Enhancing Feedback Enhancing Feedback

Interacting with students



Reviewing progress with students
Engaging with criteria and standards
Assessment dialogues
Feedback loops in undergraduate projects
Optimising feedback in postgraduate supervision


A recurring theme within research and discussion in higher education is the need to embed feedback within dialogue and interaction between students and their teachers. Where feedback is a 'one-way street' (Nicol, 2009) or 'unilateral dialogue' (Crisp, 2007), or is seen as little more than 'common-sense', it fails to connect, because students don't have the grasp of conventions and standards within the discipline or subject area that underpin their tutors' comments. Reporting on the experience of one group of undergraduates, Lillis and Turner noted:


"Terminology widely used by tutors and/or in guidelines to name academic writing conventions raised more questions than answers. For example, knowing they had to write an introduction told the students little about what was required in an introduction; calls for the need to cite authorities and sources did not help them to work out when it was likely to be necessary to refer to sources; calls for the need to avoid plagiarism did not help them to work out what counted as plagiarism, nor how to write in their own words." (Lillis and Turner, 2001, p. 55)


Although these particular undergraduates were 'non-traditional entrants', their uncertainty about what messages tutors meant to convey in their feedback comments seems common to many and perhaps most students, as has been repeatedly observed (see for example, Hounsell, 1987; Lea and Street, 1998; Norton, 1990; Chanock, 2001; Higgins et al. 2001; Carless, 2006).


This section of the website explores ways in which greater dialogue and interaction could help to make feedback more transparent and accessible to students. One approach aims to put in place assessment dialogues between staff and students. Another is through activities which give students direct experience of engaging with criteria and standards, with the aim of developing a better joint understanding of the expectations which underlie tutors' feedback comments. A third takes the form of reviewing progress with students, a sort of MoT of where their strengths lie and where they could most aim to improve.


The remaining two instances of interaction are supervising undergraduate final-year projects and feedback in postgraduate supervision. Each is of special interest because they represent feedback opportunities that are typically much more interactive than is usually the case in the early years of undergraduate study. How can staff and students make the most of these opportunities for interaction, and what wider lessons might be learned?




Carless, D. (2006) Differing perceptions in the feedback process. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 219 - 233


Chanock, K. (2000) Comments on essays: do students understand what tutors write? Teaching in Higher Education, 5(1), 95-105.


Crisp, B. (2007) Is it worth the effort? How feedback influences students' subsequent submission of assessable work. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 32(5), 571-581


Handley, K., Price, M. and Millar, J. (2008) Engaging Students with Assessment Feedback: Final Report for FDTL5 Project 144/03. Oxford Brookes University: Oxford.
This report discusses the outputs from the FDTL project focusing on ways of engaging students with feedback in Business schools, although the findings have much wider applicability across the university subject areas. It also emphasises cost-effective feedback practices to improve student learning without increasing staff time.



Higgins, R., Hartley, P. & Skelton, A. (2001) Getting the message across: the problem of communicating assessment feedback. Teaching in Higher Education, 6(2), 269-274.
This article outlines ideas emerging from ongoing research into the meaning and impact of assessment feedback for students in higher education. It argues that new models of communication are required to understand students' responses to the language of tutors' comments, and that issues of discourse, identity, power, control and social relationships should be central to any understanding of assessment feedback as a communication process.


Hounsell, D. (1987) Essay-writing and the quality of feedback. In: Richardson, J.T.E. et al., eds., Student Learning: Research in Education and Cognitive Psychology Milton Keynes: SRHE & Open University Press, pp. 109 - 119


Lea, M.R. and Street, B.V. (1998) Student writing in higher education: an academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 157-172.


Lillis, T. and Turner, J. (2001) Student writing in higher education: contemporary confusion, traditional concerns. Teaching in Higher Education 6(1), 57-68.


Nicol, D. (2008) Learning is a two-way street. Times Higher Education, 24 April 2008.


Nicol, D. (2010) From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35(5), 501-517

Suggests a range of ways in which feedback dialogue can be enhanced when student numbers are large without necessarily increasing demands on academic staff.



Norton, L.S. (1990) Essay writing: What really counts? Higher Education, 20(4), 411-442.

