Live blog: The effects of emotional backwash in feedback situations: experiences of UK undergraduates – Edd Pitt


Once again I’m at one of our Learning Lunches. Quite a sizeable crowd out here today (about 30 of us). Nothing draws a crowd like assessment and feedback. We’ve had our lunch and now waiting for Edd Pitt from the University of Kent (also a former colleague of mine!) to speak. I’m intrigued by the notion of emotional backwash!

Edd is speaking about the current state of affairs in the UK institutions which include:

  • Endpoint feedback i.e. only one instance of feedback at the end of the module
  • Monologic feedback – it’s only the teacher given feedback rather than dialogue
  • School education – impacted on student’s motivation, self-confidence and effort
  • Drivers of assessment grades

In his first study, he noted that students determined that good and bad work was based on the grade. He also noted that students’ motivation depended on the feedback in that:

  • Positive feedback was viewed as motivational
  • Negative feedback was viewed as motivational – adaptive/ self-regulated feedback
  • Negative feedback was viewed as de-motivational

Interesting statement by Edd: “In learning there cannot always be smooth and good, there need to be bumps on the road”.

My view point: This is interesting as my colleagues and I were discussing the feedback that we receive from the peer-review process and how we use it and how we feel about it. I do wonder what is meant by negative feedback because negative feedback can be phrased nicely and not-so-nicely. Or is phrasing it nicely consider to be positive feedback? Anyway, the point I’m trying to make, I like when someone tells me a section is not working for these possible reasons, I’m grateful if the reviewers tell me exactly how to do it, but I learn more when they don’t tell me and give me vague directions; because then I go out an investigate how it can be done better by doing my own research and talking to other people – isn’t that then better for self-regulation?

Edd’s study 2, he is getting students to draw a picture of what they feel like they win and lose. Students drew celebrations (such as beer etc) for the former and falling off the cliff for the latter. Then he asked them to draw their experience of feedback over their last three years.

Just as an aside: He has asked us when we last draw, everyone who was a parent with a child under 5, put their hands up.

It appears that their experiences for some have been quite traumatic and dramatic.

Students in the lower grades felt that their effort should be counted toward their outcomes, not the effort in the correction direction they take in their learning journey which was the stance of the students from higher grades.

Edd has an assessment and feedback cycle:

  • Predisposition
  • Grade outcome
  • Emotional processing
  • Reaction
  • Feedback cognition
  • Feedback utilisation

He also has a taxonomy of student types:

  • High achiever
  • Low achiever
  • Lack of relationship -ones who didn’t want to engage with the lecturer
  • Needy students
  • Emotionally charged

Edd has noted that students who were low achievers, had a lack of relationship and needy had poor feedback literacy. He has noted that the students who were maladaptive and had poor self-regulation were the ones who had emotional backwash.

My view point: Still not clear what is emotional backwash – perhaps I missed it. I think it might be how their emotions influence the way they engage with feedback. The research is interesting in how we get students (even our participants on our Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching) to use feedback positively for themselves (whether it is worded negatively or positively). I can see this is related to their self-regulation, so perhaps is it about us trying to get students to self-regulate better in general rather than focusing on assessment literacy. Perhaps the first module/ sessions in any degree or programme should be on helping students to self-regulate better – but what is the process of doing this?

Edd has come to the end – very interesting talk. He is looking for people who use dialogue in feedback as part of a new research grant.


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