Feedback provides students with information about their performance in tasks and assignments, but according to Shute (2008) its main purpose is to help students improve how they learn by changing their thinking and behaviour as part of an ongoing learning process. Yet while feedback has an important positive role to play in student academic development, poor feedback can have a negative impact on a student’s academic development (Prochazka, et al, 2020). So, here are four tips to help you ensure your feedback is as effective as possible.
Tip 1: Ensure Feedback is Timely
Numerous research studies suggest feedback is most effective when provided promptly. If feedback is provided too late after an assignment is submitted, students may have already moved on. According to Phil Race – author of The Lecturer’s Toolkit (2019) – when it comes to providing feedback to students, the sooner the better:
“There is a great deal of research evidence that students benefit greatly by having some early feedback on how they are doing and just their efforts accordingly. Conversely, if we leave assessment till too late, students who fail are frequently so discouraged that they drop out or lose motivation.” (Race, 2019)
Also, because some students focus only on their grade and do not always read feedback when it is initially provided, you may wish to consider providing feedback prior to providing grades, so students can have a chance to engage and reflect before focusing on their mark.
Moreover, some students may wish to return to previous feedback when undertaking subsequent assignments. So try to ensure relevant feedback remains available later on when students start any new assignments. If you provide informal oral feedback, try to ensure it is backed up with a recording or written account, so that the student can return and reflect on it at a later date.
Tip 2: Feedforward
Feedback is arguably only really useful if students can learn from it and apply it to future scenarios and assignments. The term ‘feedforward’ has thus emerged as one way of trying to improve students’ future performance (Reimann, 2019).
“While feedback focuses on a student’s current performance … feed forward looks ahead to subsequent assignments and offers constructive guidance on how to do better.” (JISC, 2015)
To ensure students use feedback for development and reflection, ensure that comments are provided on generic issues to improve their work, rather than specific errors only applicable to their current assignment. Consider if your comments can be applied to the students’ current module, whole programme or even beyond their studies (Reimann, 2019).
Taking a more structured approach to providing feedback can enable students to absorb your guidance, rather than wait until the end of the module to point out all of the student’s errors or misunderstandings. One way of feeding-forward is to provide comments before an assignment is submitted, perhaps by viewing draft extracts, by asking students to think about ways they can improve their writing or reflect on their understanding of the assignment.
Tip 3: The ‘Feedback Sandwich’
The feedback sandwich (also known as the constructive criticism sandwich) is a method that has been widely used to provide feedback, both in education and commerce. This method wraps any critical or difficult feedback between more positive comments beforehand and afterwards, thereby softening the impact and ensuring the recipient is more receptive to the criticism provided (Prochazka, et al, 2020). However, this method should be used with some caution, as it can leave some students feeling confused if the message is not clear. A student may also lose trust if they always see their feedback structured in this way as they will always be looking for the but. Nevertheless, it can be useful to use this method occasionally if you need to soften the blow with individual students. Prochazka, et al, suggest the ‘open sandwich’ as an alternative approach which is sometimes received better by some students in which praise is provided at the beginning or end only.
Tip 4: Turnitin Feedback Studio
Turnitin is usually used for written assignments and has the facility for providing feedback via the Turnitin Feedback Studio, which incorporates QuickMarks, comments and the feedback summary. Detailed feedback can be provided, as well as brief inline comments. Voice comments provide an alternative method of providing highly personalised feedback. QuickMarks can help provide feedback to students in a fast, efficient process that ensures consistency to your comments. Using rubrics and grading forms will also speed up the assessment feedback process.
Look out for more tips to follow in later articles. In the meantime, further advice on effective feedback is available in Pearson’s Providing Educational Feedback. There is also guidance on different ways of proving feedback at DMU is available at Support Using Technology – CELT Hub (dmu.ac.uk). There are also case studies involving providing feedback at Effective Practice in the use of ELT @ DMU – CELT Hub.
JISC (2015) Feedback and feed forward. Transforming assessment and feedback with technology. Available at: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/transforming-assessment-and-feedback/feedback
Pearson Education (2016) Providing Educational Feedback, Higher Education Services White Paper.
Prochazka, J., Ovcari, M. & Durinik, M. (2020) ‘Sandwich feedback: The empirical evidence of its effectiveness’, Learning and motivation, vol. 71, pp. 101649. doi: 10.1016/j.lmot.2020.101649.
Race, P. (2019) The Lecturer’s Toolkit: a Practical Guide to Assessment, Learning and Teaching. London: Routledge.
Reimann, N., Sadler, I. and Sambell, K. (2019) ‘What’s in a word? Practices associated with “feedforward” in higher education’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(8), pp. 1279–1290. doi: 10.1080/02602938.2019.1600655.
Shute, V. J. (2008) ‘Focus on Formative Feedback’, Review of Educational Research, 78(1), pp. 153–189. doi: 10.3102/0034654307313795.