aims:

- To identify ways of developing practices in feedback to students at a subject level which build upon the work in the SENLEF project, ASKe, the NUS and elsewhere.

- To develop models of feedback that enhance student learning and to demonstrate how they can be embedded in the student learning experience and transferred to cognate disciplines.


3.2 Problems being addressed:

- One, how to replace the simple “transmission“ model of feedback, which is linked very closely to student grading, with a model of feedback linked directly to learning and reflection;

- Two, how to implement more dynamic approaches to feedback, by developing practical strategies for encouraging dialogue between staff and students which enables discussion, reflection, internalisation and action, and which acts as a lever to promote student learning and to enhance student motivations to learn.


3.3 The project will devise a structured, strategic approach to feedback across the whole 3 years of a degree programme which uses both tutor-student dialogue and peer dialogue. There are many quite useful guides and tips for tutors out there (for example, Timely and Helpful Feedback, Macdonald Ross 2006 or How To Make Your Feedback Work in 3 Easy Steps! ASKe, 2007). However, these are all articulated at the level of the individual tutor, rather than as part of a subject-level approach, differentiated by level.

The testing-ground for this project will be in related disciplines (History and Politics/International Relations (IR)) across three institutions: De Montfort University (History, History/Politics and Politics/IR), London Metropolitan University (Politics/IR), and the University of Warwick (History and History/Politics students).

It is intended that:

- Students will improve their understanding, performance and motivation to learn;

- Tutors and students will learn to communicate more effectively and more regularly, enhancing the social dimensions of learning;

- Feedback will evolve from the transmission of information to a key lever for student learning and self-reflection;

- Through practising peer feedback, students will familiarise themselves with the language and practice of feedback;

- An approach will be developed that can be applied to cognate disciplines.


4. Methodology


4.1 The project will evaluate, pilot and develop models of feedback for the disciplines of History and Politics/IR. Work will be divided over three years and six phases, each with a defined set of activities and outputs. The project will build upon the pedagogic expertise of the project staff at De Montfort, London Metropolitan, and Warwick. These institutions have been chosen for contrasting contexts: pre- and post 1992, single and joint honours cohorts, different entrance requirements.


4.2 A collaborative approach will produce a richer set of outcomes. All project members have agreed to take responsibility for a specific area of work.

- De Montfort University – overall project management and development of IT framework. Will focus on peer feedback and feedback in written coursework in single honours History, joint honours Politics/IR and joint honours History/Politics (small cohorts, UK students).

- London Metropolitan University – will focus on approaches to feedback on presentations and written coursework of Politics/IR students (large cohorts, many non-UK students).

- University of Warwick – will focus on feedback on examination performance of History students and History/Politics students (large cohorts, UK students).

These activities will cross-fertilise with each other but will be based in each site. Budgets have been identified to support this process.


4.3 Each of the Universities will work with a cascade partner in the second phase of the project. Cascade partners will test feedback models and provide written evaluation of student and staff experience.


4.4 The project methodology is based on an action research approach that involves students and staff in the delivery of the project, while evaluation is a constant feature of the work (see project plan below). This will involve:


4.4.1 A review of existing practices relating to feedback.

- Face-to-face and focus group interviews with students in the three project institutions. Interviews will be conducted prior and subsequent to the project to assess impact. Interviews will be video recorded. Students will be recruited through staff contacts in the departments.

- The experience of joint honours History/Politics and Politics/IR students will be assessed to examine whether feedback practices are transferable across disciplinary boundaries, or whether these students have to learn two “languages” (Clarke and Saunders, 1999).

- Students and staff will record their experiences through a project blog (Curtis, 2009; Curtis et al, 2009).

- A national survey using Keypoint software will be disseminated to History and Politics/IR departments to acquire data on feedback practices that will inform project work. The project team have experience of undertaking such surveys (Blair et al, 2007; Sherrington et al, 2008).

- Information and practices from the Canadian HE sector will be included to provide international comparisons/lessons.


4.4.2 Organising a scoping conference on the theme of developing a feedback strategy. This will be a joint student/tutor event, organised in conjunction with the Student Staff Liaison Committees (SSLC) and the NUS. It will focus on the principles of tutor and peer feedback, dialogue and reflection.


4.4.3 Piloting a feedback policy for years one, two and three/four of a degree programme. The pilot will seek to answer the following questions:

- How can teacher-student dialogue be enhanced and maximised?

- How can peer dialogue around feedback be carried out most effectively?

