giving feedback effectively

Image by Mihai Surdu from Pixabay 

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 11 minutes

Using feedback effectively in game-based learning

Feedback is almost always the most essential caveat you come across when discussing or reading about a learning experience, be it a game-based one or any other kind. And yet when it is mentioned with a particular phrasing of that it should always be included or should not be forgotten, it generally assumes that the feedback process is some sort of intrinsic knowledge that we all have. At a certain level, this can be true, if you’ve gone through school and university, you likely have an ‘understanding’ of what feedback is and probably a passing knowledge of how to give it. Though this passing knowledge often can’t distinguish between what feedback is and what criticism is, unfortunately. As one is intended to allow for improvement after a failure and the latter is often used to highlight the failure, usually stopping the individual dead in their tracks.

When dealing with any learning situation, and for the purposes of this piece and this blog; game-based learning experiences, these can be incredibly good and meaningful on their own when delivering applicable information. Though if the feedback is not given or given badly, then it’s really as if you are fighting with one hand tied behind your back. The learning is only truly fulfilled when there is a feedback session after the game-like experience. And to an extent, learning does take place continually, but if you wish to achieve the full holistic educational value of an experience, then your participants need to have a reflective post-experience feedback session.

Though the question is how or what kind of feedback should be given. In this piece we’ll explore at least two kinds of feedback:

  • Group Feedback and
  • 1-on-1 Feedback or Peer feedback

Each of these has several variations around them, group feedback can be done in large singular groups or multiple smaller groups, and we’ll discuss this later one. The same goes for 1-on-1 feedback, this can be done between a participant with a facilitator or as stated; through peer’s giving each other feedback. Regardless of which variation you prefer or is relevant to the situation, the general rules and advice in this piece can be used in all of them.

Additionally, the piece will also look at the different kinds of feedback, how to evaluate positive and negative feedback and where it becomes criticism. And lastly, why feedback is needed at all.

Types of feedback

Before we delve into the practicalities of giving feedback, we should look at the different types of feedback that can be given. Though in this case the word ‘feedback’ is used as a catch-all term for advice, suggestions and opinions that individuals can give each other. Only really the last type of feedback can be truly seen as the right kind of feedback in my opinion.

In a generalised sense and from my own experience, there are only three types of ‘feedback’ – describing something, evaluating something and advising on something.

Illustrative feedback

Illustrative feedback is when an individual describes how they perceived something of or about another individual. This, as implied, is unfortunately susceptible to perceptual bias, and is, therefore, a dangerous form of feedback. As people can be quite critical when describing others, and this will usually place people on a defensive due to the one-sided nature of the description. And when people are on the defensive, the feedback given is ignored and often times dismissed.

Judgement feedback

This type of feedback assesses something that was perceived and adds another level of value judgement to the commentary given. As with the previous type, this one is also dangerous, as people have a tendency to prefer giving a negative assessment over a positive one. In other words highlighting what was done wrong over what was done right. Unfortunately though, even when the tendency is given to highlighting positives, both variations have the predisposition of simply emphasising the positive or the negative but offering no other suggestion for improvement or alteration to what the individual was doing that could be of any use.

Instructive feedback

The third type of feedback is by far the most useful form, and it is what everyone should aim for. Instructive feedback is one where advice is offered and suggestions on improvement or alternatives to a current course are given. This is regardless of whether the current course is correct or incorrect at the moment, but rather whether it will lead to the desired goal and outcome. This incorporates success and failures, as long as they continue to illuminate a path to the objective.

How to setup feedback

As a facilitator with a group, the very first thing you need to do is set up goals, questions that relate to those goals, and the expectations of the group. If game-based experiences have shown us anything, then it’s that people become far more focused if they have a clear point or objective towards which they can aim their efforts.

An effective way of aligning expectations and setting up goals and questions is requesting that individuals in the group develop their own questions that they wish to answer by the end of the experience. These will often support the learning objectives of the overall experience. To aid your participants, as a facilitator you can suggest that they frame and phrase the questions in the form of “To what extent…?” or “How well…?”.

In setting up expectations, make it clear to all those present and involved that they are responsible and accountable for giving and receiving feedback. The feedback should be supportive, considered and well-thought-out. It is of no use to anyone if it becomes illustrative or judgemental.

For feedback to be of value though, you must ensure that the game-based experience is indeed challenging and meaningful, this will make both itself and the feedback afterwards worthwhile. Overcoming challenges together means that people will bond, which allows for the feedback to be accepted because their peers are already accepted, due to relationships that have been built.

And finally, make it clear to the group that the feedback will be given at the end of the experience. There will be none given during the experience. The reasoning for this is to avoid any expectations of reliance on feedback about whether something was done right or wrong. The point is for the participant to learn, fail and succeed on their own and then embed this learning process through conscious reflection afterwards. Though it does need to be said that there is a difference between feedback and giving a tutorial at the start (a type of real-time feedback) and then letting people get on with a task. Giving feedback at the end is therefore opinion-based, observation-based and experience-based, not a practical exercise of whether someone is competent with a certain undertaking.

