Feedback is an important part of learning and assessment. Although some scholars have questioned the beneficial effects of feedback, students still use it to facilitate their development as independent learners and improve their performance through reflection and self-evaluation (Ferris, 1995; Brown, 2007; Case, 2007). Students often express dissatisfaction with the usefulness of the feedback they receive, as they feel the need for meaningful and constructive assessment comments (Duffield & Spencer, 2002). Therefore, teachers and lecturers should be willing to look from the student perspective on what good feedback looks like and make some adjustments (Shute, 2008).  

Students have shown strong opinions about the type of feedback they find most useful. For instance, in Hendry, Bromberger, and Armstong’s (2011) study, first-year Australian Law students found individual feedback valuable, because it was more detailed (including student’s main error(s), specific suggestions for correcting their error(s) and improving their overall performance) than whole-class feedback: 

‘… after reading through it … I saw where I went wrong and what I did right. [The teacher] went through each paragraph and pointed out what was wrong …. So, it helped me better understand … what to do next time.’  (p.5)

However, students did consider whole-class feedback helpful, too, because it described generic issues and ways to correct them, as well as provided greater insight into the marker’s expectations. Furthermore, some students reflected on other students’ mistakes and learned how to prevent themselves from making them in the future.  

Students also expressed preferences for ‘personal’ feedback. In Ferguson’s (2011) study, students from different undergraduate and postgraduate programs found written responses providing suggestions and comments on the specific work more valuable than ‘non-personal’ written feedback that provides a link to grades or the marking criteria: 

I not only want to know how my mark was derived; I want to know how to improve’; ‘I prefer more personal feedback as this is about my development. (p.55) 

Thus, personal comments were more valuable when they were tailored to the individual and facilitated students’ understanding and future development. The most useful types of feedback were ‘brief written comments throughout’ and ‘written summary/overview’. Ferris (1995) found similar results, where students were more interested in feedback given throughout the writing process rather than after finishing the assignment.  

Furthermore, students found it more helpful when some balance between positive and negative feedback is reached. Feedback was believed to have a role in building confidence and encouragement and thus, only negative comments would lead to giving up (Ferguson, 2011). In Rae and Cochrane’s (2008) study, students preferred to receive feedback in compliment sandwich form, which means that praise or positive encouragement is placed before and after direct criticism. This showed the need of fair and honest positive comments along with the negative ones, which would motivate students and protect their confidence: 

I don’t think I could do a straight up “this was terrible.” But I wouldn’t want a fake compliment, where you can tell that they forced what they gave you, like if they told you all these things [need] to [be] fixed, and then a contradictory compliment. (p.225)

Students has also mentioned the importance of receiving the feedback within two weeks after the assignment or before moving on to a new assignment, thus it is still relevant to their studies (Ferguson, 2011; Rae & Cochrane, 2008): 

If it is to have a truly formative function, we need them back as soon as possible. (p.58)

Hounsell, McCune, Hounsell, and Litjens (2008) indicated that students get frustrated when the feedback is delayed, as well as, dissatisfied with the changing quantity and usefulness of comments received from their teachers. Most students valued clear, constructive, informative comments that are easy to interpret. Useful feedback was identified as the one that gives positive encouragement, with good explanations and examples to inform the students (Rae & Cochrane, 2008).  

Many students believe that constructive feedback has a significant impact on developing creative thinking skills across different academic disciplines, expanding their thinking and helping them evaluate different perspectives critically (Rae & Cochrane, 2008; Daly, MosyjowskiOprea, Huang-Saad, & Seifert, 2016). If students know how to interpret and use feedback effectively, accepting one’s frustration provoked by negative comments may lead to acknowledging the constructive part of the feedback (Fong et al., 2018). Therefore, both positive feedback and constructive criticism can be beneficial for students, as positive comments increase the likelihood of future success and the latter specify behaviors that can be used for improvement and thus, give a sense of control for future outcomes (Pekrun et al., 2014).  

Taken together, students from different disciplines, background and nature of university experience have a considerable agreement on what good quality feedback constitutes. Although it is sometimes difficult due to time and resource limitations, teachers and lecturers should try to provide students with constructive criticism throughout studies and guide them to use the feedback as effectively as possible. Feedback is a useful way for students to develop their independent learning, because constructive criticism helps students go beyond what they achieved in a task, comprehend their own and their classmates’ mistakes and work hard to avoid them in the future. Teachers and lecturers should try to design personal feedback, tailored to student’s needs, including specific suggestions for future improvement, as well as a balance between positive and negative comments. 

About the Blog Post Author:

Maria Radeva is a third-year (soon-to-be forth-year) Psychology student at the University of Dundee. Her passion for Psychology started when she was in high school in Bulgaria, as she participated in many national Philosophy and Psychology student conferences, competitions and debates. Furthermore, her grandma was a well-known psychologist back home, so she knew this is the career she wants to pursue. She was not sure exactly which discipline would be the best for her, but after three years of studying different aspects of this field, she realised that she is most interested in Cognition and Emotion, Forensic Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Applied Psychology. Maria is curious and always tries to find articles, TedTalks and books that can help her acquire new knowledge and skills. She is grateful to be part of the TILE Network and meet people who are also innovative and thirsty for knowledge. She became a volunteer at the TILE Network because the education system in Scotland (both Secondary and Further Education) is very different to the one in Bulgaria and she started realising how important the educators’ approach is. This motivated her to read more and even suggest new practices, techniques and other ideas to her teachers. Furthermore, she has been involved in journalism (writing articles, short stories and preparing interviews) for quite a long time. Therefore, this volunteering opportunity is not only a chance for her to contribute to something bigger than student community, but also to communicate with professionals, acquire invaluable experience and knowledge, and of course to do what she loves – to write.

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  • Case, S., 2007. Reconfiguring and realigning the assessment feedback processes for an undergraduate criminology degree. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 32(3), pp.285-299. 
  • Daly, S., Mosyjowski, E., Oprea, S., Huang-Saad, A., & Seifert, C. (2016). College students’ views of creative process instruction across disciplines. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 22, 1-13.  
  • Duffield, K. and Spencer, J., 2002. A survey of medical students’ views about the purposes and fairness of assessment. Medical Education, 36(9), pp.879-886. 
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  • Hounsell, D., McCune, V., Hounsell, J. and Litjens, J., 2008. The quality of guidance and feedback to students. Higher Education Research & Development, 27(1), pp.55-67. 
  • Rae, A. and Cochrane, D., 2008. Listening to students. Active Learning in Higher Education, 9(3), pp.217-230. 
  • Shute, V., 2007. Focus on formative feedback. ETS Research Report Series, 2007(1), p.i-47.