In this seminar, Dr David Playfoot presents four studies investigating students’ perceptions on feedback. He outlines different characteristics of feedback. For example, feedback can be useful and contain concrete steps to take in the future, but it can also contain nice and positive statements which do not directly inform performance and which cannot directly be used for skill improvement. In a series of studies, David and his colleagues explore how students feel about feedback that is nice versus useful. His research helps shape teachers’ feedback practice.


Academic staff spend a lot of time providing feedback on students’ work. Students don’t always appreciate the feedback that they have received, and rate feedback poorly on student satisfaction surveys. The NSS questions ask students to indicate whether the feedback they received was helpful and fair. In this talk I will outline the findings recent research that considers factors that could influence what students perceive as helpful feedback (in that they would use it in future) and would consider fair. In studies 1-3, participants rated real feedback comments for a variety of characteristics (e.g. encouragement, clarity etc.) and their intention to use that feedback if it had been provided to them. Characteristics that made comments usable were shown to be important to students. In study 4, participants were presented with dummy introduction sections to Scientific Paper assignments (similar in format to journal articles), accompanied with feedback comments that varied in “usability” and in “niceness”. Usable feedback provided specific information as to how to improve or why an aspect of the work was good quality; nice feedback included praise. Participants rated whether they considered the feedback was fair in the context of the dummy introduction. Analyses showed that feedback that was usable was considered fairer that feedback that was just nice, and that nice feedback led participants to expect that the work would receive a higher grade. I will discuss these findings in relation to classroom justice and outline potential pitfalls of providing feedback that is overly nice or solely usable.

About the speaker

Dr David Playfoot (he/him) is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Swansea University. His background is in the cognitive processes involved in reading and word recognition, and he has also published papers concerning memory processes. In recent years, he has been increasingly interested in the application of cognitive theory to teaching practice in order to improve student degree outcomes. He is co-founder of the new Student Wellbeing and Outcomes Research Network (SWORN) at Swansea University.