Reviewing progress with students


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Brass, K. (1999) Using timely feedback on student progress to facilitate learning. Paper given at the HERDSA Annual Conference, July 1999, Melbourne.
This paper discusses the implementation of mid semester reviews with Art students, and outlines the benefits of the system for both underachieving students and those who are doing well.


Driessen, E., van Tartwijk, J., Vermunt, J. and van der Vleuten, C. (2003) Use of portfolios in early undergraduate medical training. Medical Teacher 25(1) 18-23
Medical students completed a portfolio to encourage reflection on their practice. Central to this process were meetings between students and their mentors to provide feedback on the portfolio as it was being compiled.


Murdoch-Eaton, D. (2005) Formal appraisal of undergraduates - worth the effort? 01(8) 29-30. Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine.
A report of an initiative where Medical students reflect on their progress and meet individually with a senior member of staff to review their progress.
For a longer version see:

Murdoch-Eaton, D. and Levene, M. (2004) Formal appraisal of undergraduate medical students - is it worth the effort? Medical Teacher 26(1) 28-32.


Tatner, M. (2007) Individual progress interviews as a method of effective student feedback. Practice and Evidence of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 2(2), 151-156.
Students studying 3rd year Biosciences were each given a 15-minute review of their progress with a member of staff, at which their portfolio of work and grades was discussed. The pros and cons of doing this are discussed in this article.

Engaging with criteria and standards


There is abundant evidence that feedback in higher education lacks transparency (see also 'Involving Students in Feedback').  For many students, feedback 'becomes lost in prose which they may hard to untangle' (Castle et al., 2008).  But a growing consensus has also emerged that a productive way forward is through assisting students to become 'more discerning connoisseurs of academic standards'  through developing a firmer grasp of the criteria and standards that underlie feedback comments (Sadler, 1989, 1998; Hounsell, 2008;  Bloxham and Boyd, 2007).  So how could a focus on connoisseurship be pursued?


One avenue lies in strategies which call for greater student interaction with criteria prior to submitting assignments.  In one case-example, students had to complete and submit an 'essay feedback checklist' alongside their assignment (Norton, 2004); however, this could encourage anxiety and preoccupation amongst some students with relatively trivial  issues, and led to a modified approach foregrounding assessment criteria as 'learning criteria'.  In another, a 'bespoke feedback sheet' is used to enable students to review their work prior to submission against a set of assessment criteria jointly developed by staff and students (Castle, 2008).  A third case-example relies on 'interactive' assignment cover sheets designed to encourage students to reflect on the assignment criteria and highlight those aspects of their work where they would particularly like feedback from the tutor (Bloxham and Campbell, 2010.)


A second pathway is to offer students scope for constructive negotiation, albeit with markedly differing emphases.  In one instance in the Performing Arts, assessment criteria and grade descriptors were held constant but students could negotiate the relative weighting given to each criterion to reflect the distinctive features of their design project (Kleimann, 2007). In another instance involving statistics and biology students, the approach adopted had mixed self and peer assessment with the development of criteria generated or selected by  the students concerned  (Poon et al, 2009).


A third possibility also entails a blend of strategies.  The outstanding example of this multi-pronged approach is a sustained series of R & D initiatives in the Business School at Oxford Brookes University to engage students with assessment criteria and standards.  The strategies adopted mix explicit articulation with tacit communication via interaction and practice-focused experiences — what they have called 'inviting students into the marking process' (O'Donovan et al. 2004; c.f. Bloxham and West, 2007). The strategies have included:


•   marking workshops

prior to the workshop, students mark and comment on two unmarked exemplar assignments; the workshop itself provides opportunities to share and justify marks in small groups and plenary discussion led by the tutor. (O'Donovan et al. 2004; Rust et al., 2003)


•   criteria-focused peer review

students' individual draft assignments are peer-reviewed in class, then revised and formally submitted; and when the assignments are returned, there is tutor-led discussion of the feedback. (e.g. Price et al., 2007; Handley Price and Millar, 2008, see espec. Appendix 2, pp. 42-43; c.f. also Bloxham and West, 2004)


•   generic tutor feedback and discussion of a sample of draft assignments

following students' submission of draft assignments, the tutor marks a sample and convenes an in-class discussion of his/her generic feedback; students then revise and resubmit their assignments, accompanied by a reflective commentary on how they had incorporated the feedback. (Handley Price and Millar, 2008, see espec. Appendix 2, pp. 46-47)


•   exemplars with illustrative feedback comments

prior to submission of final assignments, the tutor posts previously marked exemplar assignments, annotated with feedback, on a discussion board, and students are encouraged to post criteria-related comments and questions to tutors and peers. (Handley & Williams 2009; Handley Price and Millar, 2008, see espec. Appendix 2, pp. 44-45)




Bloxham, S. and West, A. (2007). Learning to write in higher education: students’ perceptions of an intervention in developing understanding of assessment criteria. Teaching in Higher Education 12(1), 77–89.

