Enhancing Feedback Enhancing Feedback

Briefing and training of students


Informing students about feedback
Helping students use feedback well
Elective feedback


There is abundant evidence (from research and from discussions of National Student Survey results) that students don’t necessarily know what feedback is, or recognize feedback in at least some of the forms in which it is given to them. This is hardly surprising, given that feedback practices vary widely — between secondary and higher education, across universities, between subject areas, across successive years of study, and from one lecturer or tutor to another.


Consequently, informing students about feedback, so that they are well-briefed about how, when and where they’ll get feedback is not just important but essential, and on a course-by-course basis. There’s also a compelling case for helping students use feedback well, by giving them training in how to make sense of feedback and in how to use it to improve their learning. As Sadler (1998, p.78) has argued, "It cannot simply be assumed that when students are 'given feedback' they will know what to do with it." A third approach that can also raise students' awareness is to use elective feedback, inviting students to choose what, when or how they'll get feedback.


What's especially interesting about elective feedback is that it isn't just a useful contribution to effective briefing and training of students. It also begins to change more fundamentally the terms of engagement between students and their tutors that have traditionally governed the interchange of feedback. You can further explore how to shift the terms of engagement in the sections Involving students in feedback and Interacting with students.




Higgins, R., Hartley, P. & Skelton, A. (2002) The conscientious consumer: reconsidering the role of assessment feedback in student learning. Studies in Higher Education, 27 (1), 53-64.
Explores students' understanding and use of feedback, drawing on the work of a research project in Business and Management.


Sadler, D.R. (1998) Formative assessment: revisiting the territory. Assessment in Education, 5 (1), 77-84.

Informing students about feedback


What information about feedback would be useful to students on your courses? In any given instance, how big the information gap to be bridged is will depend on the level and/or year of study, the previous backgrounds of the students taking the course, their mode of study (QAA, 2006), and how well-acquainted they are likely to be with your accustomed ways of providing feedback, as well as with the kinds of activities and assignments that will generate feedback. (The more unfamiliar they are with a particular kind of assignment or set task, the more scene-setting they will be likely to need on when and where guidance and feedback will be forthcoming.)


In thinking about what students might find helpful to know, the main questions to ponder are:


•   Where in the course will there be opportunities to get feedback (e.g. in timetabled classes, on placements, through informal interactions, through assignments and assignments)?

•   When will guidance and feedback be available (before, during, after work on a task/ at what points in the semester, or subsequently)?

•   How will it be provided (e.g. in the form of written or spoken comments, pro forma ratings, clickers, peer observation, individually or whole-class)?

•   Who will provide the feedback (lecturer/tutor, students themselves, placement supervisors), or will it for example be computer-generated?

•   To whom will it be communicated (to individuals, to teams or working groups, to the class as a whole)?

•   What are students expected to do with the feedback provided, if they're to make the best use of it to enhance their learning?


Also needing to be considered is the question of how best to inform students about feedback, where the main options are via course documentation (e.g. a course handbook or website), in timetabled classes, and through periodic handouts, round-robin emails or an electronic bulletin board. What rarely works well, it seems, is to rely wholly or mainly on 'front-loading', i.e. saying all that needs to be said in the first class of the semester, or in a section of the course handbook that is issued at the start of the course. It's generally more effective to give out information gradually, and as near as possible to the points in the course when it's most-needed and can be put to immediate use.




Matthewman, A. (2008) Assessment and feedback in modern languages. Liaison 1, 36-37. Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies newsletter.
A report of initiatives in a Faculty of Arts to consult their students about their perceptions of feedback practice, and to introduce an induction programme to brief first-year students.

Helping students use feedback well


There’s also a compelling case for going beyond information-giving about feedback. The goal becomes one of trying to develop students' ability not just to make sense of feedback, but also to put it to good use to improve their learning. Written guidance has a role to play in pursuing this goal, and two such examples (see ASKe, 2009a; and Burke, 2008) can be accessed below. But most approaches don't rely on just one way of honing feedback utilisation skills; they use a combination of strategies:


• raising students' awareness of the purposes of feedback (Orsmond et al, 2005), or aligning student and staff expectations of feedback and its aims (ASKe, 2009b)
• using past examples of marked assignments to 'show students how feedback was used to improve the quality of later assignments' (ASKe, 2009b)
• following up electronically supported feedback with meetings of students and their tutor to discuss how to use that feedback effectively (Case, 2007)
• synthesising past feedback on students' work to craft individual learning plans for forthcoming assignments (Duncan, 2007)
• channelling additional guidance on using feedback through lectures, seminars and group emails (Case, 2007)
• a 'pre-assessment intervention' (ASKe, 2009c), the core of which is a 90-minute workshop which students prepare for by marking and commenting on two sample assignments in their subject area with the aid of assessment criteria and grade descriptors provided by the course team.
• developing an adaptation of a visualisation technique to support students in translating tutor feedback into concrete actions, couched in more accessible language (Hurford and Read, 2008)


For more thoroughgoing initiatives to engage students with assessment criteria, see the section Interacting with students, while strategies for giving students a more active role in generating feedback can be found in the section Involving students in feedback.




ASKe (2009a) Feedback – Make it work! Oxord: Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange, Oxford Brookes University.
A short leaflet to explain to students what feedback is and why it is valuable. It sets out three easy steps for getting the very best out of feedback.


