This Spring, I’ve had the good fortune to travel around the country and talk with folks at several universities. We’re talking about a few issues that seem to be on everybody’s mind. AI and writing. Student success in the midst of a lingering pandemic. And what it means to practice a pedagogy of inclusion.
Universities have long sought to measure the quality of their instruction by how *exclusive* they are. This is an idea that is rapidly changing, though, with the realization that a better measuring stick is to offer an education that is equally valuable to a wide, and ever widening population of students.
Measuring ourselves by who we include and how well they thrive is a challenge we embrace at Eli Review. This is why I have been asked whether our approach is compatible with a pedagogy of inclusion.
First, let me say that I think this is a legitimate and interesting research question: can a pedagogy that focuses on feedback and revision be an effective component of an inclusive approach to teaching and learning?
I would argue that it definitely is, though I have to admit that my best evidence for that claim lies in another big research project in my life. Along with two colleagues in the medical school and our team, we’ve published results of several clinical trials now showing that better feedback can make folks healthier.
Our research group works on closing equity gaps for patients receiving care for chronic illness in Federally Qualified Health Clinics. We work with a patient population that faces structural inequities that impact the outcomes of care. Compared to their more privileged counterparts with similar conditions, folks eligible for our trial are more likely to have disruptions and interruptions in their care plan, and therefore more likely to suffer negative outcomes even when the medicines prescribed are the same. A cure for that is more steady, reliable, and routine communication – feedback! – on their care plan with a provider. With that, we have seen patients improve their risk factors significantly in 3 months and sustain those positive outcomes for a year.
I think a similar dynamic applies to students. We know that practice giving and using feedback is the most powerful intervention to drive positive outcomes in learning to write. We can also see that students from underrepresented groups and first generation students are less likely to have access OUTSIDE of class to a network of contacts giving them reliable high-quality feedback.
This group of students is also less likely to have the time and resources to seek it out and practice it if it is not part of a course.
More privileged students, on the other hand, likely have more ready access to a relative or friend group with experience AND time to give them this most valuable form of learning support. They also are less likely to have to work to support a family member or experience financial disruptions to their education that can make building feedback networks for learning even more challenging.
Our colleagues at the University of California Santa Barbara have shown in a study of first-generation students using Eli Review that a feedback-focused pedagogy helps this group improve the grades and feel more welcome and connected to their peers.
I have little doubt that when we DO NOT deliberately build feedback into the curriculum, and if we fail to keep an eye on providing fair, reciprocal practice in review and revision…students from privileged backgrounds will likely get this support outside of the classroom. But their peers from underrepresented groups may not get it at all. And that can make a huge, material difference in student performance.
Eli is a tool that, when used as we hope it will be, can help level the playing field for students who might otherwise struggle to build effective feedback networks to support their learning.
I don’t yet know of any formal studies of this idea. We would love to work on one, however. Just as I have seen that folks in our clinical trial have lower cardiac risk when we attend to the quality and reliability of feedback in their care network, I suspect we’d find similar success if we worked to strengthen students’ feedback cultures as well.