Student Feedback

University of South Australia Policy

UniSA policy related to the provision of feedback is in section 1.4 of the Assessment Policy and Procedures Manual (PDF 436kb - opens in a new window) .

What feedback works?

In their 2004 article, 'Conditions Under Which Assessment Supports Students' Learning', (PDF 316kb - opens in a new window. Graham Gibbs and Claire Simpson reviewed over 80 papers related to assessment to improve learning in higher education. They have crystallised this research into several conditions that need to be met to ensure that feedback on assessment results in improved student learning outcomes.

These conditions are as follows:

  • Sufficient feedback is provided, both often enough and in enough detail
  • The feedback focuses on students' performance, on their learning and on actions under the students' control, rather than on the students themselves and/or their characteristics
  • The feedback is timely in that it is received by students while it still matters to them and in time for them to pay attention to further learning or to receive further assistance
  • Feedback is appropriate to the purpose of the assignment and to its criteria for success
  • Feedback is appropriate in relation to students' understanding of what they are supposed to be doing (conceptions of task, learning, knowledge, discipline discourse)
  • Feedback is received and attended to and acted upon by the student

It is also important to appreciate that feedback can mean different things to students and their teachers. When students respond to the evaluation item  'I have received feedback that is constructive and helpful' it is quite likely that they have variable understandings of the word feedback.


Techniques for giving feedback

The following techniques are currently being used for giving feedback in higher education institutions worldwide.

Assignment-related discussion forums

Not all feedback is summative (given at the end of an assignment task). Feedback can also be formative, giving students a measure of how they are progressing during the learning experience. One of the most successful ways staff at the University of South Australia have incorporated formative feedback into their courses is by running an learnonline discussion forum specifically related to an assessment task. Assignment-related discussion for a are a communication device whereby both the student and the teacher extract benefit from the activity. Staff have experienced significant reductions in workload and students have received better quality feedback and more uniform feedback.

To make assignment related discussion forum successful, academic staff need to:

  • make very clear what the expectations are for communication within the discussion group at the start so that students understand that there will be no other form of communication about the assignment (eg. no e-mail, telephone or visits in relation to the assignment). If students have a question related to the content, assessment process or even marking criteria related to a particular assignment, then they must use the discussion group to voice that question.
  • steer students towards the discussion forum if students begin to approach you with questions (for instance by e-mail or telephone), sometimes sitting with them as they post their first messages if they are unfamiliar with the technology.
  • stipulate online office hours - that is when you will schedule your 'online time' to deal with any questions that might be in the discussion group, or alternatively subscribe to the online discussion forum to receive e-mail notification whenever a message has been posted.
  • suggest to students that they all subscribe to the forum (or force subscription) so that they can receive an e-mail whenever a question or response has been posted.
  • provide students with behaviour protocols by linking them to guidelines such as these: Forum etiquette (PDF 299kb, opens in a new window).  
  • decide whether students will be allowed to answer questions of other students and make that clear to the students.
  • decide whether tutors will be allowed to answer questions of students and make that clear to the students.
  • consider how they will participate in the discussion, with particular emphasis on 'tone' and style of writing, which needs to be a slightly more informal style than usual. Students need to feel safe participating in this type of forum.

Incorporating peer feedback

Students are able to receive more feedback if their peers are included. David Boud (ALTC fellow: Assessment) also argues, in his Assessment Futures web site, that peer assessment assists our students to develop skills that they need to be successful professionals.

Using online quizzes with embedded feedback

Online quizzes in learnonline have been utilised by staff to provide students with formative feedback on self-assessment. Formative quizzes are helpful for learners as it allows them to test their new understandings. Feedback in online quizzes can be general (for the whole question) or specific for the response the student has selected. It is also possible to include links within feedback to relevant course materials.

Telephone students

In the Open University, a striking improvement in student satisfaction and retention was achieved through telephoning students individually 2 weeks before their assignment was due to ask them how they were going with it and running through a work plan for their assignment.

Media-rich feedback

If the writing associated with providing effective feedback on student assignments is onerous, consider using audio feedback. This approach allows you to incorporate tone into your feedback as well as minimising the typing/writing workload. A voice recorder is available as an accessory in Microsoft Office, however some staff have utilised screen capture software to provide audio feedback with visual cues for web-based assignments.