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, 2005).
What is helpful (effective) feedback?
Although perspectives on feedback vary widely, we do know that students are enthusiastic about feedback, and that they want more and/or better feedback (Dawson et al., 2019).
Feedback that is generally considered most helpful (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.
Effective feedback as a dialogue or process
Rather than something that teachers do to students, feedback can instead be understood as a dialogue or process whereby students seek, engage with and act on feedback from multiple sources (Boud, 2015; Boud & Molloy, 2013; Gibbs & Simpson, 2005).
Boud (2015) highlights 3 requirements for an effective feedback process that influences learning:
- Knowledge of appropriate standards (by both the teacher and the student)
- Comparison of one’s own work with these standards
- Taking action to close the gap between the two.
Effective feedback allows students to reduce discrepancies between their current knowledge, understanding and/or performance and a goal. Thus, according to Hattie and Timperley (2007), the process of effective feedback must answer 3 questions:
- Where am I going? (What are the goals?)
- How am I going? (What progress is being made towards the goal?)
- Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)
This understanding of effective feedback as a dialogue or process has implications for unit design, teaching and marking students’ work.
The University of New South Wales has an interesting page that discusses a range of approaches to providing feedback to students.
References and further reading
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74. https://doi.org/10.1080/0969595980050102
Boud, D., & Molloy, E. (2013). Rethinking models of feedback for learning: the challenge of design. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(6), 698-712. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2012.691462
Boud, D. (2015). Feedback: Ensuring that it leads to enhanced learning. The Clinical Teacher Clin Teach, 12(1), 3-7. https://doi.org/10.1111/tct.12345
Carless, D., & Boud, D. (2018): The development of student feedback literacy: enabling uptake of feedback, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315-1325. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354
Dawson, P., Henderson, M., Mahoney, P., Phillips, M., Ryan, T., Boud, D., & Molloy, E. (2019). What makes for effective feedback: staff and student perspectives. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(1), 25-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1467877
Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2005). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 1, 3-31.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112. https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487
Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070600572090
Pitt, E., Bearman, M., & Esterhazy, R. (2020). The conundrum of low achievement and feedback for learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45(2), 239-250. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2019.1630363