GP 10 Give timely feedback

In essence

Feedback during learning is the most powerful way to enhance students learning. Students need frequent opportunities to demonstrate what they know and receive suggestions for improvement. Formative feedback which occurs during learning is active and helps students to recognize their progress and respond to enhance their achievement. Summative feedback which occurs after learning is passive and sums up what students have learned and is focused on reporting and certification. Lecturers and students can both provide useful formative and summative feedback on student work.

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What you can do

Help students find ways to engage with formative feedback. They need help to interpret and understand its relevance and then transform the suggestions and actions to their learning.

Provide extensive feedback on the first draft of a piece of work that students can then work with before resubmitting the final version.

Ask students in their assignments to indicate what they’d like feedback on or give comments only, don’t provide a grade.

Give feedback that shows students specific ways that they can improve. This type of feedback has been found to be more effective than feedback that just provides comments, questions students or reinforces self-image.

Involve students in ‘feedback preparation activities’ so that they know how to give and receive feedback as well as how to handle it emotionally.

What it looks like

An ideal learning environment occurs when teachers and students seek answers to the following three feedback questions: Where am I going? How am I going? Where to next? (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

Feedback is more effective when students are aware of criteria and are monitoring their progress against explicit standards (Carless, 2007).

Good feedback practice:

  1. helps clarify good performance (goals, criteria, expected standards)
  2. facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning
  3. delivers high quality information to students about their learning
  4. encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning
  5. encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem
  6. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance
  7. provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching, Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006)

Did you know?

Students are not good at using feedback effectively. They will usually only be interested in the mark and not read comments that have been provided. If they receive oral feedback, they will generally not retain it, except if it confirms their own views or fears (Brown, 2007).

Feedback that provides specific comments and actions in relation to content is more effective for students learning than just giving a grade. Students need to have their sense of competence preserved through action-oriented feedback as they are then more likely to maintain their confidence and put in more effort, be persistent and adopt deep approaches to learning (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004-5).

Peer feedback is beneficial for a number of reasons. Even though peer comments may not seem as authoritative as those from lecturers, students are actually getting feedback which time-poor lecturers may not otherwise be able to provide in a timely or at all manner. Students can receive larger amounts of feedback, they can receive it more immediately and therefore have more opportunity to consider and use it to improve work as well as reviewing abilities (de Volder et al, 2007).

Students like to receive feedback in a range of formats but have a strong preference for group feedback where general issues or problems can be addressed or ideal sample answers are given. Verbal feedback is preferred when it is generic and given to a group while written feedback is preferred as specific comments on individual work. See Rowe & Wood (2008) for more...

How it is applied in disciplines

Humanities and Social Sciences: Allowing psychology students the opportunity to resubmit essays after receiving detailed formative feedback on drafts was investigated to determine whether it was a learning experience that directly enhanced their essay writing skills. Almost half the class resubmitted their essays and of those students, 70% received higher marks and appreciated the opportunity to improve their work. Read more Covic and Jones (2007).

How it is applied in teaching contexts

What should you think about when implementing strategies that support diversity in learning in your teaching

Peer Assessment Learning Sessions (PALS): used to provide students with summative feedback, individual formative feedback and group formative feedback within a few days of submitting assignments. The PALS system helps to manage the challenges faced in teaching large classes for giving frequent, efficient and timely feedback to students. In addition, by participating in PALS students are encouraged to develop deep learning strategies and engage in active learning. Students believe the approach has improved feedback for the course and assisted their learning. Read more O’moore & Baldock (2007).

E-learning: an online student peer feedback and assessmenttool was favorably trialed in a number of courses in the Netherlands. The tool enables students to give and receive formative and summative feedback. Students and lecturers found it easy to use. The tool has a large range of capabilities and tips for its successful application include ensuring students are intrinsically motivated to participate. Read more de Volder et al (2007).

E-learning: feedback provided by audio files was deemed by students in a small study to be of higher quality than conventional methods of giving feedback because it was easier to understand, had more depth and was more personal. Students also showed signs of actively engaging with the feedback as they were able to annotate their work as they listened to the comments. They also believed they would be able to use the feedback to improve other future work. Read more Merry (2007).

E-learning: Group feedback was trialed in an online course with positive results. Students were required to develop a learning portfolio and give formative feedback to each other about their portfolio tasks for assessment. Overall, students were highly supportive of the group feedback process stating a number of advantages, in particular that they appreciated receiving a wider range of feedback and were more able to work towards the standard of work required. Read more Poyatos-Matas & Allan (2005).

What should you think about when implementing the giving of timely feedback in your teaching

Answer Yes to these

Teaching philosophy: I believe in student-centred learning. I think about the contribution I am making to the development of students skills and capabilities for their future professional lives.

Pedagogies: Approaches for giving timely feedback which characteristically emphasize constructivist learning suit my teaching.

Curriculum: There are specific learning outcomes I wish my students to have in my course.

Tools for learning: I can motivate my students to adopt timely feedback strategies. I can incorporate the giving of timely feedback into my course.

Commitment: I can identify a ‘timely feedback’ champion who will support innovative practice.

Why is it important?

Feedback is the most powerful influence on student achievement as it can enhance students understanding about their learning and work (Brown, 2007; Gibbs & Simpson, 2004-5). The ultimate goal of feedback is to teach students to monitor their own performance (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004-5). Engaging with good feedback helps students to internalize standards and understand issues of quality in order to independently gauge their own progress (Brown, 2007).

Effective self-regulated learners are able to generate their own internal feedback by monitoring their engagement and performance against standards and criteria. They also know when to seek feedback from external sources, particularly when there is a mismatch between their current and expected performance (Butler & Winne, 1995).

What is it and how does it support learning? What does recent research say?