Research on the development of Sports and Business & Management students' grasp of assessment criteria highlighted the value of verbal clarification of written guidance and feedback in tandem with peer assessment.



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 on an outdoor studies degree attempted to set up a dialogue with students by providing

written feedback in response to students’ questions about their work, requested on

their assignment cover sheets. While the approach encouraged students to think about their writing, it needed to be combined with peer discussion to help nourish students’ grasp of staff expectations and standards.



Case, S. (2007). Reconfiguring and realigning the assessment feedback processes for an undergraduate criminology degree. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 32 (3), 285-299.
A reformulated system of assessment feedback was implemented with undergraduates taking Criminology modules in Applied Social Science. An electronic template form with a statement bank and the offer of follow-up, feedback consolidation meetings with the tutor was provided.


Castle, P. et al. (2008) Enhancing feedback: the development of a criterion-based marking template for students on a sport degree programme. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education 7(1). Higher Education Academy Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Network.
Tutors and students studying Physical Education developed a set of assessment criteria, which students then used to review their work before submission.


Cathers, I. (2006) Feedforward and feedback: helping students and staff engage with the standards. Synergy Issue 24. University of Sydney Institute for Teaching and Learning.
In this case study, Health Sciences students were asked to grade themselves against the criteria which were used to mark their assignments. Feedback from the tutors then focused on any discrepancies between their own grading and that of the student.


Cuffe, N., and Jackson, s. (2006) Engaging students in the implementation of criterion referenced assessment in first year law. 9th Pacific Rim First Year in Higher Education Conference, Griffith University, Gold coast, 12-14 July 2006.
This paper discusses the use of students’ feedback on criterion referenced assessment and the strategies adopted in a first year Law program to engage students more fully and enhance their learning outcomes.


Elwood, J. & Klenowski, V. (2002) Creating communities of shared practice: the challenges of assessment use in learning and teaching. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 27(3), 243-256.
This paper reflects on establishing a common understanding of marking criteria and self assessment in a postgraduate Education course.


Handley, K. and Williams, L. (2009). From copying to learning: using exemplars to engage

students with assessment criteria and feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education,First published on: 02 October 2009 (iFirst)



Handley, K., Price, M. and Millar, J. (2008) Engaging Students with Assessment Feedback: Final Report for FDTL5 Project 144/03. Oxford Brookes University: Oxford.



Juwah, C. et al. (2004) Enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in student feedback. Case Study 4 in: Enhancing Student Learning through Effective Formative Feedback. Higher Education Academy: Student Enhanced Learning through Effective Feedback project.

Staff teaching final-year Accounting and Finance used grade-related criteria and a bank of feedback statements to provide quick and detailed feedback.

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Kleiman, P. (2007) Negotiating assessment: an approach to assessing practical work, including assessment criteria. Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Dance, Drama and Music (PALATINE) Working Paper.
An approach to assessing Performing Arts students, where individual students discussed grade criteria and the weighting that should be given to them for their assignment with a member of staff.


Norton, L. (2004) Using assessment criteria as learning criteria: a case study in psychology. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 29 (6), 687-702.
The article explores the reconceptualization of assessment criteria as learning criteria in PALS (psychology applied learning scenarios).


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’Donovan, B., Price, M., and Rust, C. (2008). Developing student understanding of assessment standards: a nested hierarchy of approaches. Teaching in Higher Education 13(2), 205-217.

Reviews the conceptual underpinnings to a series of initiatives in Business and Management Studies at Oxford Brookes University to promote students' engagement with assessment criteria and standards. A 'nested hierarchy' of approaches have been pursued, including the traditional reliance on students 'picking up 'almost serendipitously' a knowledge of standards through feedback on assigned work and informal discussions with tutors; a more contemporary focus on the explicit articulation of standards through criterion grids and grade descriptors; and social constructivist and 'community of practice' approaches cultivating richer opportunities for active integration and application of standards by students.



