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Hold discussions with and disseminate the right information to students


Support student transition and establish a dialogue with students

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, between subject areas, and from one lecturer or tutor to another.

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 module-by-module basis.

Further reading

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.

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.

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.


Inform Students About The Feedback They Will Receive

What information about feedback would be useful to students on your programme? 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:

Staff also need to consider 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.

Further reading

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.

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