Giving feedback

Contrary to what you may expect, feedback from multiple sources is the most desired form. Though maybe not all at once from multiple sources. The reason for this is that each gives a different point of view, allowing the recipient to have a broader overview of what they can change or improve. With this, it needs to be clarified to the individual that acting upon the multiple sources of feedback is not compulsory. It may be obvious to some, but it is wise to remind people that the feedback, even if given objectively in a group or in a 1-on-1 situation, is still an opinion and that they can choose whether to act upon it or not.

Group feedback

Group feedback is commonly used when the feedback not only benefits the individual but everyone in the group, and when the various individuals in the group are able to give specific feedback or add to it with their own perspectives.

The benefits are that the group members have had first-hand experience with each other and are therefore better placed to offer directed feedback over a facilitator, who is likely to have been an observer, rather than interacting. The role of the facilitator, in this case, is that of a guide and arbitrator.

Depending on the group sizes, you may be required to split it into smaller group sizes in order to reap the most benefits and to effectively guide everyone. If you are splitting into smaller groups, then have each group collate the various questions that they had written at the start and discuss the answers they have for them. And then as a group to have them distil two to three questions and answers that reflect the entire group.

If for some reason no questions were written down at the start, then you can request that each group write two or three things that went well during the experience and two or three things that didn’t go well. And as a singular large group, you as a facilitator will simply go through the room and select a few individuals to highlight their questions and write down as many as you have time to answer. This may be more reductive in comparison to the previous one, but this should always be paired with a peer-feedback session that follows the group one then.

In either case, as a facilitator, you will guide the discussion, but let the participants lead in their answers and their reflective thoughts about the experience.

1-on-1 feedback

This variation is used when the feedback doesn’t affect others or is required to expand upon a group feedback session in a more refined manner. When it isn’t in conjunction with group feedback, 1-on-1 is used if the feedback will appear as though it is singling someone out, even though the intent is to not do that, or if the feedback needs to be clarified or expanded in a more personalised manner.

Regardless of whether the 1-on-1 is between you and the participant or between two participants, your role as the facilitator is to guide them and let them lead the discussions. The intent is to remain supportive and to foster reflections on alternatives and improvements.

Do try to always to have 1-on-1 feedback or peer-feedback follow a group-feedback session to give the most well-rounded reflective experience for your participants.

General feedback tips

Do make it very clear from the start that feedback should be provided with clarity and specificity. As well as that it should always be given in the first-person form, or the “I” form, as it is always subjective and thus is better received in this form.

The enemy of feedback, therefore, is vagueness and the second-person form, or the “You” form. When it goes to these it becomes a value judgement and sounds like a critique. For example, notice the difference between “I feel you could have improved on this specifically” versus “You could have done better overall”.

Additionally, make sure that the subject matter of the feedback is limited, don’t discuss more than 2 or 3 general topics in a group, any specifics can be left to 1-on-1/peer feedback sessions.

Final thoughts – Why give feedback at all?

Feedback is not a solitary or independent endeavour, obviously it must be done with others, but also it must be done in conjunction with a hypothesis of sorts – as with any intellectual venture there is a statement of purpose (the hypothesis), the work or experience in this case (the thesis/antithesis) and it ends with the feedback (the synthesis).

This can also be described as the feedback loop, a variation of the above: Action -> Assess -> Reflect -> Repeat.

And with this feedback loop, it should adhere to these seven characteristics taken from Grant Wiggins and paraphrased here:

  1. Goal-oriented
    1. If there is a goal, then the feedback given will indicate whether the current course is worth following, or alteration is needed.
  2. Transparent
    1. The results and consequences must be clear from the outset to be able to relate the goal to them.
  3. Actionable
    1. A zero-value judgement is the most useful actionable information, or that something can be improved or avoided is the most useful feedback, not “That was good” or “That was bad”, neither are of any use.
  4. User-Friendly
    1. Be precise, specific and concise in feedback – spending too much time on it and giving too much information can overwhelm the recipient.
  5. Timely
    1. In the case of learning experiences, it should be clear by now, deliver the feedback immediately afterwards in a face-to-face environment, otherwise, it’s useless – people’s attention and memory are not that good.
  6. Ongoing
    1. Continue giving feedback beyond the event, feedback is most effective when followed-up after the initial session – long term conversations will aid in the learning and improvement of participants.
  7. Consistent
    1. This is really only of consequence for multiple sessions and experiences, where as a facilitator you have the opportunity to determine clear outcomes across multiple instances, based on a metric framework. For one-off experiences, it is best to use the Goals and ensure that the feedback is consistent in reference to what was done and achieved towards those goals.

 

Finally, remember that Feedback is not a process to find the blame. It is an exercise in awareness, a learning tool and a goal-setting stratagem. Feedback should always illuminate and motivate individuals.

I’ll leave you with this quote: “Feedback is not advice, praise, or evaluation. Feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.” – Grant Wiggins

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æStranger.com, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and know of someone who would it find it helpful as well.

 

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