The Virtuous Loop: improving the feedback process

20 Apr 2021

Jenny Simmons graduated from ANU after studying a Bachelor of Engineering and Information Technology and a Masters in Engineering, in 2002 and 2004 respectively. With her qualifications, she decided to pursue a career in industry, then after taking some time off to raise her children she took up a job as a sessional academic at the University.

She described her experience of teaching engineering and pedagogy here at the ANU as one of fulfilment and one of which she is deeply passionate about. However, the tribulations of assessment marking and feedback provision did not avoid her.

She saw the process as extremely time consuming, inconsistent and one which at times became frustrating. She found that the tools to provide feedback in engineering courses were limiting the student learning experience and didn't serve their intended purpose: to help students improve their academic performance.

For the past three years, she and Dr Chris Browne, a Sub Dean of the College of Science, have been working on and trialling a project called 'the Virtuous Loop,' a computer program designed to streamline feedback provision and make assessment marking more efficient.

On&Off Campus sat down with Ms Simmons to talk about the Virtuous Loop and how it could transform the feedback provision and learning experience for students at the University.

"The whole idea of the Virtuous Loop is to provide feedback which is of more value to the student, make sure that feedback is provided consistently and that marking is made easier and more efficient," she said.

The Virtuous Loop includes a suite of modules, such as a client and peer feedback module for a project. This particular module was developed by Dr Browne as part of a pedagogical approach dubbed the 'many eyes' approach.

Other modules include providing performance reviews and student to student feedback; but the main module of the Virtuous Loop is for assignment marking and feedback provision for students.

"This module comprises of multiple parts and you can turn different bits on and off. You can give them written qualitative feedback, graphs which show them what criteria they're achieving or just a simple rubric."

By presenting feedback in different ways, it becomes more engaging and easier to understand. Students receive this feedback in a PDF form in the Wattle grade book, making it easier to access and consistent across many courses.

"Sometimes I would spend fifteen hours marking a group project through Turnitin. The problem with that was that not every group member would have access to the feedback; or that the feedback tools were quite limited.

"We spend a huge amount of time marking and providing feedback, if it's not helping students then it's not of value. By making sure students know where they can access this feedback then we're making sure the effort of markers isn't lost too."

Ms Simmons finally reflected on how the program emphasises learning as a continuous holistic journey and whether the Virtuous Loop could be implemented University wide.

"It's great students want to do well but engineers need to be lifelong learners. You have to learn new things and reflect on what you're learning. Feedback and improving your performance all comes into play, it's not just about getting a grade.

"The Virtuous Loop does need to be more robust but it's definitely worth exploring trying to implement this University wide. There are still some kinks to iron out but we're finding them faster and every iteration we make is more effective for the student."


Read more about the Virtuous Loop here: