Continuous feedback has been recognized as a means of facilitating employee development and greater engagement in workplaces. The power of continuous feedback is equally applicable to students in higher education environments. Continuous feedback builds on pedagogical principles of formative feedback (Gedye, 2015), feedforward (Reimann et al., 2019) and assessment for learning (Sambell et al., 2012) to give students an ongoing window into their development as individual learners, and as a cohort, across a semester.
This post reflects on the process of implementing a new learning tool called Cadmus in two postgraduate units offered within the Master of Logistics and Supply Chain Management program at the University of Sydney. The aim of piloting this tool was to improve continuous feedback to students to support their learning around sustainable procurement strategies and software systems for managing supply chains.
Making the continuous feedback process sustainable
Managing continuous feedback effectively in workplaces requires both rethinking feedback processes and adopting appropriate feedback management tools. While the assessment and feedback platforms available in the higher education context are different and evolving, the engagement goals are similar. The challenge is to make the feedback process sustainable, given resource limitations and the uncertainty around enrolment numbers from one semester to the next (especially as we emerge from the pandemic era). Supporting technical platforms can make all the difference.
When I discovered Cadmus at a workshop earlier this year, I had been using Padlet for both synchronous and asynchronous activities for several semesters. The shared workspaces in Padlet allowed students to support each other’s learning by providing peer comments on each other’s ideas and reflections in relation to weekly in-class and post-session exercises. At the beginning of the following week’s session, I would then use the posts and comments as the basis for providing general feedback on common gaps in understanding and highlighting insightful comments. Although students appreciated the peer engagement and the general feedback, two issues became increasingly apparent. Firstly, students would benefit from individualised feedback on their weekly progress and, secondly, we needed better insight into how individual students were contributing to their own learning throughout the semester.
For individualised feedback on non-multiple-choice tasks to be sustainable, I needed a platform that provided backend integration with Canvas and allowed the use of SpeedGrader to increase feedback efficiency. Alongside analytics, this is a significant advantage of Cadmus. I have now moved all my asynchronous tasks to Cadmus in both my postgraduate units. Cadmus allows all the task information and learning resources to be provided in one place. The summary data from the platform (shown below) provides insights regarding how the class is progressing with the weekly reflective task and the extent to which learning resources are being utilised to address the questions.
Redesigning both formative and summative assessments
Transferring both my formative and summative assessments to the Cadmus platform provided an opportunity to revisit the clarity, flow and level of detail in the instructions for each assessment. In the past, I have generally provided assessment instructions in Word documents. This makes it difficult to update instructions based on questions from students. Since Cadmus is an online assessment platform, I was able to add clarifying information to both formative and summative tasks based on interactions with students after releasing the initial instructions.
The platform also provides a variety of assessment templates which include scaffolded checklists that can be easily adapted for each assessment. I refined my checklists with input from students. Since students did not need to download instructions, there was no risk of any student missing the updates. For the first time, I was able to treat students as co-designers of my assessments (Deeley and Boville, 2017). This is how I know that the redesign approach was a success. As both units have complex assessment tasks, I usually spend around 15 to 20 hours of consultation time on assessments in each unit, every semester. This semester after implementing Cadmus, I only spent around a total of four hours on consultation time across the two units.
Encouraging students to ask for feedback
In the workplace, feedback is more effective when employees are encouraged to ask for feedback, rather than when it is given with a top-down approach. While the students were told that the formative tasks were important preparatory work towards the final examination, submission was not compulsory this semester. Students could choose to use Cadmus for practicing at their own pace. At the beginning of class I would show students the summary data of progress in relation to the previous week’s task. This gave students a sense of their progress relative to the rest of the class. Once we started posting the individual feedback, many students were openly appreciative of the feedback received. This also motivated others to submit their tasks on a regular basis. When I relaxed the requirement for submitting the weekly formative tasks this semester, I was worried that we might get very few submissions. From my perspective, the high volume of submissions we received is evidence that a majority of our students see value in a feedforward approach (Vardi, 2013).
We also received a high volume of draft submissions for the individual assignments in both units. Students had the option of submitting drafts for feedback via Cadmus a month before the final submission deadlines. Although this was not a requirement, the submission and feedback process for the weekly formative assessments had oriented students towards the value of requesting feedback while developing their individual assignments. Generating textual feedback through the speech recognition capability in SpeedGrader helped us manage the increased volume of feedback across both weekly tasks and individual assignments. Cadmus also provides the option of recording voice feedback via Turnitin.
Nurturing students’ learning efforts
Overall, the adoption of the platform has been a relatively painless process and students have adapted to working in the new online environment quite quickly. The Cadmus team is very responsive and the platform is continuously being improved to include features that will help academics work more efficiently.
I should note that often the driver for adopting Cadmus is the need for improving management of academic integrity issues in summative assessments. Colleagues interested in adopting Cadmus for managing their final examinations would be pleased to hear that the platform now automatically emails assessment reports to unit coordinators after the submission deadline (see description of key data elements from the email below).
However, from my perspective the platform’s most important contribution to my teaching practice has been to help me nurture the learning efforts of students throughout the semester. The continuous feedback process is essential for supporting students to build their critical thinking abilities. It also helps me with early identification of students who may need additional support with their writing skills. I believe the broader integration of the tool across formative and summative assessments can go a long way in reducing academic integrity issues at the end of the semester, while simultaneously offering students an experience that – if implemented thoughtfully – will genuinely support their learning.
About the author
Dr Bhattacharjya has a wide range of teaching experiences, encompassing undergraduate units in information systems and postgraduate units in procurement, logistics and supply chain management. In her current role at the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS), she teaches a postgraduate unit on sustainable logistics and procurement. This is a core offering in the Master of Logistics and Supply Chain Management (MLSCM) and the Master of Commerce (Global Logistics) programs, and an elective in the interdisciplinary Master of Sustainability program. She also teaches an advanced technology-focused core unit on logistics and supply chain systems in the MLSCM program. The quality of her teaching has been recognized by several Business School Dean’s Citations. Her teaching innovations have also received funding support from the Business School. Dr Bhattacharjya’s teaching draws on her research which focuses on supply chain resilience and sustainability. She supervises several PhD projects in these rapidly developing areas. Each supervised project involves significant engagement with industry partners either internationally or within Australia.