#KeyLIMEPodcast 348: Is “Feedback Literacy” the Key to a Growth Mindset? (This is Gorge)

In this week’s episode, the authors of this qualitative research paper ask, “What capabilities do students need to demonstrate in order to be feedback literate?”

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KeyLIME Session 348

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Molloy et. al. 2019. Developing a learning-centred framework for feedback literacy. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45:4, 527-540


Jason R. Frank (@drjfrank)


Is “Feedback” the all-time faculty development topic champion? Few topics are as oft-mentioned, hotly debated, fiercely criticized, strongly defended, or as much part of the identity of HPE. We may spend more time debating the idea of feedback than we sleep. Could this be healthy?

What’s all the fuss? Proponents call for more feedback training for all who engage in health professions education. It is, after all, an essential ingredient in effective teaching and learning. Large swaths of published literature across all domains of education point out that feedback is inadequate. In #meded, critics point out with an eyeroll that it is yet another term that we as a community don’t agree on, deploy poorly, and something better is needed. Further, they argue, feedback is often seen as a one-way teaching dynamic, one in which information is dumped on a learner in hopes they magically learn from it. This is teacher-driven model is sometimes called “feedback as telling”. Students are regarded as passive receptacles of information.

In higher education, scholars have previously advocated improving feedback by primarily focusing on teachers input: improving the comments provided, improving the mode of delivery, enhancing interaction with students. More recently, attention has refocused on the learner’s role in a feedback encounter. How do learners conceptualize feedback? What can we learn from higher ed research that might apply to HPE?


Enter Molloy, Boud, and Henderson from Down Under (UMelbourne, Deakin Uni, and Monash)…The authors set out to explore “students’ ability to understand and benefit from feedback processes”. Ultimately, they wondered:

“What capabilities do students need to demonstrate in order to be feedback literate?”

Key Points on the Methods

The authors defined feedback literacy as per Carless & Boud (2018): “the understandings, capacities, and dispositions needed to make sense of information and to use it to enhance work or learning strategies”.

The authors performed a secondary analysis of a large dataset from a previous longitudinal study of feedback at 2 Australian universities. They used:  a survey of 4514 students, 5 focus groups with 28 students, and 20 student interviews. They initially thematically analyzed the text using Carless & Boud’s previous proposed framework of student feedback literacy:

  • Appreciating feedback
  • Making judgments
  • Managing affect, and
  • Taking action

They then extended this framework using a grounded, constant comparative method. Authors each coded a section of the data, discussed the coding structure, and iterated until no further codes were identified.

There was no reflexivity section.

Key Outcomes

The authors found 31 characteristics of learner feedback literacy organized into 7 themes:

  • Group 1: Commits to feedback as improvement. Categories 1-2
  • Group 2: Appreciates feedback as an active process. Categories 3-8
  • Group 3: Elicits information to improve learning. Categories 9-15
  • Group 4: Processes feedback information. Categories 16-19
  • Group 5: Acknowledges and works with emotions. Categories 20-25
  • Group 6. Acknowledges feedback as a reciprocal process. Categories 26-28
  • Group 7: Enacts outcomes of processing of feedback information. Categories 29-31

Key Conclusions

The authors conclude…That these 31 categories of learner capabilities are needed for feedback literacy. They imply that learners should be actively engaged in learning through a constant process of feedback-seeking behaviours, through a mindset primed to receive useful feedback as a call to action, and through the abilities of sense-making, critique, and refinement of available feedback.

They recommend that educational design efforts shift teacher training from information providers to feedback literacy facilitators. Ultimately, efforts are needed to promote feedback competencies in learners.

Spare Keys – other take home points for clinician educators

  1. There are multiple so-called “god terms” in education that are frequently mentioned, hotly debated, and sometimes counterproductive in education. Feedback is one.
  2. The idea of effective feedback competencies for all of us as learners may be the key to developing a true growth mindset

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