Review of Feedback in Digital Applications – Does the Feedback They Provide Support Learning?

Betty Tärning
Journal of Information Technology Education: Research  •  Volume 17  •  2018  •  pp. 247-283

The goal of this paper is to examine digital applications used in Swedish schools and whether they fulfill their potential as support for learners. This is done by examining the kinds of feedback they provide and discussing if this feedback supports learning or not.

The paper targets one aspect regarding which educational apps can be of high value for learners and teachers, namely the feedback they provide. The paper also addresses the need for supportive feedback and reviews 242 apps with respect to what types of feedback they provide.

A sample of apps used in primary school was collected via email to schools in Sweden. The author evaluated each app with respect to what kind of feedback it provided. The article concerns both positive and negative feedback, with a focus on negative. The following types of feedback were evaluated; verification feedback, corrective feedback, elaborated feedback, encouraging feedback and result feedback.

This paper contributes to knowledge regarding how most apps only contain verification feedback (telling the student whether their answer was correct or not). In order to help a student while learning, verification feedback is not enough. Rather, previous research has shown that explanatory feedback is more beneficial for learning.

Seventy-seven percent of all apps contained verification feedback, and only 12 % provided the student with some type of explanation as to why their answer was incorrect. Looking at previous research, this is not desirable if one wants the app to support learning and not only act as a testing device. Fifty-five percent of all apps also contained some type of encouragement, but none of this encouragement addressed the task or the effort the learners put into the task - something that would be preferable from a learning perspective.

There is much to be gained for developers of educational software if they would make more use of the feedback in educational apps. As for now, the feedback is primarily suited for testing and not for learning. For users of apps (teachers, parents, and children) this paper shows that feedback can be and is an important factor to evaluate before deciding if the app is “worth” spending time on.

The research describes different types of feedback and their (dis)advantages.

The paper stresses that most feedback represented in apps today corresponds to a behavioristic approach comparable to instrumental conditioning by means of reinforcement. In essence, most apps miss the opportunity of treating the learner as an active and constructive being who would benefit from more nuanced feedback.

Previous research has shown that elaborated feedback is more beneficial for learning, but more research needs to be done here, the amount of elaborated feedback will most likely affect varying student groups and varying tasks in different ways. And more importantly, how can we make the students pay attention to and act upon the feedback provided to them.

digital applications, verification feedback, corrective feedback, elaborated feed-back, encouraging feedback, result feedback
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