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Importance of feedback in assessment

Feedback has a significant effect on student learning and has been described as the most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement.
I think when I first started this entire blended learning journey, it was because I realised that there was so much content that we had. But we had no opportunities to give student feedback. And so we wanted to give them feedback immediately, when they come in week one, whatever they’re learning, because they’re fundamental concepts that we’re starting with. We wanted to give them feedback right at the beginning so that they know they’re actually going well. So much of what I’ve developed is around giving them feedback and formative assessment. And so in the online space, we do that a lot by doing using adaptive tutorials, quizzes, and all of those kinds of things. But more than that, we also use the forum.
So there’s this thing where students have to answer a question. And they can only see the other students’ responses after they actually answer the question and so in that way to create some kind of discussion Sometimes I use the forums in ways in which the students will have to post a response to someone else’s statement or whatever they may have felt about that question. So in that way, the conversation is in the online space. But that conversation in the online space is continued in the face-to-face session.
So we may be discussing a concept, and then I would bring something that was discussed in the online space into the class and vice versa, so depending on what we’re teaching and where the difficulty is and those kinds of things. The way I actually use the blended environment actually defers in different weeks. So sometimes it’s about giving students content upfront. And it maybe in the form of video or a YouTube video that’s been made by someone else or maybe something I’ve made myself. It may be an adaptive tutorial. And then in class, we actually go one step ahead. Sometimes when it’s really important concepts that are difficult for them to understand, I would do it in the class first.
And then in the online environment, we would use that to reinforce what we’ve learned in class. So it’s flexible both ways, depending on what the concept is. I used the online environment a lot to give students feedback and to also give them a chance to demonstrate what they’re learning. The students that we have are really high achieving students. And because they are high achieving students, they all want to be challenged all the time.
And so giving them things in the online environment that may be slightly out of what we want to achieve in the course, but it will be something that shows them how it extends beyond this course, so things like integrating it with other disciplines, like pathology or pharmacology, or those kinds of things. So we use the online environment for lots of those kind of things.
Feedback is an important part of the assessment process. It has a significant effect on student learning and has been described as “the most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement” (Hattie, 1999).
In this video (2:58) Nalini Pather speaks about the importance of providing feedback to students right from the beginning of the course.
The main objectives of feedback are to:
  • justify to students how their mark or grade was derived
  • identify and reward specific qualities in student work
  • guide students on what steps to take to improve
  • motivate them to act on their assessment
  • develop their capability to monitor, evaluate and regulate their own learning (Nicol, 2010).
To benefit student learning, feedback needs to be:
Constructive: As well as highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of a given piece of work, it should set out ways in which the student can improve the work. For the student, it:
  • encourages them to think critically about their work and to reflect on what they need to do to improve it
  • helps them see their learning in new ways and gain increased satisfaction from it
  • helps promote dialogue between staff and students.
Timely: Give feedback while the assessed work is still fresh in a student’s mind, before the student moves on to subsequent tasks.
Meaningful: It should target individual needs, be linked to specific assessment criteria, and be received by a student in time to benefit subsequent work. Effective feedback:
  • guides students to adapt and adjust their learning strategies
  • guides teachers to adapt and adjust teaching to accommodate students’ learning needs
  • guides students to become independent and self-reflective learners, and better critics of their own work
  • stimulates reflection, interaction and dialogue about learning improvement
  • is constructive, so that students feel encouraged and motivated to improve
  • has consequences, so that it engages students by requiring them to attend to the feedback as part of the assessment
  • is efficient, so that staff can manage it effectively.
Feedback is valuable when it is received, understood and acted on. How students analyse, discuss and act on feedback is as important as the quality of the feedback itself (Nicol, 2010). Through the interaction students have with feedback, they come to understand how to develop their learning.

Academics in context

Information about the academic staff in this video and their professional contexts may be found in the Academics in context document.

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic on the importance of feedback in assessment there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.
Hattie, J. (1999). Influences on Student Learning. Auckland: University of Auckland.
Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 35(5), 501–517.
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