This annex provides further advice and details good practice on delivering formative feedback.
Feedback can be provided through a variety of different mechanisms, and need not necessarily be linked to formal assessment activities. What is essential is that students receive some form of feedback on key aspects of their performance in every unit, rather than every piece of assessment being expected to have associated feedback.
1.1 Group feedback, following an assessed exercise, highlighting common misconceptions, errors and technical deficiencies and offering advice on how these may be remedied (including links to relevant resources and/or training opportunities) can be delivered electronically, through Blackboard , or incorporated into a class session. A portion of class time may be set aside for questions on assessment. Depending on the nature of the assessed activity, it can be very effective to base discussion on actual examples of student work (see 1.5).
1.2 Individual students should have the opportunity to seek clarification and further advice on the feedback they have received; as well as making use of a lecturer’s regular tutorial slots, this may be organised through small group sessions, drop-in sessions or by e-mail,. Where the queries are not too specific to the work of an individual student, they may be posted on the unit’s discussion board in Blackboard, so that other students can also benefit from the response and the lecturer does not have to repeat the same advice many times.
1.3 Structured pro-formas/templates for markers’ comments help ensure that feedback is clear, readily comprehensible and consistent and they have the additional advantage that copies of the forms can be lodged in student files to aid the writing of references. The forms should be structured around unit learning outcomes and/or marking criteria, rather than simply offering free text comments, but it is important to provide qualitative feedback rather than simply grading different aspects of the student’s performance. It is good practice to focus on the positive features of work and on suggestions for improvement, rather than solely on problems and deficiencies. The use of coloured paper will also aid in signaling to the students that this is feedback.
1.4 Computer Science have developed a tool which enables markers to generate feedback for individual students automatically by ticking boxes on a fully customisable electronic pro-forma; the text thus generated can be changed at any time and other comments added, and can then be sent by e-mail or posted on the web. For further information see www.cs.bris.ac.uk/tick.
1.5 It can be useful to make examples of student work, properly anonymised, available to students; either examples of good performance, giving students an idea of what they should aim for, or a mixture of all standards of work. In the latter case, students might be asked to assess the work themselves using the school’s standard marking criteria, or the school might provide a commentary on specific points so that students know what to look for. This may be particularly effective with first-year students, who need to familiarise themselves with what is expected, or when a new form of assessment is introduced for the first time.
The work could be made available in a school ‘library’ (although this may risk the examples being plagiarised; so it is vital to ensure that a copy is always kept in the school of any work that is lent to students and that work is submitted to Turnitin to identify any plagiarism); it might also be posted on the web, or used as the focus of a class session. Students should give their permission for their work to be used in this way, and this may be managed through a school statement that it is the default expectation when work is submitted, rather than requiring express permission on each occasion.
2.1 Where the material covered in a unit is an essential foundation for work in subsequent years, schools should provide feedback on performance in unseen examinations: normally giving general feedback on each separate exam to the cohort and/or feedback to individual students about their overall performance. Providing individual feedback on each separate exam is resource-intensive and has only limited benefit in improving student learning/future performance, it is normally only appropriate if students would otherwise receive little or no feedback on their individual performance in the course of the unit.
2.2 Unit directors should collate information on student performance on exams for the unit, so that they may provide general feedback and advice; this is especially important where a paper is marked by a large number of people. As with coursework, group feedback, highlighting common misconceptions, errors and technical deficiencies and offering advice on how these may be remedied (including links to relevant resources and/or training opportunities), can be delivered electronically, through Blackboard, or incorporated into a class session. This will be particularly effective when students have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the feedback. Model answers and examples of actual student work can be useful for some subjects.
2.3 When electronic assessment is used it is possible to generate feedback automatically. Depending on the choice of assessment package and the nature of the exercise, the feedback may be limited to which answers were wrong, rather than detailing why they were wrong.
2.4 The purpose of markers’ comments on scripts is to communicate with other markers and with external examiners. While a student has the right, on submitting a formal request via the Secretary’s Office, to see these comments, they are not intended to provide feedback and are not usually suitable for this purpose. However, schools may adopt a policy that markers should always include a summary on the final sheet of the exam script which could, following de-anonymisation, be distributed to the student’s personal tutor, so that they can be taken into account in reviewing the student’s performance.
2.5 Schools should develop a mechanism whereby students in particular need of support receive more detailed feedback on their exam performance and suggestions for improvement, delivered through personal tutors.