Poon, W.-Y., et al. (2009) Improving assessment methods in university science education with negotiated self- and peer-assessment. Assessment in Education, 16(3), 331 - 346.

A three-stage assessment strategy was employed in three Science courses at The Chinese University of Hong Kong combining student-generated assessment criteria and self- and peer-assessment.  Students engaged readily with the initiatives.



Price, M., O'Donovan, B. and Rust, C. (2007).  Putting a social-constructivist  assessment process model into practice: building the feedback loop into the assessment process through peer review. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 44(2), 143 - 152.

Explains the theory of a social-constructivist assessment process model and details one particular module in Business Studies where the authors have tried to put it into practice; focuses on attempts to actively engage the students with feedback, and considers the evidence of whether it has been effective.



Rust, C., Price, M., and O’Donovan, B. (2003) Improving students’ learning by developing their understanding of assessment criteria and processes. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 28 (2), 147-164.
This paper reports the findings of a two-year research project in Business modules focused on developing students’ understanding of assessment criteria and the assessment process through a structured intervention which used exemplars, marking practice and the opportunity for dialogue between staff and students to complement explicit knowledge provided by staff. It was found that student learning can be improved significantly through such an intervention.


Sadler, D.R.(2002). Ah!...So that’s ‘quality’. in Schwartz, P. and Webb, G. Assessment Case Studies, Examples and Practice from Higher Education. London: Kogan Page. pp. 130-136.
This case study from Education deals with the issue of how students can be made aware of just what constitutes ‘quality’ in an assignment or other assessment product they prepare.


Sambell, K. Here's one we did earlier: helping first year students to understand what is expected of them. Signpost Leaflet 5. Northumbria University: CETL in Assessment for Learning.
A short case study where Education students looked at and commented on examples of essays.




Bloxham, S. and Boyd, P. (2007) Developing Effective Assessment in Higher Education: A Practical Guide. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.


Hounsell, D. (2008) The trouble with feedback: new challenges, emerging strategiesInterchange 2, pp. 1-10. 



O'Donovan, B., Price, M. and Rust, C. (2004). Know what I mean? Enhancing student understanding of assessment standards and criteria. Teaching in Higher Education 9.3, pp. 325-335.

Argues for an approach that helps students understand tacit as well as explicit knowledge about assessment.



Sadler, D.R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science,18, 119-144. 



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



Sadler, D.R. (2005). Interpretations of criteria-based assessment and grading in higher education. Assessment in Education, 30(2), 387-392.
This article is based on a review of the most common grading policies that purport to be criteria-based. The analysis shows that there is no common understanding of what criteria-based means or what it implies for practice. Additionally, the concepts of 'criteria' and 'standards' are often confused and, despite the use of criteria, the fundamental judgments teachers make about the quality of student work remain subjective and substantially hidden from the students' view. It argues that shifting the primary focus to standards and making criteria secondary could, however, lead to substantial progress.


Sadler, D.R. (2007). Perils in the meticulous specification of goals and assessment criteria. Assessment in Education, 14(3), 387-392.
This paper comments on previous discussion of how assessment is being conceptualized and implemented in the UK, and of how teachers and students construct and experience assessment, and argues that implementation of assessment policies can sometimes achieve almost the reverse of what was originally intended regarding the issue of explicit assessment criteria.

Assessment dialogues


David Carless has pointed to the dangers of assuming that students "are on the same wavelength as we are" (Carless, 2006). His own research had highlighted four respects in which student and staff perceptions about assessment and feedback diverged markedly: the amount of detail of feedback; the usefulness of feedback; the extent to which students were only interested in grades; and the fairness of marking procedures.


Consequently, he sees an important place for assessment dialogues, where tutors can air what is second-nature to themselves but far from transparent to their students — the 'rules of the game' of assessment. He suggests that aspects of assessment which such dialogues might usefully broach could include:


• "unpacking assessment criteria or involving students in generating or applying criteria;
• reminding students that grades for assignments are awarded on the basis of these criteria and not other factors, such as performance in class, attendance, appearance, gender or ethnicity; low grades do not imply a rejection of the student, and hard work does not guarantee a high mark;
• the marking process itself; what tutors hope to achieve through their written annotations and how students might utilise them; and
• second marking or moderation procedures, and possibly the role of boards of examiners and external examiners."




