What does returning marks and feedback involve?
This stage informs students about the outcomes of an assessed piece of work. Marks and feedback can either be returned together or separately, and marks may be provisional until confirmed by some form of academic board.
Marks and feedback may be returned in a variety of formats depending on the nature of the assignment and how it was submitted for assessment. Formats vary from handwritten comments on scripts through a range of digital formats including audio and video feedback to ephemeral forms such as verbal feedback.
The process may be fully automated with information being delivered to students on a specified deadline after the submission date. Alternatively it may be entirely manual: there remain instances where students can only obtain feedback on demand by making an appointment with their tutor.
What are we trying to achieve?
It may be self-evident that students must be informed about the outcomes of assessed work but it is equally important that they are given information about their strengths and weaknesses so that they can improve their performance for future assignments.
How might we use technology at this stage of the lifecycle and what are the benefits?
Technology can be used to post marks and feedback direct to individual students without the need for manual intervention. This can provide the following benefits:
- Reduced workload as compared to distributing scripts or sending marks by other means such as email
- Guarantee that marks and feedback will be available on the stated deadline
- No need for students to physically collect marked assignments
- Ability to push the information direct to students or at least to alert them that it is available for viewing
- Evidence that students make more use of feedback that is stored electronically.
What are the common problems?
The return of marks and feedback is a key issue for students and the timeliness of feedback a major source of dissatisfaction. The issue is more about clarity than about absolute deadlines. A number of institutions have told us students don't really mind whether the deadline is 20 days or 30 days as long as there is clarity.
In the case of feedback you need to bear in mind that it will only be useful if it is received in time to impact on subsequent assignments (see the section on setting). Conversely students not collecting/viewing feedback is a major concern for staff and investigation has shown that this can sometimes be due to lack of clarity that feedback is available for students to view.
The problem may exist even when feedback is available electronically as not all systems have an automated alert facility to notify students that the feedback is ready.
A common concern voiced by academic staff is that students are heavily focused on marks and grades and often ignore feedback altogether. The converse argument voiced by students is that the feedback is often received too late to be useful.
The disaggregation of marks and feedback can address both of these issues. It allows feedback to be released while marks are still undergoing moderation so that feedback is more timely. Students may be required to give some evidence of having at least viewed the feedback before they are allowed to see their mark.
Where such approaches have been implemented they have been shown to be of value but barriers remain in many cases. For example, one issue is the inability of systems to support separate release of marks and feedback - such an approach often necessitates amendments to academic regulations.
Case study: activities to encourage reflection on feedback
Manchester Metropolitan University has the following suggestions for getting students to reflect on feedback:
Separate marks and feedback so that you give back the feedback one week and the mark the next.
Ask students to reflect on the interpretation of feedback by getting them to predict the mark they got from the feedback you’ve given. You could even offer them a bonus mark, say five per cent for an accurate prediction. You need to make rules for the attribution of the extra marks eg, the date by which the predicted mark has to be submitted and the degree of precision required.
A final activity could be to have a brief class discussion about why the predictions were or were not accurate. You may think that this is taking valuable classroom time away from the programme content. However by helping students to engage with the outputs of the unit as well as the input, you will help them to improve their understanding and performance.
If you have two assignments in the same unit try using some of the marks available in the second assignment to reward students who show how they have acted on the feedback in the first assignment.
This could be asking them to provide a simple statement at the end of the assignment which explains what they did in response to the feedback and indicating where the evidence for improvement can be found in the second submission. Any marks you give for this should be on the quality of the statement rather than their improvement which will be marked anyway as part of the second assignment.
The format of feedback has a considerable impact in terms of how easy it is for students to use. Handwriting is notoriously difficult to decipher (and there are also privacy concerns around hard copy assignments being left in pigeonholes to be collected). Many students still say that they value hard copy feedback but few of them have organised approaches to its storage and retrieval meaning they are likely to look at it once and then never go back to it.
It is generally the case that students find electronic feedback easier to store and retrieve therefore they are more likely to look at it again.
What resources can help?
- Sheffield Hallam University's Technology, Feedback, Action! project tried ‘adaptive release’ where students engaged with their feedback before receiving their grade
- Glasgow College developed an application called Examview to pull assessment marks from the student record system direct to the VLE avoiding the need for duplicate mark entry
- Sheffield Hallam University has a guide to achieving the three week turnaround