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MIHE Blog News, views and insights from Macmillan International Higher Education

Turning Feedback Into Feedforward

by Trevor Day 24th September 2019

How can lecturers help their students turn feedback into future action? Trevor Day gives his top tips.

Students are in danger of handling feedback from their lecturers passively. They may simply regard marks and comments as things that belong to their past assignments. As lecturers, how can we work with students to turn our feedback into their future action?

As lecturers and teachers, we are committed to giving feedback to students in a helpful and timely manner. In the UK this is not only for sound educational reasons but because we’re concerned about getting low scores for feedback and assessment in the National Student Survey. Giving timely, high quality feedback is much more than a benchmark, whether for a student or an institution. Feedback should be a springboard for learning.

Effective feedback starts from creating a learning culture in which feedback can thrive. If students are to benefit from feedback it is not just the responsibility of staff: students need to play an active role too (Nash and Winstone, 2017). Students need to recognise that they are receiving feedback and be proactive if they are to gain maximum benefit from that feedback.

What makes for an effective feedback process? Based on a considerable volume of research literature (see, for example, Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Hounsell et al, 2008; Nicol, 2010; Boud and Molloy, 2013), key elements of good feedback include:
  • Reinforcing what the student is doing right, as well as what they could do better
  • Letting students know what they need to do, and how, in order to improve, using specific examples
  • Being timely. e.g. by reducing the time between assignment completion and feedback as far as possible
  • Being specific e.g. by relating feedback to specific learning outcomes and the assessment criteria for the assignment
  • Remembering that for students, receiving critical feedback can be emotionally challenging and needs to be handled with sensitivity
  • Wherever possible, tailoring feedback to the individual based on their level of understanding
  • Focusing on individual achievement and progress, in a growth-orientated way, rather than making comparisons between individuals
  • Involving students in the feedback process e.g. students working with one another to interpret feedback, and providing opportunities for students to seek clarification and give you feedback.

Feedback should be a two-way process. This checklist needs to be tempered with realism. If we are marking the work of 200 students, how realistic is it to give detailed, specific feedback to each individual? Even then, we can devise workable strategies; for example, giving generic feedback to all students soon after they submit their assignment and leaving specific feedback for when we return each person’s marked assignment (and so not having to repeat the general points).
Photo by José Alejandro Cuffia. Available on Unsplash via the Unsplash license.
Encourage students to write down the action points (such as in a learning logbook or in an ‘action points’ electronic file).

Feed-forward is when feedback is turned into action. What will our students do in order to perform better next time? The best time to consider this is when the student first engages with detailed feedback. We might ask, “Based on the feedback you’ve just received, what three things will you do differently next time you have a similar assignment?” Follow up action might involve the student having to gather more information, such as learning from library resources how to cite and reference appropriately. Encourage students to write down the action points (such as in a learning logbook or in an ‘action points’ electronic file).

If we habitually link feedback with feed-forward, students will do too and they’ll gradually internalise the process. That way, the time invested in giving feedback will not be wasted but will help enhance students’ learning.

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Featured photo by Wynand van Poortvliet. Available on Unsplash via the Unsplash License.