There is a considerable body of research around the role of feedback in supporting learning and evidence of what constitutes good and effective practice. Nevertheless our 2012 study of the assessment and feedback landscape (pdf) found that approaches to feedback in universities and colleges remained extremely diverse.
- Timeliness of feedback in relation to informing future assignments
- Quality of feedback in relation to supporting future development
- Inconsistent approaches even within a single module
- Feedback not stored so that it is accessible to staff and students.
This guide draws on our body of work around assessment and feedback. It may be of interest to senior academic managers, programme teams responsible for curriculum design or any staff interested in reviewing assessment and feedback practice.
Longitudinal development involves a shift from assessment of learning to assessment for learning. Instead of simply focusing on the outcome (summative assessment), greater emphasis is placed on monitoring ongoing learning (formative assessment).
With a longitudinal approach, feedback is seen as more developmental and less corrective and short term. Feedback is not simply ‘given to’ students; the responsibility for assessment is shared, students take greater control of their own learning and become active participants in dialogue.
The concepts of feedback, feed forward and ipsative approaches are key:
- Feedback provides information to learners about where they are in relation to their learning goals. This enables them to evaluate their progress, identify gaps or misconceptions in their knowledge and take remedial action. Generated by tutors, peers, mentors, supervisors, a computer, or as a result of self-assessment, feedback is a vital component of effective learning
- Feed forward is equally important to learners’ progress. While feedback focuses on current performance (and may simply justify the grade awarded), feed forward looks ahead to the next assignment. Feed forward offers constructive guidance on how to improve. A combination of feedback and feed forward ensures that assessment has an effective developmental impact on learning (provided the student has the opportunity and support to develop their own evaluative skills in order to use the feedback effectively)
- Ipsative approaches approaches allow tutors and learners to acknowledge personal progress by comparing previous and current work, regardless of overall achievement.
Feedback, particularly in paper form, is generally only seen by two people: the tutor providing the feedback and the individual learner. This lack of transparency means tutors do not know how their colleagues approach feedback or what other feedback a learner has had during their period of study.
Technology can assist tutors by enabling them to share and access examples of feedback across a course or programme of study. Many systems currently hold feedback only at module level but developing a programme-level overview is a priority for many institutions and suppliers.
Technology can support learners’ longitudinal development in many ways:
Supporting analysis of feedback
Programme teams seldom discuss or compare the feedback given to students. While course teams take for granted the need to discuss differences in grades, differences or inconsistencies in feedback are rarely identified and discussed.
Through the analysis of feedback it is possible to ensure that the type of feedback given is in line with the organisation’s educational principles.
Clarifying what purpose feedback is expected to serve and analysing tutor feedback needs to become normal practice for academic staff.
"... feedback practice does need discussion as well as marking processes. Greater transparency and discussion about feedback is essential for developing consistent and fair feedback practice across the institution ... Greater discussion also might help the spread of good practice."
Institute of Education
Feedback can take many forms. Praise and feedback on content is much less effective in the long term than feedback on skills and on self-regulatory abilities. The latter are more likely to allow learners to develop autonomy in learning and an ability to make evaluative judgements without the support of a teacher.
A number of our projects have developed feedback profiling tools:
- University of Dundee coding framework
- Institute of Education feedback profiling tool and guidelines
- Open University feedback analysis chart for tutors (FACT)
- University of Southampton OMTetra tool which monitors the consistency of e-feedback and guides tutors through reflecting upon and improving that feedback.
Facilitating staff and student access to feedback records
Technology has a vital role to play in storing feedback and making it easily accessible to staff and students so that a longer-term picture of learning can emerge.
However, many learning support systems store both marks and feedback at module level making it difficult to gain a programme-level overview.
A further issue is that modules in virtual learning environments (VLEs) are often ‘live’ and therefore only accessible to students until the completion of that module; hence the feedback is only available in the short term (unless printed out, in which case it is no longer interactive). The use of e-portfolio systems to store the information longer term is one potential solution.
"Much feedback practice occurs behind closed doors and is only seen by the giver and the recipient(s) but making feedback shareable between staff could help the spread of good practice by example as well as improving consistency of practice."
Institute of Education
Supporting better curriculum design and scheduling
A modelling tool that has proven useful in reviewing assessment practice, and particularly identifying issues with the overall assessment timetable, is assessment timelines developed by the University of Hertfordshire. This is used to model patterns of high, medium and low stakes assessment across a 12 week semester. An example is shown below:
The tool has been used to remodel curricula in order to offer greater opportunities for formative feedback that can help with future assignments.
