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How feedback is scaling up at Reykjavik University

Dan Hasan
|
April 12, 2023
DOMAIN
Business & Management
Class Size
20 – 70; 150
Instructor Workload
Learner Workload
ABOUT THE INSTITUTION

Reykjavik University is a bilingual, private university with approximately 3,300 students. Its seven departments are split between the School of Social Sciences and the School of Technology. Times Higher Education ranks the university at 53rd place among young universities.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR(S)

Freyja Th. Sigurdardottir is a lecturer in the Department of Business Administration, and teaches marketing courses for first and third year undergraduate students.

Gudmundur Kristjansson is a lecturer in the Department of Applied Engineering, teaching students from a variety of different engineering backgrounds.

ABOUT THE INSTITUTION

Reykjavik University is a bilingual, private university with approximately 3,300 students. Its seven departments are split between the School of Social Sciences and the School of Technology. Times Higher Education ranks the university at 53rd place among young universities.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR(S)

Freyja Th. Sigurdardottir is a lecturer in the Department of Business Administration, and teaches marketing courses for first and third year undergraduate students.

Gudmundur Kristjansson is a lecturer in the Department of Applied Engineering, teaching students from a variety of different engineering backgrounds.

Context

To ensure students are ready for post-graduate life, a growing number of departments at Reykjavik University are digitizing elements of teaching and learning, such as self- and peer evaluation. Freyja Sigurdardottir and Gudmundur Kristjansson are among the innovative educators scaling these processes up, leveraging pedagogical technology to develop students’ feedback skills.

Constructive alignment

Challenges

At Reykjavik University (RU), effective teaching requires a deep understanding of students' learning needs. For Freyja and other lecturers at RU, transparency is essential for that understanding. Often, the challenge lies in maintaining visibility.

"In Marketing 1, I don't get to know most of the students as well as I would like to. I have a list of names but I don't manage to put faces to all of them.” Freyja notes.

“A lot of students fly under the radar, which is very sad. I needed something concrete to quantify problems within some of the groups."

This need to keep track of students was compounded with the disruption to education caused by the pandemic, especially for Gudmundur, who started at RU just before the lockdowns began. As a lecturer in the Department of Engineering, final evaluations had been “hectic”, with a burdensome time investment of “hours after final presentations had ended” to process feedback for each student.

“It’s often our problem that there’s just too much to do.” He remarks. “There’s often too little time for us to look around and see, okay, maybe there is something that could benefit us.”

The strain on teachers to deliver engaging learning while also addressing growingly diverse learners and needs is another factor to tackle. Freyja’s and Gudmundur’s classes vary in size from between 20 to 70 students, in cohorts of sometimes several hundreds. With limited face-to-face interaction hampering the extent to which teachers can personalize their teaching, robust support is essential in order to reliably reach learning outcomes. 

Luckily for lecturers at RU, that support was available in the form of their Educational Developer John Baird. His investigation and implementation of various digital technologies to support teaching and learning have been widely celebrated at the university. Familiar with the benefit of feedback practices, John sought a system of scaling up the availability and access to these benefits.

“When we look at the literature we see there’s a lot of value in self and peer assessment in a group work context”.

The ability to address common challenges in group work such as non-contribution, group conflict, and unfair distribution of work, are a “practical part [of this] value”. For both Freyja and Gudmundur, students’ ability to process feedback and constructive criticism on their work and performance was described as “essential”, both to learn responsibility in group contexts, and to prepare for the post-graduate work environment where feedback skills and a growth mindset are non-negotiable. As Gudmundur mentioned, “It’s part of our philosophy.”

After piloting FeedbackFruits Group Member Evaluation tool in 3 different courses and carrying out an extensive analysis of outcomes, John has helped make the tools available for all teachers and students at RU. 

