“Is this summative or formative?” A question as contriving as common. Often latent in the query is the presupposition that summatives are the end all, be all. Possibly implicit in the question is a credo, “Well, if it is just formative it is practice, so it really does not count.”
Everything “counting,” the teacher is quickly retorts, “It’s feedback.”
Feedback. Something teachers provide in abundance but may not necessarily receive enough of. Yet, how ubiquitous is feedback! So much so, we may not even realize how we swim, quite possibly even drown, in feedback loops. Technology “flattening” our experience. In many ways it removes the variance of chance, but ultimately its purpose based on improvement. From the things we purchase, the movies we watch, places we travel, and the food we eat. It is all being reviewed!
But, what about teaching and learning? How embedded is the practice of giving and receiving feedback? Infrequent enough for many to consider teaching to be the second most private act. Sure, autonomy is invaluable for a teaching to honing his or her craft and yet, education is something we do together. Superseding the design of transparent learning spaces and windowed classrooms, is the need for a greater shift in consciousness. One where schools and educators not only are okay with a more complete picture, but begin to innovate in ways which might invite and also thrive from the feedback parents and students are able to provide. A semestorial SurveyMonkey approach clearly leaves room for aspiration.
How We Might Go About Eliciting Feedback
It might help to look at the wellspring of this World of Feedback. It is 1986 and Roger Ebert leads in with, “When the movie is on the ground, is when it runs into trouble. The love story is not only unnecessary but unconvincing…The whole relationship seems to have been written in as an afterthought and the other relationships are awfully predictable…Somehow we’ve been here before. I give the movie thumbs down, despite the great action sequences.”
Can you name the movie?
Despite mixed reviews it went on to win Academy Awards for Best Original Song, “Take My Breath Away.” Give away, right? Top Gun. Prior to Siskel and Ebert, there was little “giving of thumbs up or down.” In a quirky way, they revolutionized movie reviewing.
Fast forward a little more than two decades and Facebook begins a trend where everyone (with a Facebook account of course), is suddenly able to be give and receive feedback. The birth of “we are all critics.” With the tap on “thumbs up,” a person could indicate approval or “like” a another’s photos. They may even leave a comment. A confirmation of sorts, more than a review because silence is not necessarily a thumbs down.
Or take the story of Trip Advisor and how in the first years of the millennium they stumble upon the power of reviews. Enough so that their entire business model shifted. Initially developed in an effort to focus on the “official” words from guidebooks and newspapers, an uproarious response became of s simple and inviting button saying, “Visitors add your own review.” There was no denying how the “people had spoken.” Or, at least they desired to! Almost overnight, the tiny firm run out of an office above a pizza shop, became the world’s most visited travel website. In 2019, Trip Advisor reported to the United States Securities and Exchange Commision, “The website has versions in 48 markets and 28 languages worldwide. It features approximately 859 million reviews and opinions on approximately 8.6 million establishments.”
Water, Water Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink
If Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ancient mariner were not so ancient and living today, he might reflect, “Review, review everywhere, and whom do I trust?” Items get reviewed on Amazon. Videos on YouTube and movies on Rotten Tomatoes. Books by the New York Times and Good Reads. Restaurants on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and within Google Maps. Then, there is a whole host of other platforms specific to individual countries. The point being, every which way we turn, we are giving and listening to the stars and reviews. A viscous flow of feedback.
“Buyer beware. This is a knock off. I have several (fill in the blank) and these are not like the others. After taking a closer look I could tell these were not real.” When it comes to shopping online, 74% of people trust social networks to guide them to purchase decisions. The “Buyer beware” review may be enough to sway a person to look at a different product. The reviewer’s feedback effective, independent of who they may be. This is something to consider as the 21st century ideology where “everything is reviewed, all the time,” spurred an entirely new niche. The industry of social media influencers.
In a BBC article titled, “Social-media influencers: Incomes soar amid growing popularity,” technology reporter Jane Wakefield wrote, “The money made by social-media influencers has risen meteorically in the last few years, according to a new report.” The marketing firm Izea predicting that greater spending on influencers in 2020, will lead to a $10bn industry.
Bringing It Back to Schools
So, what does all this influencing really mean to the field of education? So far, very little? A missed opportunity of sorts. However, we are perfectly positioned in a time of transition. We need not look forward but only to today. The pandemic in many facets, a catalyst for education systems to be more nimble and quick, as they jump over and under the COVID stick. An appeal to progressiveness.
Whether we redesign or just improve our schools, it behooves us to consider the nature of the times in which we live. Where opinions are omnipresent and yet little have we tapped into our communities to receive a fuller picture of our effectiveness. The key, integrated systems or platforms that allow for consistent, authentic, and timely feedback. Moreover, the crowning jewel being a team mentality. Schools, homes, and the greater community as one. The solicitation of feedback driven by genuine motivation conveyed to be as effective as possible. Thoughtful and constructive feedback allowing for improvement.
Just as social media permitted us all to review, so too it might allow us in the field of education, all to improve.
Author’s Note: For a truly amusing experience, check out author John Greene’s podcast titled, “The Anthropocene Reviewed.” A listener might think that Greene would choose to review only ideas and objects of 5-star quality. However, he consistently surprises, as he concludes with an honest critique after fully teaching about everything from air conditioning and sycamore trees to most recently, mortification and civilization.