- How can dialogue and self-reflection be synthesised to ensure internalisation of the discussion, active understanding and tangible action/outcomes?

- How might a structured approach to feedback enhance progression in the curriculum and autonomous student learning?

- What are the barriers to implementing such a system, and how can they be overcome in practice?

- How can this approach be rolled out across different departments and institutions?


4.4.4 Publish results and disseminate findings.

- This will be achieved through an initial scoping conference, conference papers and journal articles, staff development sessions, a website containing a reflective blog and a collaborative wiki.


4.5 Rationale

This approach will synthesise the conceptual and practical elements of feedback. It will ensure the project has theoretical foundations and a deliverable strategy that can be implemented to make a tangible difference to the student experience. It will build upon existing work and anchor this in the particular practices and cultures of different institutions and departments. It is expected that a flexible model will be devised that will make the approach easy to adapt and adopt across cognate disciplines.


4.6 Project Plan


Phase 1 Months 1-6 October 2009 – March 2010
Activities Outputs
1. Setting up of human and technical infrastructure. 2. Assessment of existing feedback resources (paper and web based). 3. Face-to-face interviews with students and staff at project institutions. 4. Internal evaluation of project to date. 1. Setting up project management groups, appointment of Research Assistant, agreements with University of Warwick and London Metropolitan University , building of website, creation of blogs and wikis. 2. Written report. 3. Written evaluations and video recordings on website. 4. Written report.
Phase 1 Months 7-12 April 2010 – September 2010
Activities Outputs
5. National survey of feedback in History and Politics/IR Departments and follow-up interviews. 6. Face-to-face interviews with students and staff at project institutions. 7. Establishing international links. 8. Scoping conference on feedback. 9. Developing feedback models for years 1,2,3 of the degree programme. 10. Dissemination of work. 11. Presentations to subject centres and HEA. 12. Evaluate resources platform, further develop resources website. 13. Internal evaluation of project to date. 5. Written report. 6. Written evaluations and video recordings on website. 7. Written evaluations. 8. 1-day conference at De-Montfort. Written report on proceedings. 9. Establishing templates of feedback. 10. Conference presentations. 11. C-SAP, HCA, HEA presentations. 12. Improved resources platform. 13. Written report.
Phase 2 Months 13-18 October 2010 – March 2011  
Activities Outputs
14. Piloting of feedback models for years 1,2,3 of degree programme. 15. Face-to-face interviews with students and staff at project institutions. 16. Workshops on work of project to date. 17. Cascade partners to test feedback models. 18. Evaluate resources platform, further develop resources website. 19. Interim external evaluation. 14. Written evaluations. 15. Written evaluations and video recordings on website. 16. Workshops at project institutions. 17. Written evaluations. 18. Improved resources platform. 19. External evaluator report.
Phase 2 Months 19-24 April 2011 – September 2011  
Activities Outputs
20. Piloting of feedback models for years 1,2,3 of degree programme. 21. Evaluate and refine feedback pilot. 22. Presentations to subject centres and HEA. 23. Dissemination of work. 24. Face-to-face interviews with students and staff at project institutions. 25. Evaluate resources platform, further develop resources website 20. Written evaluations. 21. Written evaluations. 22. C-SAP, HCA and HEA presentations. 23. Conference papers and journal articles. 24. Written evaluations and video recordings on website. 25. Improved resources platform.
Phase 3 Months 25-30 October 2011 – March 2012  
Activities Outputs
26. Use of refined feedback models. 27. Face-to-face interviews with students and staff at project institutions. 26. Written evaluations. 27. Written evaluations and video recordings on website.
Phase 3 Months 31-36 April 2012 – September 2012  
Activities Outputs
28. Final external evaluation of project. 29. Final conference. 30. Dissemination of work. 31. Produce final evaluation report. 28. Written report from external evaluator. 29. 2-day dissemination event and publish proceedings. 30. Conference papers and journal articles. 31. Written report.


5. Activities and Outputs

The project plan in section 4 of the application indicates the timescale of delivery for project deliverables listed below.


5.1 Project Deliverables:

1. Dedicated project website comprising: case studies, useful links, feedback guides, and project reports/findings. The website will have a dedicated team area for collaborative work, including a wiki. Students will reflect on their work through a password encrypted blog.

2. Case studies on using feedback that will refine and sharpen the second of the 7 SENLEF principles for different disciplines.

