Why is feedback and feed forward important?
"Conventionally, feedback is conceptualised as an issue of ‘correction of errors’ or ‘knowledge of results’. Much more important is how the provision of feedback affects student learning behaviour - how feedback results in students taking action that involves, or does not involve, further learning."
Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment (TESTA)
Feedback provides information to learners about where they are in relation to their learning goals so that they can evaluate their progress, identify gaps or misconceptions in their understanding 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.
Feedback should be constructive, specific, honest and supportive.
While feedback focuses on a student’s current performance, and may simply justify the grade awarded, feed forward looks ahead to subsequent assignments and offers constructive guidance on how to do better. A combination of both feedback and feed forward helps ensure that assessment has a developmental impact on learning.
Effective feedback should also stimulate action on the part of the student. The most effective practice treats feedback as an ongoing dialogue and a process rather than a product.
What are the common problems?
Feed forward can only be effective if it's timely ie, received at a point when meaningful action can be taken. High-stakes assessments are often set towards the end of a module, term or semester, reducing opportunities for students to apply any feedback they receive.
Feedback needs to be quite regular and hence on relatively small chunks of course content to be useful. One piece of detailed feedback on an extended essay or design task after ten weeks of study is unlikely to support learning across a whole course very well.
Approaches to feedback
Academic staff can often ignore the need to discuss feedback approaches. The feedback given can then be inconsistent or weak in other ways ie, skewed towards a particular type of observation (such as praise) or short term and too focused on the assignment in hand rather than truly developmental.
A common Ofsted report observation in failing colleges is that tutors (and workplace assessors in the case of apprentices) don’t provide feedback to students that helps them understand how they can improve.
Students often don't collect or read feedback. This is sometimes because it arrives too late to be useful. In some cases the problem is as simple as the students not realising the feedback is available.
Alternatively students can focus on the overall mark and not understand the benefits of making use of the feedback. We discuss this further in the section on returning marks and feedback where we suggest that disaggregating marks and feedback can encourage students to engage better with the feedback.
Students can often be passive recipients of feedback, viewing it as the tutor's role to deliver feedback to them, rather than understanding the need for them to engage in meaningful dialogue around the feedback to aid their development.
Lack of overview
It can often be difficult for both students and tutors (especially tutors with a pastoral or personal tutoring role) to gain an overview of feedback. This may be because feedback is online but stored at a module level or because it is in a more ephemeral format such as paper or verbal feedback.
Feedback that appears self-evident to tutors may be difficult for students to understand. There could be difficulties with the format eg, indecipherable hand writing or with how the feedback is expressed and contextualised.
The Open University asked a group of students to work through their feedback talking out loud about what they understood and what they didn't understand.
How might we use technology and what are the benefits?
Technology can :
- Improve clarity about marking and feedback deadlines and provide students with a personalised schedule
- Help students store and access feedback easily if it's provided in a digital format
- Support individual learners or subjects where certain digital formats are more suitable eg, audio feedback for language courses
- Help teachers make efficiency gains by using a feedback format that best suits them eg, a slow typist may provide better quality feedback by making an audio recording.
How does feedback and feed forward relate to the lifecycle?
This theme runs right through the lifecycle:
- At the specifying stage think about your approach to feedback
- During the setting stage ensure that the overall submission and marking schedules allow for timely feedback that can inform the next assignment. Infom students on how to make use of feedback and also provide formative opportunities
- At the marking and production stage generate feedback for students
- When returning marks and feedback adopt an approach that is most likely engage students
- At the reflecting stage engage in dialogue with students about their feedback and reflect on the feedback you have given, how useful it's been and any changes you should make in the future.
What resources can help?
- Our case study outlines the use of technology to improve feedback dialogue at the University of Dundee
- Our video explores reconceptualising feedback:
Further useful resources
- Gibbs and Simpson's Assessment Experience Questionnaire (AEQ) helps teachers to diagnose how well their course assessment supports student learning
- Sheffield Hallam University has a set of useful case studies and guides on different ways to give feedback
- The Sounds Good website highlights how to provide better feedback using audio
- Manchester Metropolitan University's guidance gives staff ideas for changing feedback practice
- University College London (UCL) produced a useful feedback profiling tool and supporting guidance
- The TESTA project generated resources including a feedback guide for lecturers and feedback guide for students
- Our Moray College, UHI case study outlines how audio feedback improved learner engagement.
In this project the university evaluated how a range of technical interventions might encourage students to engage with their feedback and formulate actions to improve future learning.
Delivering feedback electronically offered considerable benefits including greater control for students over how and when they reviewed their feedback. Electronic storage made it more likely that students would revisit the feedback in future.Read the full research report and access the outputs from the project.
The interACT project placed great emphasis on creating the conditions for dialogue around feedback:
"Neglecting dialogue can lead to dissatisfaction with feedback. The transmission model of feedback ignores these factors and importantly the role of the student in learning from the feedback. Simply providing feedback does not ensure that students read it, understand it, or use it to promote learning."
Interventions on a postgraduate online programme in medical education included the requirement for students to submit a compulsory cover sheet with each assignment reflecting on how well they think they met the criteria and indicating how previous feedback has influenced this assignment.
Following feedback from the tutor they were then invited to log onto a wiki (this is optional) and include a reflection on the following four questions:
- How well does the tutor feedback match with your self-evaluation?
- What did you learn from the feedback process?
- What actions, if any, will you take in response to the feedback process?
- What if anything is unclear about the tutor feedback?
The project evaluation report found that these activities promoted desirable behaviours in both students and tutors and that participants detected a qualitative improvements in learning.