Much of the talk has been wildly enthusiastic, but as Isobel Falconer observed to me, most of the examples presented of good audio feedback were just examples of good feedback pure and simple, which would have been good even if they were given in print. People found it hard to distinguish the benefits which were due to the audio medium and the benefits which were simply due to giving better feedback. For example, in one workshop, we were invited to compare a piece of written feedback which was impersonal, brief and bueaucratic, written to a form template, with a piece of audio feedback which was warm and personal, supportive and encouraging, with suggestions for how to improve. Not exactly comparing like with like.
The Open University since its foundation has made it its business to provide its students with personal, supportive and extended feedback; in fact, it is is this, rather than its TV programmes or even its printed course materials to which its success is chiefly attributable. So what WE want to know is whether there is anything additional which the audio medium adds.
From the sessions I attended - together with the much more sophisticated research paper also presented at Alt-C by Sue Rodway-Dyer et al - here are some of the potential advantages.
It may make it easier for tutors to give better feedback, for example:
- they are less likely to slip into academic language
- it may be easier for non-native speakers of English, the medium being more tolerant of verbal idiosyncracies
- by making their feedback more of an object, from which they can stand back and experience it as students will, it prompts tutors to be more critical.
- they may find it easier to take in, if their literacy is poor
- it forces them to pay attention, because it can't be skimmed over the way written feedback can (we know this is a problem) - in fact, students apparently often listen to audio feedback two or three times and sometimes make notes
- BUT where their assignments are long and discursive, it can be harder for them to locate the particular places being referred to in the feedback.
Having just heard Mike Wesch's keynote address on how media are not just tools but mediate relationships, it occured to me that this may be a case where a change in medium opens the possibility, at least of a change to the relationship: making it more personal, more aware, and more critical.