The importance of digitised feedback and assessment

The impact of digitisation on reducing workloads, personalising learning and improving interaction between student, parent and teacher

Teacher workload has been a long-standing challenge, with many teachers feeling extremely over-burdened. The issue has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. On top of this, students have now had over a year of disrupted learning, meaning that despite the best efforts of teachers, schools and parents, there continues to be a significant amount of catch-up support required – both from an academic and pastoral perspective. It’s clear we can’t leave the entire burden of this task on teachers without adequate support, which is why it’s more important than ever that we consider how we can best alleviate unnecessary workloads, streamline processes by considering operational efficiencies, and ensure teachers can continue effective teaching and learning regardless of the ever-changing landscape.

Edtech is a key solution that has proved to be a lifeline to many schools, enabling them to continue teaching remotely, as well as providing much needed support for teachers with regards to lesson planning and classroom workflow. But in many cases, the functionality of these platforms only supports learning at a basic level. To make up for learning losses, it’s important to provide the capability to help teachers identify gaps in learning, assess progression, and provide a deep, more personalised approach to learning. Moving forward, it will be important to empower teachers to deliver effective feedback in a way that enhances interaction and provides greater consolidation of student learning.

Implementation considerations

When considering its implementation, first and foremost, edtech should be simple and reliable – otherwise you run the risk of adding to the burden already placed on teachers and hindering the learning process. History tells us that technology which doesn’t have these two essential ingredients often ends up like gym membership – paid for but hardly used. Digital learning aids should not require a complex installation process and ensuring compatibility with other core learning tools will ensure the transition process for teachers is as close to seamless as possible.

“Digital learning aids should not require a complex installation process and ensuring compatibility with other core learning tools will ensure the transition process for teachers is as close to seamless as possible”

‘Assessment for learning’

Aside from ease of use, arguably one of the most important aspects of a sound learning experience is feedback and assessment. The administrative processes and time involved in marking, as well as manual feedback and assessment can significantly add to teacher workloads. It’s also not conducive to a deeper understanding of topics if students aren’t receiving timely feedback in a way which resonates with them, or without the further explanation or context that’s often needed. Edtech has the ability to automate and innovate the way feedback is delivered – helping to not only ensure it’s received in real-time but also helping to guarantee it’s delivered in a way that best suits the student’s needs. This type of technology lends itself to an ‘Assessment for learning’ approach where teachers can access and leverage real-time data that helps inform their feedback and next steps for learning.

This is important as, the faster feedback can be delivered the more effective it is – if students are receiving feedback long after the assessment took place, it’s less likely they will retain the engagement levels they had whilst they were completing the activity. On the other hand, the sooner feedback is given, the more likely it is that it will help consolidate students’ learning. Thus, helping to improve their overall attainment and progression. Of course, this is assuming that the feedback being delivered is of high quality in the first place.

Tailoring the delivery of feedback to students’ needs is also vital in helping to engage them effectively – for example, I’ve noticed that teachers and students across numerous schools have found it far more helpful to provide audio feedback via voice notes. This not only helped those with difficulties reading, but also helped students and teachers remain connected and fostered a sense of continuity and transparency outside timetabled lessons. This approach was a lifeline for many schools during the pandemic closures. It also meant students were able to explain their reasonings for answers, further building knowledge and skills. Other options included feedback in the form of annotations, emojis, and text boxes for those who preferred interacting through other means.

‘Humanising’ feedback

Having all assignments online and providing digitised verbal feedback prevents teachers having to manually mark 30 or more exercise books every evening – and digitised feedback allows students to easily access teacher feedback whenever they need it, meaning they can refer back to it during revision or at a later stage. Digitised verbal feedback allows for the teacher/student emotions to be conveyed through voice. This is extremely powerful and often a major motivating factor for students. Therefore, aside from being more ecological, it simply makes the feedback process more ‘human’ for all involved. It also helps assess and track progress in a way that ensures no student can be left to fall through the net.

“Having all assignments online and providing digitised verbal feedback prevents teachers having to manually mark 30 or more exercise books every evening…”

Another key advantage to digitised feedback is that it enables greater parental and guardian involvement – parents having access to their child’s work, and allowing parents to listen to audio feedback from their child’s teacher, creates a significant positive shift in the parent-student-teacher triumvirate. Through tutorial videos and audio feedback, parents gain a better understanding of teaching methods used in-class, and this empowers parents to play a more active role in their children’s learning. Research from the education endowment foundation indicates that parental or guardian support is a really important factor with student attainment, so anything which enables this involvement is vital. Building on this and implementing online learning management systems or hybrid learning platforms that provide parents with the ability to log in and access their child’s work and feedback helps promote a culture of transparency. This is something that could really help to support students’ learning going forward, which is so critical after this past year.

The perfect iterations of edtech are the platforms which don’t seek to tread on the toes of teachers, but which are created to work harmoniously alongside them to support good teaching and learning practice – and feedback and assessment is one of those key areas. Of course, the importance of digitised feedback and assessment has become very clear during the last year of remote and hybrid learning while children have been in and out of school – but I believe it’s equally important now we’re back in the classroom on a more permanent basis. It will not only help teachers reduce workload – but used effectively, it has the power to significantly improve student attainment and progress.

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