3. Guidelines to inform curriculum and course design.

4. Briefing papers and tutors guides.

5. Report on proceedings of the scoping conference undertaken in Phase 1.

6. Report on the proceedings of the Phase 2 dissemination workshops.

7. National conference on the use of feedback in History and Politics/IR, being relevant to cognate disciplines.

8. Evaluation report.


6. Contributors


The project will be led by De Montfort University, with collaboration from the University of Warwick and London Metropolitan University .


6.1 Project Team

6.1.1 Project Director Professor Alasdair Blair (De Montfort University, NTF 2006). Head of the Department of Historical and Social Studies. Former Director of C-SAP Subject Centre and has an MA in Higher Education. Responsible for project management and coordination, including budgetary control. With Dr Sandle’s planned departure in 2009, he has taken over responsibility for the project bid. The project builds on Prof Blair’s significant experience in learning and teaching projects, totalling in excess of £300,000 of funding over the last ten years. He will spend 3 days per month (FTE) of his time on the project.

6.1.2 Research Assistant (full-time post to be appointed and advertised nationally). Responsible for day-to-day work of the project. The Research Assistant will be responsible to the Project Director and will ensure the effective operation of the project, including liaising and ensuring communication with the Project Team and Steering Committee, establishing contacts and undertaking interviews with students and staff, preparing reports for the Project Team, organising workshops and conferences, and assisting in the development of web and other resources.

 6.1.3 Dr. Sarah Richardson (Associate Professor University of Warwick and History Director of HCA Subject Centre of HEA). Has extensive experience of managing projects to enhance teaching and learning, totalling £100,000 of internal and external funding over the last ten years. In 2006 she received a Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence in recognition of her contribution to teaching innovation at Warwick . She will oversee work looking at timely and effective feedback strategies for examination performance. She will spend 3 days per month (FTE) of her time on the project.

 6.1.4 Mr Steven Curtis (Senior Lecturer in International Relations, London Metropolitan University ). Has considerable experience of undertaking research on teaching and learning, including consultancy to the University of Warwick . From 2005-2007 he was a research fellow on the HEFCE FDTL project, ‘The Scholarship of Engagement for Politics’, which explored the use of placement learning in Politics. He co-authored the final evaluation report and the transferability report of the FDTL project. He is a member of his Department’s blended learning working group, is a member of a University-wide pilot on feedback and is leading a C-SAP student funded project on blogging. He has published a number of journal articles and co-edited a monograph on learning and teaching issues. He will spend 3 days per month (FTE) of his time on the project.

6.2 The Project will additionally draw upon:

6.2.1 Student representatives

Student representatives from a range of institutions will be incorporated at all stages to ensure and maintain the presence of the student voice throughout. The project will use the SSLC network to shape the programmes and disseminate their outcomes.

6.2.2 Sophia Goddard (Learning and Teaching Senior Adviser, De Montfort University)

A PRINCE2 practitioner with considerable project management experience including HEFCE and EU funded learning and teaching projects totalling over £8m. Will assist the project team to plan and deliver the project successfully through consultations with the Project Team and Steering Committee.

 6.2.3 Jane Clarke (Head of Academic Professional Development, De Montfort University)

She will contribute by providing a lens from outside the disciplines in the comparison and analysis of feedback in History and Politics/IR.

 6.2.4 Critical Friend (Professor Bob Matthew, Director, Centre for Academic Practice & Learning, University of Stirling).

A former Chair of Universities Scotland Educational Development Committee, member of the Universities Scotland Learning and Teaching Committee, and member of the SENLEF project team. He will add significant value to the project as external critical friend.

6.2.5 External Adviser (Dr. Mark Sandle NTF (2007) - as of Summer 2009 King’s University College , Canada).

As author of the stage 1 bid and co-developer of the stage 2 bid, Mark is well placed to be an external critical friend to the project. His new professorial appointment will allow for the exchange of practice from Canadian HE sector

 6.2.6 External Evaluator (to be appointed). Providing critical and independent evaluation of the project, including an interim and final evaluation report.


7. Evaluation Strategy

Evaluation is identified in the methodology and project plan in section 4. The Project Team will appoint an external evaluator to provide formative and summative evaluation, including the gathering of student impact data. The Project Team will appoint Professor Bob Matthew as a critical friend and Professor Mark Sandle as an external adviser.


7.1 The continual monitoring and formative evaluation to assist the development of the project will be based upon:

- Evaluative data from students and staff participating in the project, including impact of pilot studies.

- Evidence from cascade partners.

- Outcomes of the national survey.

- Internal reports from project partners (project activities, outcomes and issues).

