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How Students Perceive Feedback

The following conceptions of feedback were offered by a group of students studying to become physical therapists. They were asked to recall a situation during their time in higher education when they felt they’d experienced feedback. Then they were asked a series of questions about the experience and about feedback more generally: “What is feedback? How would you describe it? How do you go about getting it? How do you use it?” (p. 924) The goal of the study was to investigate students’ conceptions of feedback. Student conceptions involve underlying personal beliefs, views, and ideas, unlike student perceptions, which explore how the feedback is understood. Analysis of transcripts from the interviews reveal four conceptions of feedback held by this student group.

These students’ conceptions of feedback were “qualitatively and significantly” different. “Experiences ranged from simple to complex, bounded to open-ended, concrete to relative, ‘expert’ to self-generated,’ task-oriented to broader perspective, and differing temporalities.” (p. 928) Most of the students in this cohort reported conceptions of feedback that belonged in the first two categories. The researchers point out that the conceptions guide how students respond to teacher feedback. If students’ conceptions are of feedback as telling, and the teacher is offering feedback aimed at developing understanding, students may misunderstand and/or reject the feedback. Class discussions that reveal beliefs about feedback (both the teacher’s and the students’) can clarify understandings of it generally and give context to the feedback that’s being provided on an assignment or skill demonstration.

Reference: McLean, A.J., Bond, C.H., and Nicholson, H.D., (2015). An anatomy of feedback: A phenomenographic investigation of undergraduate students’ conceptions of feedback. Studies in Higher Education, 40 (5), 921–932.

Reprinted from Conceptions of Feedback, The Teaching Professor, 30.5 (2016): 2,7. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.