Discover the principles for providing your students with consistent and useful feedback.

What is the purpose of feedback? 

Feedback is integral to the learning process and is one of the main benefits that students get from assessment. 

Effective feedback involves sense-making. It should help students to make sense of information from various sources and use it to enhance their work or learning strategies. Feedback should, therefore, identify the gap between the desired standards and the student’s achievement  then offer guidance on how to close the gap in future. 

What counts as feedback? 

We tend to think of feedback as the comments written on a piece of assessed work (essay, lab report etc.). However, there are lots of techniques you can use to provide ongoing feedback to students which work for large or small cohorts alike. For example:  

  • how you respond when students contribute in lectures, seminars and tutorials will tell them something about the progress of their learning
  • using in class polls can provide you and your students instant feedback on learning progress. Using polling technology (e.g. Poll Everywhere) makes it possible to do this quickly and anonymously
  • whole group feedback, e.g. highlighting where the cohort tended to do well, and general areas for improvement, can help individual students identify areas to focus on and gauge their progress in relation to their peers
  • peer-to-peer feedback can help students better understand marking criteria and evaluate their own work, thereby developing their feedback literacy. You can also encourage informal peer feedback, e.g. asking students to compare notes or answers with the person sitting next to them is one simple way of offering some insight into their level of understanding even in large groups. 

What sort of feedback is useful? 

The principles of effective feedback below are adapted from those developed in 2021 by the University of Sussex Business School staff and Student Connector Feedback Project.  

To be useful to students, feedback needs to have the following attributes.

  • Link to criteria

    When giving feedback, it is vital that you:

    • make explicit linkages to the marking criteria, assessment marking criteria or mark scheme, using feedback templates where applicable
    • use language aligned to grade categories in criteria e.g. outstanding, excellent.
  • Be consistent

    Ensure that you:

    • use a consistent tone and format
    • always assume the student has tried their best
    • use language that references the work rather than the student – identifying strengths and weakness in measured tone
    • apply a standard feedback format (see your School’s feedback policy/guidance).
  • Be accessible

    In making feedback accessible:

    • ensure feedback is digitally accessible and well signposted
    • use clear, unambiguous language
    • explain key terms, including those used in the task description or marking criteria such as ‘analyse’ or ‘critically reflect’.
  • Feed forward

    Feedback should:

    • be actionable
    • help students identify what it takes to improve their work
    • highlight what went well
    • highlight what could be improved, with specific examples
    • use annotations/Quickmarks to show students exactly where they have performed well or can improve. 
  • Signpost to further support
    Remember to:
    • provide links and reference to further resources and support such as the Skills Hub
    • links to resources should be clear and specific.
  • Be timely

    Being timely with your feedback provides students with enough time to engage with feedback before improvements in work are expected.

    Find opportunities to link to other modules or course learning outcomes to help students identify transferable skills.

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.

To achieve this, students need to acquire ‘feedback literacy’. This includes a range of skills, attitudes and approaches needed to make sense of information and use it to enhance their work or learning strategies.  This also includes providing many, and different, opportunities to practise giving, receiving, interpreting and acting on feedback.

Learn more about the principles and approaches to feedback.

In giving feedback, we can also:

  •  help students recognise when they are receiving informal feedback, such as if using some of the in-class approaches detailed above
  • communicate clearly when to expect assessment marks and feedback and how to access it
  • remind students they can ask for clarification on their feedback, and how to go about doing so.

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