ASKe (2009b). How to Make Your Feedback Work in Three Easy Steps! Oxford: Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange, Business School, Oxford Brookes University.
A guidance leaflet aimed at lecturers and tutors.


ASKe (2009c). Improve Your Students’ Performance in 90 Minutes! Oxford: Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange, Business School, Oxford Brookes University.
A guidance leaflet aimed at lecturers and tutors.


Bing-You, R.G., Bertsch, T. and Thompson, J.A. (1998) Coaching Medical Students in Receiving Effective Feedback. Teaching and Learning in Medicine 10(4), 228-231.
A workshop was designed to improve the skills of Medical students in receiving feedback and participate actively in the process.


Burke, D.(2008) Using Feedback Well (Sharpen Up Your Skills: writing and assignment skills) Wolverhampton: University of Wolverhampton, School of Humanities, Languages & Social Sciences.
This guidance is addressed specifically to students on how to make the most of written feedback from tutors.


Buswell, J. and Matthews, N. (2004) Feedback on feedback! Encouraging students to read feedback: a University of Gloucestershire case study. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education 3(1), 59-65.
Before receiving a grade for their work, students studying Leisure Management were asked to read the feedback and estimate their own grade.


Duncan, N. (2007) Feed-forward: improving students' use of tutors' comments. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 32.3, pp. 271-283.
In a Special Needs and Inclusion Studies module, students’ grades and feedback on earlier assessments were collected and analysed and the results applied to a new task on the target module.


Hurford, D. and Read, A (2008) Feedforward: helping students interpret written feedback. University of Cumbria/ASKe.


McCann, L. and Saunders, G. (2008) Improving student perceptions of assessment feedback. Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Social Policy and Social Work (SWAP) Case Study.
A powerpoint presentation was created that could be used by academic staff in Policy Studies to brief students on how to use feedback well.


Orsmond, P., Merry, S. & Reiling, K. (2005) Biology students' utilization of tutors' formative feedback: a qualitative interview study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(4), 369-386.
This study reports the findings of interviews with third year Biology students on their utilization of tutor feedback. The students mostly used feedback in the following ways: (a) to enhance motivation; (b) to enhance and enrich learning; (c) to encourage reflection; and (d) to clarify understanding. Two further forms of usage were, firstly, to enrich their learning environment and, secondly, to engage in mechanistic enquiries into their study.

Elective feedback


The guiding principle of elective feedback is straightforward: to offer students some measure of choice over the feedback they will get, and thereby increase the likelihood that it will meet their needs. A more incidental but equally worthwhile consequence is to prompt students towards a more active role in the interchange of feedback.


One aspect of feedback where there is scope for student choice is in the focus of feedback comments. As a student, for example, you might elect to ask your tutor to concentrate their comments on one or two very particular aspects of your work that you are keen to improve — your introductions or conclusions, say, or how you use evidence or label diagrams and tables. And simply having to think about what you'd most like comments on is also a way of encouraging you to review the strengths and limitations of your work in a specific subject or course unit at a particular point in time.


A second possibility is choice of the form in which feedback is provided. Would you prefer, as a student on a given course, to have comments that were handwritten, for instance, typed using the 'comment' facility on WORD, emailed to you as a digital audiofile, or spoken face-to-face — and on the understanding that, in each case, the effort invested by the lecturer or tutor would be similar? In other words, and inescapably, there would be a trade-off between quality, accessibility and quantity.


Choice can also be offered over the timing of feedback. Would students' preference be for feedback before or after submitting an assignment? Here too there has to be a trade-off, in the interests of not overburdening tutors and ensuring that no students get relatively more time from tutors than others. In other words, students opting for feedback on a pre-submission draft would be in a position to capitalise on that feedback in preparing their final draft. But they would need to start work on the assignment much earlier, and so meet a deadline for submitting initial drafts, and they would get only a grade on the work-as-submitted (and perhaps ratings on key criteria) but not a second round of comments. The lecturer or tutor would also need to modify their modus operandi for commenting, since there would be both an initial draft and a final version to be evaluated. That might mean, for example, adopting a brisker approach to first-round commenting, highlighting key areas for improvement.




Bloxham, S. and Campbell, L. (2010) Generating dialogue in assessment feedback: exploring the use of interactive cover sheets. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35(3), 291-300.

Tutors teaching Outdoor Studies gave students feedback on their assignments by answering the students' questions about their work. However, first-year students had a limited understanding of expectations and standards and so were less able to indicate the feedback they would like.



Mallett, P. (2004). Self and peer-assessment of written work in English (Case Study 6), in Juwah, C. et al. Enhancing Student Learning through Effective Formative Feedback. (SENLEF Project). York: Higher Education Academy, 28-30.

An initiative in honours-level English Literature which demonstrates various possibilities for drawing students more directly into the feedback process. In the first of two essays students complete a self-assessment sheet in which they not only identify the essay's strengths and weaknesses and suggest what mark it merits, but also indicate what aspects of their work they would most like to have feedback on from the tutor.




Norton, L., Clifford, R., Hopkins, L. Toner, I. and Norton, WB. (2002) Helping psychology students write better essays. Psychology Learning and Teaching 2(2) 116-126.
In this case study, Psychology students were given the tutors' checklist of criteria for their assignments and asked to rate their own essays. This formed the basis for feedback to the students from the tutors.


O'Shea, C. (2009) Elective feedback in an Online Assessment MSc Course.
An example from a course on Online Assessment delivered as part of an MSc in E-Learning.
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