Assessment and Feedback
Useful feedback engages students in a dialogue that will help students to:
- Understand the goals and standards they are expected to achieve: ideas include exemplars, draft work, mock tasks.
- Evaluate (self assess) their work accurately in relation to the goals and standards expected: ideas include reflection on feedback, self/peer assessment, feedback diary and feedback dialogue.
- Apply strategies to achieve the expected learning outcomes: ideas include summarising feedback, action plan, linking feedback and feed-forward.
Developing the feedback dialogue
Understanding and engaging with assessment criteria
Students are often initially confused by assessment requirements. Sometimes this is cleared up in seminars or lectures where they can ask questions and get clarification. Occasionally the module guide helps. But there is a huge variation across programmes, modules and even staff within a module regarding the level of information supplied to students. When students are confused they turn to peers or internet help such as Wikipedia. Fully understanding assessment criteria and getting a grade they think they have worked for is a crucial part of sustaining motivation. Students who put in a huge effort and who feel they have reached a certain standard may be completely demotivated by failing to achieve the expected grade. This is particularly enhanced when the student doubts the fairness or validity of the mark/marker’s ability. (Impacts include intrinsic/extrinsic motivational factors; perception of marker’s authority and relational dimension (Price, Handley, and O’Donovan 2008) ie the extent to which feedback can be debated.
Tips and ideas
- Provide explicit assessment criteria rather than a generic undergraduate list of criteria. See Assessment Criteria and Exemplars linking Level descriptors, Learning Outcomes and Assessment Criteria.
- Use exemplars to demonstrate criteria. Students generally like exemplars but are critical of poor/average examples.Group tasks involving students developing or applying criteria to either exemplars or peer work helps students understand what the assessment criteria mean. Students may also rank exemplars which can highlight the mistaken criteria that students sometimes apply.
- Be consistent within the School regarding assessment tasks. Modules do not exist in isolation and students are confused by unclear or inconsistent assessment terminology. Use the Assessment Profile for information on assessment types and parameters.
- Include draft work and mock tasks which may be marked by peers. Draft work also allows students to test strategies for improvement.
Developing self assessment
Self assessment enhances self regulation in learning. Self regulated learners can:
- Objectively review their efforts: provide self assessment sheets, supply assessment criteria and use self/peer marking exercises. Working with exemplars and generic feedback can develop accurate self assessment skills. A good understanding of the standards required is essential.
- Reflect on their performance: keep a feedback diary; identify priorities for development.
To help close the gap between their performance and the required standard, students can:
- Use assessment cover sheets which include self assessment grades.
- List aspects of their work they feel is good and areas for specific feedback.
- Develop active engagement with feedback
Engaging with and applying feedback
Good feedback should help students view the assessment process as transformational and provide strategies for successful achievement of learning outcomes.
Active engagement with feedback
If you are giving feedback, how can students use and apply their feedback- are you providing a dialogue or monologue?
- Provide timely feedback so that it can be applied to the next assessment
- Link assessments over time so that feedback on one assessment is relevant to the next and so on.
- Summarise feedback and prioritise areas for improvement and showing development over time.
- Use reflective writing to explicitly compare their feedback and grade received with the self-assessed grade.
- Provide dialogue over feedback with peer, mentor or tutor.
Marking, and writing feedback
Students are not always clear about how their work is marked. Typical comments are:
- 'There’s no consistency. The lecturer tells us something else, the seminar leader expects something else and you don’t know where your work will end up... You don’t know who will mark your work'
- 'Yeah, and then there are seminar leaders that are quite generous and they don’t expect as much, and other seminar leaders that are incredibly picky'
Tips when marking
- Give students the marking criteria in advance. If you mark holistically (as most do), apply the categorical marking scale to the broad grade bands specified in your marking criteria.
- Make sure your students are aware that moderation exists and how it works in your particular School, programme and module. Seminar leaders or large teams teaching one module need to establish marking standards before marking begins. Schools will be seen as providing a better and more fair experience in assessment and feedback if students understand the processes involved in marking and moderation.
- When marking formative assessments, self and peer assessment may cut marking loads, but this should not be the main/only motivator involved.
Tips for writing feedback
Do you give a tick or write pages and pages or carefully crafted notes which students then don't read? Consider why you are providing feedback: is it mainly for you or for your students? Which of these categories (based on Price et al 2010) typifies your feedback?
- Benchmarking analysis for grading
- Assist learning for the next task? ie feeding forward
Students tend to report that they see their work is a 'finished product' so feedback is not relevant or often just too late to be useful. Is your feedback also a ‘finished product’ or is it open to discussion? How does your assessment feedback provoke/promote engagement of your students with the assessment, the feedback, or with the next piece of assessed work? Are there opportunities for your students to improve their assessment performance based on your feedback? How will this work for them?
Further reading and useful links
L&T Network event 2011: Margo McKeever and Feedback First Project. (Presentation; Ideas)
Oxford Brookes University: Osney Group Feedback: An agenda for Change
Price, M. & O'Donovan, B. (2006) 'Clarifying Assessment Criteria and Standards', in Bryan, C. & Clegg, S., ed. ', Innovative Assessment in Higher Education, pp. 100-109, Routledge: New York
SEDA Blog (2014-2015): Graham Gibbs '53 Powerful Ideas': Numbers 27 (Making Feedback Work: Assessment) and 28 (Making Feedback Work: Students).
What students say: Student comments on feedback (TESTA 2010-2015)