Feedforward – one new word
It was 6pm on a cold 1963 November evening in a small English town. Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon were being kept at the local police station for their protection. Why? Because this new band was about to hold a show at a nearby cinema, and their young teenager fans were queuing outside the venue excited, enthusiastic, noisy, and sometimes even hysterical.
These were unsettled times. The Cuban Missile Crisis had recently ended (there had been widespread fear of a Soviet missile attack). A few weeks earlier Martin Luther King gave his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, and a few days later US President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated. It was also a time when facing the risk of a poliomyelitis pandemic, the government introduced mass vaccination.
Anyway, on the night, sitting in the family car, I found myself looking at scores of teenagers queuing to get into the concert venue. Thinking the Beatles were already inside the cinema they were yelling the names of the Fab Four, shouting love epithets, screaming, crying, and sometimes just looking stunned.
It was Beatlemania. The youngsters were communicating praise and adoration to the boys in the band even before they had started to perform songs like Love me do and Please, Please me.
The fans were communicating a form of feedback.
Feedback is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters A, B, C, D, E and F. It is an essential communication feature of gaming and other digital life, and for us as educators, it is one of the top influences in achieving high impact teaching and learning. And it is key component in the design of REALVI digital pedagogies.
We don’t learn effectively from monologue (transmission), but we do learn through dialogue (interaction). Quality dialogue is driven by quality feedback.
There are different ways of giving and receiving feedback in our lives, and particularly in education. The old way in schools was to report on what the student had done – how they had performed on a task. This was often communicated using a number and a few words – 4/10 could do better.
The new way, increasingly called Feedforward, communicates what could be done next. So, whereas the old feedback looks back, the new feedforward looks forward. The difference between the two is on emphasis. The new way moves the student from what is to what can be.
Back to the Beatles. When I was an adolescent, we used the word feedback frequently. Feedback was the noise, often loud and horrible, which came from speakers in concert venues. Basically, in technology it is where an electronic signal moves from one place to another and creates disturbance.
The story goes that it was the Beatles who first used feedback to create new rock music sounds. Converting feedback into feedforward. Taking a noise from what was – and making it into what could be.
Apparently, John Lennon had accidentally left his lead guitar next to Paul McCartney’s bass guitar amplifier resulting in the creation of a new feedback sound which they then used in I Feel Fine. This is said to have been the first time that feedback was used as a form of feedforward in a commercial rock song.
So what can we, as educators, learn from a story like this?
There are different feedforward techniques which we can use to make our teaching even more meaningful, powerful, and enjoyable, which leads to successful student learning. When we focus on what can be cooperatively with our students, we press many high impact buttons in our teaching.
When our lives are under stress because of crisis and change, we have an opportunity to see and do things in different ways – just as many of us have experienced when teaching during lockdown where we have found that the proverb necessity is the mother of invention may be true.
If we want to come out of these difficult times energized, stronger and happier then looking at the many ways to use pro-active and positive feedforward could be worth exploring. Take care and hope to talk again soon!