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Busting the myths of feedback

01 Nov 2022 | Jenni Jones, Adam Burns, Emma Edwards, Alex Phillips, Judith Hamilton Academics from the University of Wolverhampton teamed up to investigate the commonly held beliefs of both tutors and students in relation to feedback. In this blog they share their findings, bust the myths and offer some thoughts for the future.

According to the Advance HE and HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey (2022) feedback is both a contributor to student satisfaction and dis-satisfaction within higher education institutions (HEIs).  

The first question is: do tutors and students have the same opinions about the purpose, approach and use of feedback? There are a variety of myths, often held by tutors, in relation to students and feedback. Here are our top six: 

Myth number 1: Students don’t access feedback 

Myth number 2: Students have a different view about the purpose of feedback 

Myth number 3: Tutors don’t know how students prefer it 

Myth number 4: Students don’t use it to feed forward 

Myth number 5: Students don’t want the criticism 

Myth number 6: Students and tutors want different things 

Guessing that some of these may not still hold true, a team of tutors with the University of Wolverhampton’s faculty of Arts, Business and Social Sciences decided to investigate these further.  

Initially a survey was carried out to elicit tutor views (we had 33 replies) and secondly, students were consulted through in-class focus groups across seven modules spanning all undergraduate and postgraduate levels (we spoke to approximately 100 students) covering subjects such as Business, History, Humanities, Marketing and HR.  

In short, the results show that tutors and students are on the same page. Here’s how we busted the myths! 

Myth number 1: Students don’t access feedback – yes, they do! 

In the survey, many tutors wondered if students didn’t take the time to access their feedback once they see their grade. Some wondered if students don’t always know how to access feedback and if successful, students didn’t always read the feedback. Yet all students who contributed to the focus groups mentioned they accessed and read their feedback.  

“I like to look at my feedback to see how the grade was justified.” (Student) 

Myth number 2: Students have a different view about the purpose of feedback – no, they don’t! 

Tutors said that they hoped students viewed their feedback for improvement, guidance, showing current ability, for record keeping/showing how grade arrived at and personal development (listed in priority order). Students said the purpose of feedback is improvement, how to obtain a better grade, showing their current ability and what they do well, gives an insight into mistakes and to feed forward into other modules.  

“Feedback tells us what we should correct in our next module…Helps us to know we are on the right track.” (Student) 

Myth number 3: Tutors don’t know how students prefer it – yes, they do! 

Tutors mentioned they mostly give written feedback, verbal individual feedback, a combination of written and verbal, and were starting to experiment with audio/video feedback too but were unsure how students prefer it. Students said they get written feedback but they prefer it when they get annotated comments with the written work, a combination of written and face-to-face is what they want and some use of audio/video. 

“It is good to talk to tutors and get them to elaborate and explain.” (Student) 

Myth number 4: Students don’t use it to feed forward – yes, they do! 

Tutors mentioned they hoped that the students used the feedback to develop a greater understanding, to make improvements, and for longer term gains (feeding forward) but did not think, they did. 

“If they take time to read and to talk about the feedback, I think it enables them to develop and progress.” (Tutor) 

Students mentioned that they use the feedback for future assessments, as hints for future direction, to refer to for new modules and wanted more formative opportunities to feed forward into the assessed piece.  

“I received some positive feedback and a hint re: which direction to go towards.” (Student) 

Myth number 5: Students don’t want the criticism – yes, they do! 

Tutors stated that they felt that students didn’t want the personal criticism and that they only cared about the pass grade. Students mentioned they wanted personal feedback, so it is clear what they need to improve and they needed the criticism so they can improve for the future.   

“General feedback is unhelpful. No critical comments are a cop out…I want feedback on what’s bad to improve for the future.” (Student) 

Myth number 6: Students and tutors want different things – no, they don’t! 

It is already clear from the above discussion that tutors and students do seem to want the same things. Tutors also stated that they wanted more consistency, to be given more time, and more opportunity (and time) for face-to-face feedback discussions. Students mentioned that they wanted more consistency with the feedback approach, a good constructive balance of critical and positive feedback, more personal and less generic, and more opportunities for feedback on formative drafts. 

“If time allowed for it, I would prefer to sit down with each student…and discuss their work with them.” (Tutor) 

This perfectly fits with the challenges raised in the Student Academic Experience Survey 2022 in respect of timeliness, the personalised nature and the consistency of feedback available, but (as also pointed out by the report), how do we make this a reality through an already stretched teaching resource?  

In summary, our new thinking is that: 

1: Students do access feedback 

2: Students do recognise the purpose of feedback 

3: Tutors do know how students prefer it 

4: Students do use it to feed forward 

5: Students do want to be constructively criticised 

6: Students and tutors want the same things 

The second question is: how do we build on this common understanding to make space for more timely, more personalised feedback and develop a more consistent approach?  

As a result of this study, in our own institution we have shortened the feedback template using rubrics, allowing more space and time for more personalised annotations and factored in more formative opportunities. We are trialling different feedback approaches such as audio, video etc. and are suggesting more time and space for tutors to feedback.  

What other ideas do you have to further enhance the feedback opportunities available at your institution?  

The project team at the University of Wolverhampton consisted of Jenni Jones (HR), Adam Burns (History), Emma Edwards (Marketing), Alex Phillips (Business) and Judith Hamilton (Humanities). The team all work in the Arts, Business and Social Sciences faculty and are members of the same Learning and Teaching Research Group. 

The virtual Advance HE Assessment and Feedback Symposium will take place on 9 November 2022 and will focus on assessment and feedback at the programme level and consider strategies that can be enacted for this under-researched area.

Hear from a range of speakers including Professor Tansy Jessop, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education, University of Bristol on the 'Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment' project and Dr James Trueman, Academic Lead for Assessment, Anglia Ruskin University on strategic development and the implementation of evidence-based assessment and feedback policy.

Find out more and book your place

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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