Students’ perceptions of the role and utility of formative assessment feedback on PBL tutorials

Blanco-Blanco, Ernesto V. (2013-12)

Thesis (MPhil)-- Stellenbosch University, 2013.


Introduction: The close interrelation between the processes of learning, assessment and feedback has been recognized and supported extensively in the educational field for many decades. The benefits of the feedback as a strong tool for facilitating learning have been corroborated by learning theories and educational research. The introduction of Problem- Based Learning (PBL) approaches to higher education programmes, especially in medical training, is a worldwide trend. The PBL approach to learning brings new perspectives to the specific characteristics and values of feedback on learning and the quality of learning and thus, more especially to the role of the tutor as learning facilitator. Purpose: To explore the medical students’ perception of the role and utility of the verbal feedback provided by the tutor to students during the PBL tutorial sessions; and the students’ perceptions on how to improve the effectiveness of the feedback. Methodology: This study used a qualitative and interpretive methodological approach. The qualitative data collection tool used was the focus group discussion. The study was conducted at the Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, where the faculty of Health Sciences has implemented the PBL approach for training. The research targeted the students in the third year of the MBChB program. Results: Students’ perceptions on the role of the tutorial feedback suggested that they strongly acknowledge its value: they see it as a tool for improving their learning skills and also as an enhancer of their learning motivation and regulation. The students also perceived it as instrumental in the modelling of programme-specific professional skills which would be required in their future medical practice. Students’ expectations from PBL-tutors feedback are quite high and comprehensive regarding both the kind and the nature of the feedback. Students perceived that the imperfections in the feedback received during tutorial sessions were a source of emotional discomfort and a hindrance to their learning success. The students’ need for clear, timely and regular provision of feedback, based on specific learning outcomes, was also highlighted. The participants’ recommendations for improving the efficient use of feedback included the regularization of the feedback practices across the different tutors and an increase in the allotted time for self-directed learning in their schedule. Conclusions: The results of this study support the need for a socio-constructive learning environment to ensure successful learning in PBL. Among other conditions, the harmonious provision of balanced, supportive and motivating feedback is a complement for the establishment of a learning environment conducive to learning. Similarly, students highlighted the need for highly skilled PBL-trained tutors, to enable them to self-monitor and self-regulate their learning, and ensure learning success via the facilitation and feedback. Higher Education Institutions using PBL training must identify and address factors limiting the effectiveness of the feedback and the overall quality of learning such as increased staff workload, increased demand for resources and modularization of courses. Recommendations: Higher education institutions using PBL training should address the need for training of tutors in the different aspects and practices of the feedback in the specific settings of the small group tutorial. External factors interfering with the effective use of tutors’ feedback should also be considered to minimize their negative impact on students’ learning. A regular process of curriculum enquiry is required to ensure the constructivist alignment of the different curricular components and overall design as a condition for the successful implementation of PBL.

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