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Effective Feedback

Effective Feedback

Principles, strategies and technologies to help you work smarter

Learning & Teaching Podcast Now Available - Episode 027: Creative Practice

Assessment and feedback sprints

Following two 2-week sprints (an agile project management methodology) looking into assessment/assignment feedback at Newcastle University, firstly from the student perspective, and then from colleague’s perspectives, it became apparent from the discovery work that, despite a great deal of information being available, it was in disparate places and therefore not easy to find. This page is one of the minimal viable products resulting from the second sprint which was more colleague focussed. It will continue to be iterated upon and is a first draft attempt to bringing together existing information relating to feedback at Newcastle University into one place which we hope colleagues will find useful.

We have divided the material into sections covering key themes emerging from the interviews, focus groups and pop-ups from both sprints, involving colleagues and students. These were:

  • Time constraints
  • Consistency
  • Barriers (to students accessing feedback)
  • Help with technology (lots of positive comments about the value of new technologies).

Resources continue to be developed from the first sprint which was student focussed. We have listed some student-centred materials which you can use or recommend to your students.

Principles for effective feedback

Jisc published a new set of Principles of good assessment and feedback (March 2022). These fall into seven areas:

  1. Principle one - help learners understand what good looks like
  2. Principle two - support the personalised needs of learners
  3. Principle three - foster active learning
  4. Principle four - develop autonomous learners
  5. Principle five - manage staff and learner workload effectively
  6. Principle six - foster a motivated learning community
  7. Principle seven - promote learner employability

We have picked out the areas relating specifically to feedback from this document, and drawn on the NEPS module on Giving Effective Feedback as well as the discovery work from both sprints, and distilled our findings into 4 overarching areas:

Strategies

Feedback Audit Tool

There is a useful Feedback Audit Tool, originally developed by the Bioscience Subject Centre which has a very helpful set of checklists for evaluating how you approach feedback. The tool comes with full instructions and helps you formulate an action plan for taking changes forward in the short, medium and long term.

Possible activities

Here are suggested activities you could use with your students to improve student clarity and use of feedback.

Modelling

Show your students how to use feedback by modelling and using feedback yourself in seminars or tutorials. Teach students the skills to self and peer assess as this will give students ownership, increase the engagement and help students to answer their own questions. You will also be developing students' own self-regulation skills.

Snowballing assessment criteria

Students are asked to reflect on a task they have just completed.

  1. Students are asked to work alone to write the characteristics of a good piece of work.
  2. They then get together in pairs and combine their criteria.
  3. The pairs get into fours and combine their criteria into an agreed list.
  4. The teacher then asks each group of four in turn for one criterion, and comments on this, writing it up if it is useful. If it is not useful, the teacher asks for improvement of the criterion; it from another group and explores any misconceptions.
  5. Gradually an agreed set of good criteria are developed and explained. Misconceptions can now be corrected (which is a key advantage of this approach) and the real goals explained.

Specimen assignments

The student studies a number of pieces of anonymous student’s work. This can be genuine, or it might have been produced by the teacher specifically for this activity. As well as this work, students are given model answers and mark schemes, and they are asked to assess the work. The teacher asks the students to give their opinions of the work, concludes strengths and weaknesses, and draws attention to different strategies used by the students. Students compare their marking with the teacher's.

Explaining my work

This activity is a little like peer assessment but is more informal. Students have to show their work to a peer or peers and explain their approach. This is common in Art and Design and could be used elsewhere. It helps students to see alternative ‘ways of doing it’.

You can ask students to explain the process that is ‘how they did it’ and ‘why I did it that way’ as well as the product: ‘what I produced’.

Verbal Peer Assessment on presentations

Start with a clear outline of the success criteria. Students listen to presentations from individuals or groups. Ask each individual to write down one ‘strength’ and one area needing improvement. Students then receive large amounts of peer feedback.

Speedy Feedback

Hand out a coloured sheet of paper with numbered feedback responses on it pertinent to the assessment task. For example:

  1. Illustration of what is expected as evidence of achievement of each of the intended learning outcomes
  2. Likely mistakes
  3. Features of a good answer
  4. Frequently needed explanations
  5. Things you otherwise would have to write time and time again on students’ work, e.g. commonly used feedback comments.

Agree a clear deadline for submission of work, giving date and time. Within the class, give out the coloured sheets and give students a few minutes to read it. Pick one or two key points from the coloured sheet and spend a few minutes talking through these points to the whole group, adding a personal touch. When marking the work, make use of this sheet, directing students to, for example, ‘See point 4, Blue sheet’ – this will take much less time than writing points out in full repeatedly to different students.

Multiple choice questions (MCQs)

Well-designed MCQs can have pre-written feedback for each choice, this can form bespoke formative feedback.

Audio feedback

Using audio feedback can engage students and gives students a bespoke rationale behind their grade. Audio recordings can be made, edited and uploaded quickly and easily at your desk through ReCap. Turnitin also allows voice comments.

Online tools

Canvas and Turnitin have tools to support assessment. These are particularly useful for providing immediate feedback, increasing the accessibility of feedback, and are great for feeding back on large cohorts.

You may wish to take a holistic look at how you approach feedback in your modules/programme. There are some practical tools which can help you use the feedback functions in Canvas as well as some tools for looking at feedback in your modules or programme. Taking a little time to explore the functions in these tools may save you time and help support more personalised feedback, which is of the highest value to students.

Assessment Feedback tools in Canvas

There is detailed support available on using assessment feedback tools in Canvas including assignments, online marking and feedback, with detailed instructions for all of the options available to you.

If you have not looked at the Canvas Orientation course recently it may be useful to take a fresh look. All colleagues have access – look in your Dashboard once logged in to Canvas. You should have the Canvas Orientation in your Published Courses list. You might like to revisit the section on Online Marking and Feedback which outlines Speedgrader and Gradebook features.

Turnitin Feedback Studio

There are helpful tips and case studies on using Turnitin Feedback Studio within Canvas.

Other places students can get marks/feedback:

  • NESS
  • S3P

Retrievability: Where/when/how do students access their feedback

Don’t assume students know where to find and retrieve their feedback and marks. It may be useful to discuss in your programme/module teams how you might be more consistent in the information you give to your students on where they can find their marks and feedback, and what your local expectations are for when to expect feedback to appear, and how your students can make best use of this feedback for their next assessed piece of work.

Considerations

One point that has been reflected consistently in student comments on feedback in that it is not always clear where they should look for their marks and feedback, or indeed how they should find and make best use of their feedback.

There are several options for how you give feedback to students, which enable diversity of choice to support the diversity of the student cohort, as well as the wide variety of assessment types across disciplines. To help students it will be useful to signpost students to where they can find their feedback, when to expect it and what to do with it once they have it.

Feedback on exams is likely to be different to the feedback on assessed pieces of work. It will be helpful to students to outline these differences and to manage expectations about if and how exams feedback will be dealt with. There is detailed support on dealing with feedback on exams.


Find out more

Professor David Nicol explains how students can be guided to make comparisons and feedback on their own work, rather than relying on instructor comments, for improved learning outcomes in this THE Campus article.

Professor David Boud: Redesigning feedback involves addressing the feedback literacy of students and staff (YouTube 17.5 minutes)

Professor Chris Rust discusses feedback (YouTube 3.5 minutes)