Carless, D. (2006) Differing perceptions in the feedback process. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), pp. 219 - 233

Feedback loops in undergraduate projects


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Heinze, A. and Heinze, B. (2009) Blended e-learning skeleton of conversation: improving formative assessment in undergraduate dissertation supervision. British Journal of Educational Technology 40(2), 294-305
A report of the findings of a survey of Business Studies students on their experiences of being supervised. The findings suggest that a combination of face-to-face and electronic feedback may be most successful in promoting dialogue between supervisors and students.


Heylings, D. & Tariq, V. (2001). Reflection and feedback on learning: a strategy for undergraduate research project work. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 26 (2), 153-165.
This article describes undergraduate research project work in Bioscience which supports students' active learning during the project by both formative and summative feedback, and provides an opportunity for students to reflect upon the skills they are developing.



Hill, D. (2008) The use of podcasts in the delivery of feedback to dissertation students. Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Case Study.
Sports students were given podcasts of feedback on subsequent chapters of their dissertations. They were asked about the balance of podcast and face-to-face feedback.


Mills, C. and Matthews, N. (2008) Review of tutor feedback during undergraduate dissertations: a case study. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education, 8(1) 108-116.
Sports Education students completed a pro forma to comment on the feedback they received from their tutor while completing their dissertation.


O'Siochru, C. (2008) Improving feedback effectiveness. Higher Education Academy Psychology Network Newsletter, 48. p. 4.
In this case study, supervisors of third year Psychology student research projects used the feedback on their supervisees' second year projects to give guidance to the student on how to develop their new project.




Boud, D. and Costley, C. (2007). From project supervision to advising: new conceptions of the practice. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 44(2), 119-130.
Project work has been a common feature of undergraduate degree programmes for many years. This paper examines the implications of work-based project practices in these new programmes for project advising more generally. It argues that the conception of the role of academics in project work needs to change from one focused on project supervision to one of learning adviser. It identifies key features of this practice and discusses differences in advising from one context to another.

Optimising feedback in postgraduate supervision


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Ahern, K., and Hawthorne, F. (2008) Computer facilitated reflective practice in a postgraduate supervisor’s feedback to students. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 2(2).
This paper discusses the key components of research supervision using qualitative data analysis software (QDAS). It aims to a) clarify the substantive feedback a dissertation advisor/supervisor provided to students; b) identify areas in which this individual’s practice could be improved; c) determine if QDAS provided an effective means of demonstrating reflective practice.


Brew, A., and Peseta, T. (2004) Changing postgraduate supervision practice: a programme to encourage learning through reflection and feedback. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 41(1), 5 – 22.
Research supervisors at the University of Sydney are invited to develop an online case study of their supervision practice as a form of professional academic development. This paper reports on two supervisors who engaged with this process and notes the qualitative changes in their thinking about supervision.


Caffarella, R.A. and Barnett, B.G. (2000). Teaching doctoral students to become scholarly writers: the importance of giving and receiving critiques. Studies in Higher Education, 25(1), 39-52.
This paper found that preparing and receiving critiques from professors and peers was the most influential element in helping doctoral students to understand the process of scholarly writing and to produce a better written product. Along with the critiquing process, personalized face-to-face feedback and the interactive or ongoing nature of the critiques were two important factors believed by students to build their confidence as academic writers.


Crossouard, B. and Pryor, J. (2009) Using email for formative assessment with professional doctorate students. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 34(4), 377-388.
A small-scale study where EdD students were given feedback by email. Discusses the benefits of providing concrete comments and raises the issue of the level of authority given to comments and the affective dimension of receiving feedback.


Kumar, V. and Stracke, E. (2007). An analysis of written feedback on a PhD thesis. Teaching in Higher Education 12(4), 461-470.
This paper offers an analysis of written feedback on a first draft of a PhD thesis in Applied Linguistics. The interaction between the supervisor and the supervisee played an important role for the induction of the supervisee into the academic community, and suggests a peer-to-peer model in PhD education.


Li, S. and Seale, C. (2007). Managing criticism in Ph.D. supervision: a qualitative case study. Studies in Higher Education, 32(4), pp.511-526.
A case study in Sociology shows how criticism as feedback from supervisors to the Ph.D. student is produced and managed in the supervisory relationship and interaction.