- Interim evaluation report from external evaluator.

- Input from Critical Friend and External Adviser.

- Project team reflection and evaluation.


7.2 Impact indicators for summative evaluation will be:

- Development of feedback models.

- External evaluator review of project outcomes, project management and project value to student learning.

- Written evaluation of student experiences.

- Student blog and staff wiki.

- Conference papers and journal articles.

- Website resources.

- Transferability of the approach to cognate disciplines.



8. Dissemination Strategy

The process of dissemination will be ongoing and will focus upon awareness, understanding and development of the project outcomes.


8.1 Dissemination will be achieved through a number of methods:

- Project website and publicity material in relevant publications, such as Political Studies Association Newsletter.

- Scoping conference.

- Staff development sessions in project institutions and cascade partners.

- Conference papers and journal articles ranging from discipline specific to educational journals.


8.2 The project team is committed to ensuring continuation of the work of the project beyond the funded period. This will be achieved by:

- Embedding the project outcomes in the learning and teaching strategies of the project institutions.

- Feeding project work into professional associations, such as the Historical Association, the Political Studies Association, C-SAP and the HCA.

- Reviewing and revising web resources so that a finished product can be incorporated into C-SAP and HCA resources and promoted accordingly.


8.3 The Project Team have consulted relevant stakeholders who have agreed to support the work of the project. The Project Team have an embedded relationship with key stakeholders:

- Alasdair Blair is a former Director of C-SAP.

- Sarah Richardson is the History Director of the HCA.

- Steven Curtis is a member of the Politics Reference Group of C-SAP.


8.4 The stakeholders will contribute to and benefit from the project through a number of mechanisms:

- The Steering Committee will include a representative from the HCA and C-SAP Subject Centres.

- The project will link into the Specialist Group on Teaching and Learning of the Political Studies Association and the Politics Reference Group of C-SAP.

- The project will be linked to the co-ordination group of the HE History Subject Associations (HCA, Historical Association, History UK, Royal Historical Society and Institute of Historical Research )

- Stakeholders will be consulted on the design of the project survey and will assist with dissemination through conference papers and publicity materials. They will benefit from a strategic approach to feedback across all years of a degree programme.

- The project will inform work in cognate disciplines and, for example, Assessment Specialist Interest Groups.


9. Risk Management

9.1 The key risks for the project and controls in place and planned action to mitigate are outlined below:

9.1.1 Staff turnover.

- The level of risk of the project Director being unable to continue to contribute to the project is moderate to low because he wants to consolidate his position at the University and has the support of the Dean and the PVC Academic. In addition, De Montfort University has the second highest number of NTFs (9) and the University would be able to ensure continuation of project work.

- The risk associated with the Research Assistant leaving is mitigated by an attractive salary and good professional development support.

9.1.2 Project partners not delivering on work programme.

- The project team has a good track record of successful project completion. The project partners and cascade partners will enable the transfer of benefits outside the core project team. The risk associated is low.

9.1.3 Outputs are less than planned or fall behind schedule.

- The project team has substantial project management experience, including successful experience of sustainability, dissemination and evaluation. A full project plan will be developed under the supervision of the Steering Committee and progress against this will be monitored. The risk associated is low.

 9.1.4 Impact is less than planned

- The project team has embedded links with the relevant Subject Centres and professional associations. Impact will be maximised by drawing on team members’ experiences of managing previous projects as well as linking to and drawing on the expertise of colleagues working in the CETLs that are located in each of the project institutions. This will ensure approaches designed to maximise impact will be sound and creative. The risk associated is low.

9.1.5 Student participation is less than planned.

- The project team has considerable experience of how to best engage with students, evidenced by good relationships with their respective Students’ Unions, and good student representative systems being in place. The risk associated is low.

9.2 To tackle all potential risks the management of the project will be overseen by a Steering Committee and strategically managed by the Project Director. The Project Director will be responsible for management and coordination of the project, including budget, and will ensure progress and outcomes are disseminated in accordance with evaluation and dissemination strategy. The Steering Committee will be chaired by the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic) at De Montfort University and will review the overall direction and progress of the project. It will comprise senior members of the University, including the Faculty Management Accountant, and external representatives from professional and related bodies. The Steering Committee will meet three times in the first year and every six months thereafter.


10. Summary of Benefits

This project is timely and pivotal to improving the student learning experience because it tackles an under-researched subject that is regularly highlighted by students in the NSS.


