Feedback is integral to the learning process and is one of the main benefits that students get from assessment, but they are often dissatisfied with the feedback they receive, despite tutors spending many hours producing it. This post will try to unpick the essentials of effective feedback and suggest some of the things that you can focus on to make the best use of your marking time.
What is the purpose of feedback?
Effective feedback helps students to develop their understanding and improve their performance in relation to the standards of the university. So comments on work should identify the gap between the desired standards and the student’s achievement – then offer guidance on how to close the gap in future. It may be more useful to think of this as providing ‘feed forward’ because it is the next piece of work which can be improved with effective feedback.
What sort of feedback is useful?
To be useful to students feedback has to be accessible. That means typing or printing feedback if possible or making sure that handwritten comments are legible and using language that students understand. In future it might mean using alternative media such as audio or video to provide feedback.
Once students can read their feedback they are looking for constructive information that they can act on. For example, a comment like ‘weak introduction’ identifies a deficiency, but doesn’t help a student to strengthen the introduction in their next essay, whereas a few words referring them to guidance on writing introductions and pointing them towards the relevant criteria can be very helpful. You can save time here by producing a general feedback sheet that gives advice on common problems and referring students to particular points as necessary.
More feedback doesn’t always mean better feedback as students can become overwhelmed by a lot of comments; a simple message about one or two areas to work on for their next assignment can be much more effective. Rather than trying to tell a student how to make their work perfect, it can be more helpful to suggest ways in which they can achieve one grade higher next time.
In short, try to make your feedback:
- Linked to resources.
How can we encourage students to use feedback effectively?
The ultimate test of feedback is if students can use it to enhance their learning and performance, and that will only be possible if it includes ‘feed forward’ suggestions. Even then, students will sometimes need support and guidance to get the most from the feedback they receive. The Study Success at Success (S3) website offers guidance to students on using feedback . When you are planning for the coming academic year you might want to think about activities that can be incorporated into assessment schemes and seminars to encourage students to make good use of feedback. For example, students could be asked to respond to feedback by writing a note saying what they will be doing differently in their next assignment, or teachers could refer back to previous feedback when marking formative assignments so that students see a direct link between feedback and future performance.
What are we doing to develop feedback practice at Sussex?
TLDU works with colleagues to improve the effectiveness of feedback given to students in a number of ways:
Events: The programme of Teaching and Learning Development Events which is open and free to all Sussex teaching staff and colleagues at partner colleges includes a range of workshops on feedback and assessment topics and a new programme will be running throughout the 2013-14 academic year. Some Sussex Teaching and Learning Conferences and visits from external speakers have also focused on assessment and feedback, notably the 2009 Sussex Teaching and Learning Conference, How am I doing? New approaches to academic feedback and advice which brought together external speakers and Sussex colleagues to share and discuss approaches to feedback. David Nicol gave a keynote on Principles into Practice: Enhancing feedback in higher education [PDF 211.20KB] and ran a Putting the Principles into our Practice workshop [DOC 37.00KB] and Kate Exley gave a keynote on Giving great feedback … but that’s just half the story [PDF 387.35KB] and a workshop on Giving really useful feedback [DOC 26.00KB] (these files are only accessible with a Sussex login).
Online resources and reading: The TLDU website has an Ideas and Guidance section which includes pages on Effective Feedback and Peer Assessment and Feedback. The TLDU library holds several useful texts on feedback which colleagues are able to borrow and the collection of weblinks includes many resources on feedback.