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New Developments in Feedback

The issue of the effectiveness of assessment feedback, has been a hot topic in our School and many others over the last year.  Making feedback as effective as possible brings benefits to all concernedstudents, tutors, and teaching staff.   So we are paying extra attention to this issue, engaging with students, tutors and staff, to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of feedback practices, and find new ways of delivering feedback.  Of course feedback practices are always evolving as we routinely reflect on their effectiveness, but at this time of heightened attention to the matter, we want to let you know whats going on.

What’s happening now…

Here are some of the recent changes we’ve made to the delivery of feedback in some or all of our courses.

Exam feedback:
Last year we began offering generalised feedback on all year 1 and 2 course exams, on WebCT, and offering students an opportunity to come view their scripts in the following semester.  This year (2009) we plan to improve the dissemination of this feedback in two ways: (1) emailing the statement of generalised feedback directly to students on the course, for convenience; (2) accompanying this with the full distribution of marks for the exam, and the SPS exam marking descriptors, to provide better context for interpreting your own results.

Staff in Social Work Social Anthropology are using generalised exam feedback as a basis for ‘feed forward’, i.e. for subsequent exam preparation in tutorials.

There have been discussions of rolling this practice out to exams on honours courses.  In Spring 2009 Sociology will definitely be doing this, in effect piloting the practice for other subject areas.

Essay feedback:
A new essay feedback form has been designed in consultation with students and staff.   The new form is designed to rely less on ‘tick box’ indicators, and to help make sure that feedback addresses areas for improvement, with clear links to the essay text.  Many courses will begin using this new form in Spring 2009.   As part of this change, staff are being encouraged to mark or write comments directly on the essays, and to see that main points are picked up on in the feedback form.

Again, staff are also being encouraged to see that essay feedback is accompanied by a mark distribution sheet and the SPS essay marking descriptors, for added context to feedback.

Class participation feedback:
Part of making feedback richer is extending it beyond the usual exam/essay formats.  Staff have been encouraged to explore new ways of assessing class participation, e.g. tutorial presentations, and providing feedback.  Our Undergraduate Board of Studies has approved new elements of participation assessment in several courses this year, coming on line in Spring or next year.

Staff in general are being asked to make sure that tutorial activities in their courses achieve a good balance between further exploration of the material, and feedback and preparation for assessment.

Web page on feedback:
To help students understand the nature of feedback and its various forms, as well as policies in SPS regarding feedback, a web page was created last summer called ‘Making the Most of Feedback’: http://www.sps.ed.ac.uk/undergrad/year_1_2/feedback


Learning more and future possibilities…

Improving feedback requires a more precise understanding of the local issues, of what works and what doesn’t.  Across the School we have been having discussions with students about feedback—in staff-student liaison committees, in the Undergraduate Teaching Committee, and in a special meeting between Student Reps and Staff  (last 1 Dec.).  These conversations have fed into the innovations described above.  

All subject areas have been asked to pay special attention to feedback issues in meetings with their designated student representatives early this Spring, and to report findings back to the Director of Undergraduate Teaching.  The Director also plans to organise a meeting of SPS tutors this Spring to help identify best practices and see that these are shared widely.

There have been preliminary discussions of some possible innovations in SPS, aimed at more generally improving the learning experience for students.  Nothing is definite at this point, but these ideas are being explored in ongoing discussions between staff and Student Reps. If you have views or suggestions, please share these with your Student Reps:

  • Having more developed processes of academic induction/orientation for students entering year 1 and year 3 (i.e. honours), helping them to understand how to be an effective student, what they can expect of staff, and what staff expect of them (first at pre-honours and then at honours levels).
  • It has been suggested that we might establish a system of student appraisal, perhaps near the end of Year 3, where students could review their performance with a member or members of staff, raising particular areas of concern for discussion and improvement.
  • It has also been suggested that we might establish some form of ‘peer assisted learning’ in which more senior students provide mentoring and guidance to junior students.  This can be done in a variety of ways, from help-desks, to programmes of events, to more informal ‘buddy systems’.



Jonathan Hearn
Director of Undergraduate Teaching
School of Social and Political Science

Edinburgh Students