10.1 It will build upon the work done by SENLEF (and others) by constructing a subject-based approach that will create templates for History and Politics/IR Departments that can be rolled-out to cognate disciplines beyond the project lifetime.

 10.2 It will address how to design, implement and disseminate effective feedback practices through teacher and peer dialogue.

 10.3 It will create a resources platform that will promote feedback dialogue and share information within the sector.

 10.4 It will increase student understanding of feedback from tutors by developing students’ capacity to feedback effectively to each other.



Alasdair Blair (De Montfort University) NTF, FHEA, F.R.Hist.S, FRSA

 Selected research grants

2002 European Commission funding for EU module, €9,100

2004 HEFCE FDTL Phase 5, ‘The Scholarship of Engagement’, with Warwick and Oxford Brookes Universities, £249,089.40

2005 Coventry University IPED Scholarship, £10,000

2005 European Commission funding for EU module, €13,900.


Selected publications

Author, co-author and editor of 8 books and over 40 journal articles, including:

Blair, A. ‘Responding to the Market’ LATISS, Vol2, No.1, 2005.

Blair, A. ‘Virtual Learning Environments and the Teaching of Politics in UK Universities’, Talking Politics, Vol.18, No.1, 2005, p.23.

Blair, A., Bromage, A. & Curtis, C. ‘Teaching Politics in UK Universities’, LATISS, Vol.3, No.2, 2007, pp.119-32.

Sherrington, P., et al ‘Research-led placements in Politics: A new approach?’, European Political Science, Vol.7, 2008, pp.175-185.

Blair, A. & Curtis, S. (eds.)The Scholarship of Engagement for Politics, C-SAP Monograph, 2009.

Curtis, S., et al ‘Making Short Placements Work’, Politics, Vol.29, No.1, 2009, pp.62-70.


Steven Curtis ( London Metropolitan University )


Co-author and editor of 2 books and a number of articles, including:

Blair, A., Bromage, A. & Curtis, S. ‘Teaching Politics in UK Universities’, LATISS, Vol.3, No.2, 2007, pp.119-32.

Sherrington, P., et al ‘Research-Led Placements in Politics: A New Approach?’, European Political Science, Vol.7, 2008, pp.175-185.

Curtis, S., et al ‘Making Short Placements Work’, Politics, Vol.29, No.1, 2009, pp.62-70.

Blair, A. & Curtis, S. (eds.) The Scholarship of Engagement for Politics: Placement Learning, Citizenship and Employability, C-SAP Monograph, 2009.

Curtis, S. ‘Placement Blogging: The Benefits and Limitations of Online Journaling’, presented at The Virtual University C-SAP conference, London , 16th January 2009 (submitted for publication to ELiSS)

Curtis, S. ‘Short Politics Placements and Employability’, presented at the Political Studies Association annual conference, Manchester , 7th April 2009.

Curtis, S., et al ‘Experiencing Politics in Action: Democratising Placement Learning and Politics as a Vocation’, Journal of Political Science Education, forthcoming 2009 (subject to review process)


Dr Sarah Richardson (Department of History, University of Warwick )


Selected research grants

2004 University of Warwick 2004, Developing an online MA in History, £56,500.

2004 AHRB, Resources and techniques for the study of Renaissance and Early Modern Culture (Doctoral Workshop), £12,855).

2006 University of Warwick 2006, Embedding e-learning techniques and Resources, £20,000.

2006 University of Warwick , Supporting Lecturers’ Innovation in Curriculum, £5,000.

2007 HEA/JISC Pathfinder (part of Warwick project)

2007 Enhancement (projects on feedback and upgrading students from MPhil to PhD status)


Selected Publications

Richardson, S. and Clark, A. (eds) The History of the Suffrage, 1760-1867, 6 vols, Pickering Chatto, 2000.

Richardson , S. and Cameron, S. Using Computers in History, Palgrave, 2005.

Richardson, S. 'Politics and Gender in the nineteenth century' in Chris Williams (ed.), Blackwell's Companion to Nineteenth Century British History, Blackwell, 2004/2006.

Richardson , S. '"You know your father’s heart”. The Cobden sisterhood and the legacy of Richard Cobden' in Anthony Howe and Simon Morgan (eds), Re-thinking Nineteenth-century Liberalism, Ashgate, 2006.

Richardson, S. 'Women, Philanthropy and Imperialism in Nineteenth-century Britain' in Helen Gilbert and Chris Tiffin (eds), Burden or Benefit: The Legacies of Benevolence, Indiana University Press, 2008.