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Jess McNamara

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Feedback – more than a complaint, compliment or comment

As students, we are assessed on our group work and communication competencies, including tutorial participation. A major component of these assessments is how we receive, use and give feedback to and from other students.

Hearing ‘negative’ feedback is the hardest: it feels personal, we have a strong defensive or protective emotional response, and we risk reacting by internalising failure or externalising anger. Preparing to receive feedback is an important first step. This requires emotional regulation: what am I experiencing in my body? What do these sensations tell me? Are these emotions relevant? Appropriate? Useful? Can I put them to one side and come back to them later?

Receiving feedback is a skill. Ask yourself, why is this person providing me with feedback? Is it their responsibility? Are they qualified? What is their intent?

Listen: what are the key words? What are they trying to tell me? Does it make sense? Feedback from other students may not always be articulate, specific, or progress focussed. Don’t hold it against them! Use this as an opportunity to practice asking questions that help you obtain more information and better understanding. If they say “I didn’t like how you spoke” you might ask, “can you tell me more? Was it my pace, tone, gesturing, content, analogies, structure…?”

Using feedback is perhaps the hardest skill to develop. It is one thing to be provided feedback, it is another to do something with it. If your peer said you talked too fast, what can you do to improve your pace so that your audience better understands and enjoys your presentation? How can you track your pace when speaking live, to ensure you maintain timing and rhythm? If our lecturer told us that our abstract was missing a summary of the findings, how do we work out the best way to include our findings next time? Locating and using resources is helpful with this. The library is a great place to start (ask a librarian “what can I do?”).

Every time we attempt to use feedback to improve what we do, we get a little better at it. Everything needs practice. It is ok if what you do is not perfect. We don’t aim for perfection; we aim to do better than the previous attempt. Building on our knowledge and skills is learning.

Finally, giving feedback to your peers can be tricky. We don’t want to hurt their feelings; we want to be helpful. So check out the grading criteria and suggested learning outcomes. What can you say to them that can be a first step in improving what they are already doing? For example, if a student writes a generalised statement in response to a tutorial question, can you say, “that’s interesting: is it specific to this situation? Do you have a reference where I can find out more?” or, “when I was reading this article [cite reference], I found the author had this opinion [paraphrase or provide a direct quote]. This contrasts what you have said. What are your thoughts on this?”

Every interaction we have with another person is an opportunity for us to strengthen relationships and for us to learn. Feedback is a great way of doing this. It is worth the time and the effort.

Do you have an experience of feedback you’d like to share? Email Michelle