Feedback

Feedback helps students grow by guiding understanding.

On this page:

What is effective feedback?

Instructional feedback is a response, usually from a mentor, used to guide student learning. Feedback can take several forms including verbal, nonverbal, written and digital.

Feedback gives students direction and answers three student questions (Hattie & Timperley, 2007):

  • Where am I going?
    Reaffirm desired learning outcome.
  • How am I going?
    Highlight learner’s progress/shortcomings in relation to desired outcomes.
  • Where to next?
    Advise learner on how to make progress towards desired learning outcomes.

Why should I use feedback?

Learning is more efficient, and therefore successful, when students understand:

  • The correctness of their conceptions.
  • The quality of their performances.
  • If they are meeting learning objectives.

Because students are novices, they often do not have the ability to self-evaluate or correct their mistakes and only obtain knowledge about what to improve or how to improve from an expert. This acquired knowledge enhances their ability to learn subsequent course material.

Although finding the time to give effective feedback is often a concern, faculty should consider the act of providing feedback as an investment in creating more self-regulated learners. As students improve at reflecting on their own learning, they become better at self-evaluating and require less guidance. There are also strategies and supporting technologies to give feedback more efficiently.

Benefits of feedback for students

When students receive effective feedback, they can:

  • Reflect on their understanding.
  • Clarify mistakes or misconceptions.
  • Monitor their progress.
  • Review missed content.
  • Stay motivated.

Feedback also has many benefits for faculty, including:

  • Building caring relationships.
  • Allowing students to be more self-directed and transfers some learning tasks from faculty to student.
  • Improving teaching and course success.

Further, when faculty receive feedback from students they can target more difficult topics and reduce time on understood topics, improving efficiency and reducing workload.

Strategies for providing effective feedback

Provide feedback that:

  • Is frequent and returned promptly.
  • Is direct and specific.
  • Is positive and constructive.
  • Explains how to proceed or make progress.
  • Corrects student errors in understanding.
  • Encourages students to self-evaluate.

As faculty:

  • Stress the importance of feedback for learning and achievement.
  • Keep comments and grades together to illustrate where and how to improve.
  • Don’t just provide feedback to provide feedback. Provide feedback to help students make a particular change, to meet desired course learning outcomes and to grow as learners.

These suggestions are based on research by Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Poulos & Mahony, 2008; and Van der Kleij, Feskens & Eggen, 2015.

Three dimensions of effective feedback

Poulos & Mahony (2008) conducted focus groups with Australian students to gain student perspectives on the effectiveness of instructor feedback. They found that there were three key dimensions upon which students evaluated feedback as being effective or ineffective.

  • Students’ Perception of Feedback
    Relates to how students assign meaning to feedback, the delivery of feedback (i.e one-on-one v. group; written v. verbally provided), accessibility of instructors to provide feedback, types of feedback received and feedback relating to criteria, marks and comments.
  • Impact of Feedback
    Relates to timeliness of feedback and significance of feedback to student (i.e. generic feedback v. student-specific feedback).
  • Credibility of Feedback
    Relates to students’ perception of the instructor themselves and their credibility.

While more feedback is generally better, if students cannot answer “why” they received the score they did, whether positive or negative, feedback is not effective.

Using technology to provide feedback

Many educational technology tools help faculty provide feedback more efficiently, particularly in hybrid and online course.

Discussion boards

Discussion boards are a great way to provide students with both peer and faculty feedback. Keeping a regular presence throughout online classes supports student learning.

Online quizzes

When giving multiple choice quizzes or comprehension questions, online learning management systems such as UBlearns can automatically grade student responses. They also offer a variety of question types such as fill-in-the-blank, matching and ordering. Students can receive immediate feedback and scores.

Digital rubrics

When using learning management systems such as UBlearns, faculty can create rubrics in their course and attach them directly to assignments. From there, the faculty can grade the student on each level of criteria, and the student receives prompt feedback.

The UBlearns help site contains information on interactive rubrics, such as how to create them, how to associate them with gradable content and how to share them with your students.

Important considerations for feedback

Timing

You should give snapshot assessments regularly throughout the course and students should be aware of their performance in relation to the course’s learning outcomes. These formative assessments need to be before the end of a unit or course so that students have time to correct understanding and faculty have time to adapt teaching.

After the end of a unit or course there should also be a summative assessment for students to determine if they achieved the learning outcomes and to learn if their study strategies were effective.

One of the most effective ways of structuring this feedback is using a rubric. You can use rubrics to:

  • Guide students in reaching learning outcomes when distributed at the start of an assignment.
  • Assess completed performance and give feedback during draft stages of the assignment and at the end.

Consistency

Giving feedback can be subjective; one grader may consider a product “good” while another may not. To reduce subjectivity, especially when there are multiple graders, use a rubric to create criteria for the assignment, as well as a scoring system.

Common examples to avoid

Written explanation

Unclear: Good job

By simply giving two words of feedback, a student would not know if understanding needs to be clarified or if mistakes need to be corrected and would be more likely to have the same problem in the future.

Clear: I enjoyed your presentation. You spoke clearly and concisely and were knowledgeable about your topic. To improve your accessibility, incorporate a higher contrast on your slides. Also check your APA formatting as there were several errors.  I look forward to seeing your next presentation.

Criteria scale

Unclear: 1

Using numbers for grading can be effective but only if you’ve provided criteria for what each number represents (see Rubrics).

Clear:

  • 3 – Student adequately and accurately addresses the prompt, providing specific examples. Overall, grammatically correct.
  • 2 – Student somewhat adequately and accurately addresses the prompt. Student may or may not provide specific examples, and/or grammatical errors may be present.
  • 1 – Student inaccurately answers the prompt or does not address all aspects. Response may be too short to answer the question adequately, and/or severe grammatical errors may be present.

Using symbols, such as a checkmark or a plus sign, is also a common grading system. Ensure that there is meaning associated with each symbol and that you clearly communicate criteria.

Additional resources

General resources

Resources for online instructors

Literature

  • Brookhart, S. M. (2017). How to give effective feedback to your students. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
  • Clynes, M. P., & Raftery, S. E. (2008). Feedback: an essential element of student learning in clinical practice. Nurse Education in practice8(6), 405-411.
  • Esambe, E., Mosito, C., Pather, S. (2016). First-year students’ essay writing practices: Formative feedback and interim literacies. Reading & Writing 7(1).
  • Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: an integrated approach to designing college courses (Revised and updated edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research77(1), 81-112.
  • Miller, D. L., Sawatzky, J. V., Chernomas, W. (2018). Clinical faculty development initiative: Providing student feedback. Journal of Professional Nursing.
  • Poulos, A., & Mahony, M. J. (2008). Effectiveness of feedback: The students’ perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(2), 143-154.
  • Van der Kleij, F. M., Feskens, R. C., & Eggen, T. J. (2015). Effects of feedback in a computer-based learning environment on students’ learning outcomes: A meta-analysis. Review of educational research85(4), 475-511.
  • Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1) 10-16.