2.6 For oral and practical exams, it is generally impractical to provide detailed feedback on every aspect of a student’s performance. It can be most effective to provide students with feedback on two things they did well and two areas for improvement, balancing positive and negative comments and focusing feedback on future performance.
3. Presentations, Poster Sessions, Practical Sessions etc.
3.1 Pro formas can be helpful by indicating to students both what they’ve done well and where they need to improve, as well as in aiding consistency in the marking process.
3.2 Examples of posters can be made available to students; although technically difficult to make examples of presentations available, students can be encouraged to reflect on the marking criteria for such exercises when attending lectures.
3.3 Peer assessment can be very effective, either in conjunction with assessment by the lecturer or, for formative purposes, as the sole form of feedback. In larger cohorts, where there is insufficient time for every student to make a presentation in class, students may be organised into groups with a designated speaker, chair, audience and rapporteur (who sums up the session, including comments on effective presentation practice, to the rest of the group and to the lecturer) and asked to make their own arrangements. This encourages all students, not just those making presentations, to focus on what makes for an effective performance.
3.4 In practical sessions, feedback during or immediately afterwards is generally most effective. When time allows, immediately after a practical assessment students should be talked through the test, and given the opportunity to review the best approaches and common errors.
4.1 Most feedback on a placement will be informal and oral, delivered during or immediately after a specific task. However, it is important to supplement this with more formal reviews of progress, at the mid-point and at the end of the placement. All relevant people should have the opportunity to contribute to the review of the student’s performance and a written record should be kept; this may be a detailed pro forma, or a more basic summary (e.g. two things the student did well and two areas for improvement) e.g. the system for monitoring and assessing industrial placements on the Engineering Design programme, www.edes.bris.ac.uk/placements_handbook.htm.
4.2 The review should include an opportunity for the student to record their reflections on their performance by using some form of electronic PDP resource. General advice on PDP can be found at www.bristol.ac.uk/esu/studentlearning/pdp/, and an example at www.bris.ac.uk/italian/undergrad/3rdyear/pdp.html.
5. Designing Assessment to Support Effective Feedback
5.1 Students can be given the opportunity to test their understanding of material covered in class by taking on line e-assessments which provide immediate feedback on their performance. These can be designed to be taken as often as desired and to give feedback on incorrect responses, for particular keys skills or sets of knowledge. This form of assessment driven feedback provides students with a valuable learning resource. However, care must be taken in both question design and the feedback given, to promote student engagement and learning. The E-Learning Advisers Network webpage offers support and case studies on the use of e-Learning tools: www.bristol.ac.uk/elan. For an example of how e-assessment can be used, see www.epi.bris.ac.uk/undergrad/web/session6_2006/session6_2006.htm
5.2 Within a unit, structured assessment tasks, in which the student begins with relatively straightforward tasks and moves on to more complicated ones (e.g. paper review, evidence analysis, research report), benefitting from feedback on the earlier work, are effective in developing particular skills and understanding. A ‘portfolio’ approach to assessment, in which the early pieces of work count but can be improved in the light of feedback, can also be effective.
5.3 In some subjects, essays are used to assess simultaneously a range of learning outcomes from basic knowledge and understanding to higher-level analytical skills. It can be both more effective in terms of delivering feedback and more efficient in terms of marking effort to set up separate tasks to assess different outcomes.
6. Supporting Students’ Overall Development
6.1 To encourage students to reflect on and respond to feedback, and in particular to identify areas which need further work, feedback needs to be incorporated into the personal tutor system and regular ‘progress review’ meetings. Those responsible for students’ academic progress should be given copies of any comments made on their students’ exam scripts and receive copies of feedback pro-formas, thereby enabling them to help their students to reflect on their performance across different units.
6.2 Personal Development Planning should encourage students to reflect on their performance, by providing a form for reflection on feedback received and/or for reviewing marks and comments. Students should be explicitly encouraged to focus on how to develop their performance in future, rather than simply on their marks. For example see www.bris.ac.uk/arts/skills/review.doc.
6.3 The assessment for a unit might incorporate a reflective journal or some other activity involving the student reflecting on their own performance, including but not restricted to their performance in assessment, and how it might be developed.
6.4 Schools should facilitate the establishment of student study groups, encouraging students to share experiences and comment on one another’s work, and/or mentoring schemes in which final year students help first-years acclimatise to the expectations of degree-level study. This is likely to require the provision of resources, above all suitable space, rather than simply encouragement.
If you have any feedback-related queries, or if you have developed new approaches to delivering feedback from which others may benefit, please do contact the Education Support Unit. See also:
September 2009, with minor updates July 2011