Assessment of learning outcomes

Solutions

The lecturers at RU use FeedbackFruits feedback tools inside of the Canvas LMS, requiring students to review their peers and complete self-assessments at different stages throughout the courses. John had been ‘instrumental’ in helping the instructors set up these activities the first time round, providing support and linking instructional videos to make the setup easier. As these peer feedback activities were repeated and became fixed activities within the courses, the ‘create template’ feature meant that FeedbackFruits activities could be copied and re-used with different groups, at different times without having to build from scratch. A complete peer feedback and self-assessment exercise could therefore be created “in 5 minutes”, allowing instructors to implement holistic feedback activities with minimal extra time investment.

Freyja summarized her setup as follows: “I had them do this evaluation once every month, so after the first and second months, and in the end after the final segment. And that was because I wanted to spot issues before it became too late.” 

It is no secret that certain groups of students need more guidance to process feedback. First-year students who are beginning their journey in tertiary education, as well as engineering students with a more technical background, are two examples who are both taught by Freyja and Gudmundur, respectively. To help develop good feedback practices and guide these students through giving feedback, the instructional design of these activities included several considerations:

1. Using detailed rubrics

In order for students to understand the criteria and levels on which they were being assessed, rubrics were detailed with explanations. Guiding questions also helped students ask questions of themselves and each other, generating structured feedback which was relevant to the assessment criteria.

2. Room for improvement

Following the constructive alignment model, the learning objective of giving and responding to feedback was mirrored in the course assessment, with some feedback activities counting towards students’ final grades. To give space for these skills to develop in a low-stakes environment, formative feedback activities were first introduced, familiarizing students with the process without punishing those not used to processing feedback.

3. Start with yourself

When student feedback starts with a self-assessment of performance, based on the same criteria used to give feedback on others, it encourages a more fair and holistic evaluation. Students can consider their own strengths and weaknesses alongside those of their peers, giving the instructor more visibility on each student’s individual learning journey.

Example of Group Work Assessment Rubric
Centre for Teaching Innovation, Cornell University (n.d.). How to Evaluate Group Work https://teaching.cornell.edu/resource/how-evaluate-group-work

Notable outcomes

Outcomes

Technology is not the answer to improving student learning outcomes, and after integrating FeedbackFruits feedback tools into the courses, there were still some limitations. Freyja noted, “I had one student who was a real perfectionist and rated everybody low, including herself. She was a straight A student. Someone from her group came to me and said, ‘everyone rated me highly except for this one person’, and so I had to explain to the class: remember to be fair, don’t hold everyone to too high standards.” This shows how the development of feedback skills is a process which needs guiding and adapting. 

However, due to the clarity of group dynamics and student analytics within the Group Member Evaluation tool, the instructor could easily identify any exceptional students and quickly address issues with individuals or the entire class. The ‘detect outliers’ feature makes this process even easier, visualizing where students may have been too harsh or lenient with their ratings, or given themselves disproportionately favorable scores. This way, the teacher sees at a glance how both the group and individual students are progressing on their learning journey. 

The detect outliers feature highlights group members whose given or received feedback ratings differed significantly from the group average
The detect outliers feature highlights group members whose given or received feedback ratings differed significantly from the group average

Other features of benefit to the course included the ability to set deadlines and grant extensions to certain students, which further helped to meet individuals' varied needs and deliver a more flexible level of teaching.

Set deadlines and grant extensions to certain students in FeedbackFruits Group Member Evaluation
Set deadlines and grant extensions in Group Member Evaluation

Each learning step within the feedback activity had a deadline, which could be extended for individual students where necessary. Grade weighting is also indicated in the step to communicate with students the expectations and assessment criteria.

As Gudmundur put it,

“It worked like a charm; made our life very easy. And it's just about putting a little bit of effort in the start, which can make our life so much simpler in the end.”  

Further resources

See how to set up a Group Member Evaluation with our instructional videos.

Watch our webinar from John Baird and RU, sharing their experiences with FeedbackFruits.

Possible variation

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Recommended use cases

Leiden University utilizes FeedbackFruits Competency-Based Assessment solution to track competencies of students

Imperial College London utilizes FeedbackFruits to elevate self and peer assessment process for the students

Texas A&M University School of Public Health decided on a campus-wide adoption of the FeedbackFruits tool suite to enhance student engagement and implement authentic assessment.

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