Feedback is a fundamental learning and teaching activity that has a significant impact on student learning and achievement, and as such is an important function of assessment. It has been found that whether or not lecturers provide students with helpful feedback has a bigger impact on student learning and satisfaction than anything else (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004). Ideally, opportunities for feedback on progress should be integrated within many of a unit's learning activities.
On this page, however, the focus is on feedback associated with formal assessment tasks.
What is helpful (effective) feedback?
Perspectives on feedback vary widely between students and academics, but we do know that students are enthusiastic about feedback, and that they tell us we need to give them more and/or better feedback. Typically, the sort of feedback on performance and work that is most effective:
- identifies and positively reinforces what was done well
- makes useful suggestions about specific ways students could improve their work or change their approach for future work
- corrects misapprehensions revealed in the work
- is respectful of the individuality and worth of each student
- is timely - it comes when it still matters to students and when they can make the most of it
- enables students to refine their capacity to use information to judge themselves in relation to similar work or situations
Written comments, in addition to the standard descriptor identified for each criterion, often provide specific feedback unique to each student and can be in the form of an overall comment on the task overall, or comments that address each criterion separately. Guidelines for written comments that students are most likely to engage with, and use to improve future performance indicate that they should:
- start by highlighting a strength - something the student has done well (although this can be difficult when the student has failed the criterion, if they have achieved a pass or above, the standard descriptor can provide suggestions for elements to highlight). This can be particularly beneficial when the comment not only identifies what was done well, but also explains why/how it was good. Using the student's name as part of this positive part of the comment personalises it, which can have a powerful effect.
- identify one to three important areas where improvements could be made, and give specific examples and explanations for how they could be improved (these are most beneficial when the examples and explanations are forward looking - they can be used to make improvements to future work and assessments). When determining the areas for improvement, look at the ILOs for the unit to help you to include only those aspects which are most important and relevant for the learning in your unit.
- end on a note of encouragement - but make sure that it is truthful and sincere. For example, "you are showing clear improvement in your use of evidence" or "You had some interesting ideas that made me think".
Other forms of feedback
Providing written comments can take quite some time to formulate when ensuring that they are meaningful to students, and written as recommended above.
One to one meetings
Sometimes it may be more time efficient to ask students to book in for 10 minute feedback sessions after returning their work, grades, and rubric feedback. In this way students receive personal feedback, inclusive of the opportunity to ask questions in order to receive feedback on areas of concern or interest to them.
This approach can also work well if students do not receive your grade prior to attending, but use the rubric to self-assess and award a grade. The two can then be compared and provide useful points for discussion during the meeting.
Rather than providing written comments, you could use the Record Audio button in MyLO Dropbox Folders to provide students with oral comments. Just as with written comments these could be specific to each criterion, or could provide comments on the task overall.
It is worth noting that students are more likely to engage with feedback when it is provided separately from a mark or grade (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Therefore, if the main intent of an activity is to feed into student development and assist them to improve, it will be most effective if it is not used as a summative assessment.
The University of New South Wales has an interesting page that discusses a range of approaches to providing feedback to students.
David Boud discusses the need for feedback to do more than simply provide students with information, and for it, rather to be an ongoing dialogue in his article Feedback: ensuring that it leads to enhanced learning.
This short video, also from Professor Boud, asks, "Have we been getting feedback wrong?".
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.
Boud, D. (2015, 01). Feedback: Ensuring that it leads to enhanced learning. The Clinical Teacher Clin Teach, 12(1), 3-7. doi:10.1111/tct.12345
Gibbs, G. & Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students' learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 1, 3-31.