Teaching & Learning


Engaging students in the feedback process

Peter Puxon, Academic Communication Centre (IoE) and Dr Peter Bratby Natural Sciences (MAPS), explain how they put feedback at the centre of the learning process.

2 May 2024

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Emphasise learning-focused feedback

We all want to improve the way that feedback is delivered, understood and acted upon. But it can be a challenge, especially when feedback is ‘transmission-focussed’: only concerned with teachers’ comments and evaluation.

To change this, we can introduce more ‘learning-focused’ feedback into our teaching, which continually makes the point that feedback is a learning opportunity.

We believe that feedback is effective when students are receptive, when they understand their assessments’ expectations and when they share responsibilities for the feedback process. So, it is important to incorporate activities which develop students’ understanding of feedback as feedback for learning, rather than feedback on learning.

Design feedback for learning into the curriculum

In our case, the module convenor, an academic communication lecturer and postgraduate teaching assistants redesigned the curriculum of our 3rd Year Natural Sciences Literature Review Module. In this module, students are assessed on a 3,000-word literature review and a five-minute presentation.

To help students develop the skills to produce this work, they attend interactive sessions on a fortnightly basis, which are led by postgraduate teaching assistants (PGTAs).To meaningfully engage students with feedback, some sessions contained activities aimed at:

  • increasing assessment literacy
  • developing shared responsibilities
  • managing effects (students’ emotional responses to feedback).

Increase assessment literacy

Assessment literacy is the ability to understand the purpose and processes of assessment, and accurately judge one’s own work.

To improve accurate judgement, students in our module completed a guided marking activity early in the course. We also provided high-scoring literature reviews from previous students together with marker feedback, and a genre analysis task with an example literature review. In the fortnightly sessions, students were encouraged to share drafts of their work with their peers, and they had the opportunity to clarify terminology in the marking criteria with the PGTAs. Finally, students presented a draft version of their presentation to a small group of peers with guidance from their tutor. The students then shared critical feedback with each other.

Develop shared responsibilities

Students need to be aware that the responsibility for feedback does not lie exclusively with educators. Instead, a culture of shared responsibility for giving and receiving feedback should be developed.

We incorporated several tasks designed to help develop this culture. Early in our module, students completed a supervision plan in which the supervisor and student decided how and when feedback should be provided. In addition, students examined supervisor feedback on a previously submitted literature review.

They discussed the quality of feedback with guiding questions:

  • Is this effective feedback?
  • What would improve this feedback?
  • What advice would you give to the supervisor on giving effective feedback?

As a result, the students were more aware of what would constitute effective feedback for them. So, when students submitted their first draft of their review with an they could better articulate their feedback needs. First students commented on the staff-designed criteria, then they proposed changes which were negotiated with staff. The intention here was to clarify assessment expectations and to give a sense of ownership in the assessment process.

Manage students’ emotional responses to feedback

Ideally, we want our students to manage their emotional responses and avoid defensiveness when receiving critical feedback. This requires establishing a trusting and caring atmosphere, but it also requires that students take responsibility for their emotional responses and develop effective strategies for dealing with feedback.

We used the fortnightly sessions to help students develop these strategies. First, PGTAs shared examples of critical feedback they had received from their supervisors, and talked about how they handled this experience. Second, the students had a feedback before they completed their assignment. Lastly, the students discussed a number of provided student comments (e.g., ‘I think it is so hard to take on feedback on board, as you've got your own specific writing style and you're so stuck in your way’), and why they thought the student felt that way.

An ongoing dialogue about feedback is key

Throughout the module, we explicitly made students aware that active engagement with the feedback process was an organising principle. This meant that as well as all the activities listed above, the importance of feedback literacy became an ongoing dialogue between students, PGTAs, lecturers and supervisors.

Top tip

Students may require a lot of encouragement to change from an assessment-focussed to a feedback-focussed mindset, so embed feedback-related activities throughout your teaching.

Further reading

  • Carless, D. and Boud, D. (2018) The Development of Student Feedback Literacy: Enabling Uptake of Feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 43(8), 1315–1325. doi:10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354.
  • Evans, C. (2016) Enhancing assessment feedback practice in higher education: The EAT framework. Southampton: University of Southampton, UK
  • Nash, R.A., and Winstone, N. E. (2017) Responsibility-sharing in the giving and receiving of assessment feedback, Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1519