Seven conditions for providing feedback that affect student learning:

  1. Sufficient feedback is provided, frequently and in enough detail
  2. Feedback focuses on student performance, on their learning and on actions under their control, rather than on the students themselves and on their characteristics
  3. The feedback is timely because it is received by students while it still matters to them and in time for them to pay attention to further learning or receive further assistance
  4. Feedback is appropriate to the purpose of the assignment and to its criteria for success
  5. Feedback is appropriate, in relation to students understanding of what they are supposed to be doing
  6. Feedback is received and attended to
  7. Feedback is acted on by the student.

Gibbs & Simpson (2004-5)

Good feedback gives students commentary on what they have done and provides suggestions for improvement and what to do next (Brown, 2007). In order for assessment to promote learning, feedback needs to be forward looking so that students can apply it to future work (Carless, 2007). The link between formative feedback and its outcomes needs to be linked and methodically measured or conceptualized to ensure that students have been able to apply and learn from the feedback (Covic & Jones, 2007).

The most powerful feedback for enhancing learning focuses on learners’ self-regulation abilities and the processing of tasks rather than the task outcome or the learner (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Additionally, the feedback can only be effective when it is timely and students are encouraged to engage with it (Carless, 2007). Students revealed in a recent study evaluating the quality of written feedback that in order for feedback to be effective they consider that it should most importantly be developmental, and then encouraging and fair (Lizzio & Wilson, 2008).

Emotions have a strong influence on how students receive and process feedback. Power and status are inevitable dimensions of the feedback process and their influence on social dynamics and students emotions needs to be acknowledged (Varlander, 2008). Students are likely to benefit from preparation to give and receive feedback to make the process transparent and create a positive and empathic environment to help reduce any insecurity and anxiety (Varlander, 2008).

With the increase of class sizes reducing the capacity of lecturers and tutors to give ongoing quality feedback, self and peer assessment strategies can be effectively used to formatively provide further opportunities for students to give and receive feedback from each other. Even if the feedback is not as authoritative as that from lecturers and tutors, the quantity of feedback made possible through self and peer strategies can only be advantageous (Race, 2001).

Peer assessment can be a useful way for students to have access to a greater amount of feedback that is delivered more promptly than that from lecturers (Topping, 2009). Additionally, students are likely to further develop metacognitive and professional skills as a result of the giving and receiving feedback when they do activities like plan learning, identify strengths and weaknesses, and suggest improvements with and for their peers (Topping, 2009).

A recent study surveyed students studying in a range of delivery modes to determine their attitudes about paperless submission of assignments and receipt of feedback. There was an overwhelming favorable response from students with the main reasons being the reduced time delays in getting feedback as well as improved accessibility and legibility of feedback. There was an equal preference for receiving the feedback via email or downloading it themselves (Dalgarno, Chan, Adams. Roy & Miller, 2007).

First year students are not likely to be sufficiently critical of their performance in first semester to fully benefit from learning and feedback resources that promote independent learning. A study of first year students using a mix of online and offline learning and assessment resources that provide formative and summative feedback showed that the impact of these resources on learning outcomes was more effective in second semester after students had been through a certain degree of transition to university and were therefore more capable of learning independently and engaging with feedback to enhance their learning. At the same time, students also need to be actively encouraged to use such resources to improve their performance (Peat, Franklin, Devlin & Charles, 2005).


Brown, S. (2007). Feedback and feed-forward. Centre for BioScience Bulletin, 22(Autumn), 1.

Carless, D. (2007). Learning-Oriented Assessment: Conceptual Bases and Practical Implications. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 44(1), 57-66.

Covic, T., & Jones, M. K. (2008). Is the essay resubmission option a formative or a summative assessment and does it matter as long as the grades improve? Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(1), 75-85.

Dalgarno, B., Chan, A., Adams, P., Roy, P., & Miller, D. (2007). On campus and distance student attitudes towards paperless assessment and feedback. Paper presented at the ASCILITE: 'ICT : providing choices for learners and learning'.

de Volder, M., Slootmaker, A., Kurvers, H., Rutjens, M., van der Baaren, J., Bitter, M., et al. (2007). Espace. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 30(3), 63-66.

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004-05). Conditions under which assessment supports student learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 1, 3-31.

Lizzio, A., & Wilson, K. (2005). Self-Managed Learning Groups in Higher Education: Students' Perceptions of Process and Outcomes. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 75(3), 373-390.

Merry, S., & Orsmond, P. (2008). Students' Attitudes to and Usage of Academic Feedback Provided via Audio Files. Bioscience Education e Journal, 11.

Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.

O'moore, L. M., & Baldock, T. E. (2007). Peer Assessment Learning Sessions (PALS) : an innovative feedback technique for large engineering classes. European Journal of Engineering Education, 32(1), 43-55.

Peat, M., Franklin, S., Devlin, M., & Charles, M. (2005). Revisiting the impact of formative assessment opportunities on student learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(1), 102-117.

Poyatos-Matas, C., & Allan, C. (2005). Providing feedback to online students : a new approach. Paper presented at the 'Higher education in a changing world : proceedings of the 2005 Annual International Conference of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) [held] 3-6 July, The University of Sydney, Australia'.

Race, P. (2001). A briefing on self, peer and group assessment. York: Learning and Teaching Support Network.

Ross, P. M., & Tronson, D. A. (2005). Providing quality feedback : where to from here? Paper presented at the Proceedings of the blended learning in science teaching and learning symposium September 30, 2005 The University of Sydney.

Rowe, A. D., & Wood, L. N. (2008). What feedback do students want? Paper presented at the AARE 2007 International education research conference [Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education, 26-29 November 2007, Fremantle]

Topping, K. J. (2009). Peer assessment. Theory into Practice, 48(1), 20-27.