Feeding back in assessment

What feedback models or processes do you prefer?

Nicol (2006) states that good formative feedback provides clear guidance to students about what constitutes good performance while helping students to develop self assessment and reflective practice skills. It involves dialogue between students and lecturers, motivates learning and promotes self-esteem.

While formative feedback is important to guide student learning summative assessment give student the key to what counts for the course (Boud, 2000). Summative assessment suggests that there is an end point in the learning process where the student will have met learning outcomes is then assessed and pronounced competent or otherwise. It does not consider the nature of learning as a life long process which students need to engage with. While summative feedback may suggest ways in which the student can improve performance there is little opportunity for the student to do this unless there is a resit or resubmission opportunity. In my experience these opportunities are usually only given to failing students. Summative feedback therefore may have little influence on continued learning.

Why is feedback important?

Feedback helps students to close the gap between their current and desired performance and provides lecturers with information which can help to structure ongoing teaching. Feedback is of particular importance in formative assessment where the goal is to support student learning by identifying knowledge gaps and creating learning opportunities to bridge those gaps. It is important the feedback is closely related to the learning outcomes for the course and matches those outcomes with the students’ current performance. It is also important that students have an opportunity to consider and reflect on feedback and strategise how to meet their own learning needs.

What are the challenges or issues with assessment feedback?

If the goal of formative feedback is to assist student learning and identify how any further learning needs can be met, how do we know that the feedback we are giving students is effective in this way? It may be relatively easy to respond to areas of weakness for a whole class but how do we do that on an individual level? Do some types of assessment support this type of feedback loop more than others? It is important that feedback is given in a timely fashion and this can be a challenge if there are large numbers of assessments to consider.

How do you balance how much feedback to give?

I find sometimes that I spend a great deal of time giving feedback to students which is probably never really considered in any depth, this may be because much of the feedback I am giving is on summative assessments. It would probably be better to develop the art of skilful inquiry, asking the students to identify themselves where there learning needs are and how they well they feel they have achieved the outcomes. Students then need to have an opportunity to prove that they have met their learning needs and identify further goals. This process is a process well suited to a learning contract process of assessment.


Boud, D. (2000). Sustainable assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22, (2), 151-167

Nicol, D. J., McFarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education. 31, (2), 199-219. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 15th September 2009 from http://www.reap.ac.uk/public/Papers/DN_SHE_Final.pdf

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