The University of South Wales (formerly University of Glamorgan) developed the assessment diary. It is essentially a personalised list of modules, dates for assessment submission and return of feedback accompanied by a series of automated reminders before each of the deadlines. This has helped address the issue of “assessment bunching” whereby several assessment deadlines fall on the same date, resulting in poorer quality submissions as students have less time to spend on each assignment, as well as the lack of opportunity for formative feedback.
Closing the feedback loop: supporting dialogue and action on feedback
The University of Dundee uses a combination of an assignment cover sheet and a reflective journal to achieve this on one online programme.
Students use the cover sheet to reflect on how well they think they have met the criteria and indicate how previous feedback has influenced this assignment. Following feedback from the tutor they use a wiki to reflect on how the tutor feedback related to their self-evaluation, what lessons they have learned and what future actions they will take. This ‘scaffolded’ approach has resulted in qualitative improvements in learning and staff satisfaction.
"Neglecting dialogue can lead to dissatisfaction with feedback. ... Simply providing feedback does not ensure that students read it, understand it, or use it to promote learning."
University of Dundee
The Institute of Education has developed a similar approach and has published guidance on the use of its student feedback response form.
Our video further explores reconceptualising feedback.
Supporting self and peer review
The University of Westminster has evaluated the application of a making assessment count (MAC) approach across a range of different institutions. The MAC approach is intended to promote student self-reflection to enhance learning. It uses a range of simple technologies in an integrated process that collates feedback, guides student reflections, and facilitates their use of feedback to improve performance.
As part of this work some institutions combined the MAC approach with a peer review process.
Research suggests that embedding peer practices in curricula may be the single factor that will make the biggest difference to student learning. Reviewing others’ work develops critical thinking and independence of judgement, reduces dependency on the teacher, and results in students generating feedback for themselves while they produce it for others.
The University of Edinburgh found evidence that the use of a free online tool (Peerwise) that permits cohorts of students to create, answer and discuss assessment questions across a range of undergraduate science courses was effective in improving student attainment. The PEER Toolkit produced by the University of Strathclyde offers guidance in the form of a ‘how to’ guide on peer review and other support materials.
Improving effectiveness and efficiency
Many academic staff have been delighted to find that giving better feedback actually reduces the overall amount of time they spend giving feedback, avoids the need to repeat the same feedback many times and improves learners’ self-dependency.
"... seeing students making progress through feedback helps to ensure that marking and feedback are worthwhile and rewarding activities for assessors. There is no reason why assessment cannot be as rewarding and inspiring as teaching."
Institute of Education
The University of Dundee replaced a personal tutor system with a technology-supported approach to team tutoring. The technology elements consist of a blog, Twitter and a centralised email account. All programme communications between academic tutors, administrators, participants and associate staff take place via these utilities. The approach has enabled an academic team that has halved in size over the last five years to deliver more effective longitudinal support to its learners and to evidence the following benefits:
- Enhanced self-direction in programme participants
- Greater opportunities for peer assessment and collaboration/networking in a distance learning context
- Improved final results
- Improved informal staff development opportunities
- Workload savings for participants and all staff groups
- Speedier response time for communication
- Better quality feedback and more consistency across a geographically diverse team
- Improved support for participants and associate staff.
Key steps to take in moving towards a more longitudinal approach are:
- Clarify what purpose feedback is expected to serve in your university or college - you might do this with reference to your underpinning educational principles
- Undertake a sample audit of feedback to stimulate discussion about how well existing practice matches your aims
- Review your assessment timelines to ensure there are sufficient formative activities and that these are timed so that feedback can inform future assignments
- Review the opportunities for dialogue around feedback to ensure an appropriate mix of self reflection, peer review and tutor feedback supported in ways that enable you to close the feedback loop
You can find more practical advice on implementing a longitudinal approach online, with current thinking and resources from universities and colleges undertaking projects in areas such as feedback, feed forward,longitudinal and ipsative assessment.
This is one in a series of guides around assessment and feedback.
You may also like our guides on:
- Electronic management of assessment (EMA)
- Changing assessment and feedback practice with the help of technology
- Enhancing student employability through technology supported assessment and feedback.
For more detailed information, see our guide on transforming assessment and feedback with technology.
For any further information or to provide feedback of any of the resources contact Lisa Gray.