The University of Sheffield Principles of Feedback
A definition of feedback
Feedback exists in any process, activity or information that enhances learning by providing students with the opportunity to reflect on their current or recent level of attainment. It can be provided individually or to groups. It can take many forms. It is responsive to the developmental expectations of particular programmes and disciplines. Detailed opportunities for the receipt of feedback by students will therefore vary across the University, and at different stages of students’ programmes.
Student engagement with feedback is promoted
Feedback is a two-way process, an on-going dialogue between students and lecturers. In order for feedback to work for students, they need to engage with it and departmental processes should support them in this.
Student engagement with feedback is promoted by:
- raising awareness of feedback by explaining its purpose, benefit and how to use it;
- demonstrating its worth by providing consistently high quality feedback;
- providing feedback in an accessible, flexible manner;
- prioritising it as a tool for learning;
- facilitating reflection on feedback;
- consulting with students and engaging with them;
- articulating students’ responsibility to engage with feedback in an iterative process.
Student engagement with feedback is a key to success. In order to engage with feedback, students need to recognise what it is, why it is helpful and how to make use of it. To support student engagement, departments need to provide high quality feedback as a learning tool. Opportunities for students to reflect on and discuss their feedback should be provided (via personal tutors and by other methods) as part of an on-going dialogue about learning, and appropriate signposting to academic support (e.g. 301) should be offered where it is required.
Students will remain engaged if their departments engage with them - consultation with students about their experience of feedback is a good way of involving students, as is telling them the outcomes of these consultations. Finally, students need to be made aware that they have a significant responsibility for making the best use of the feedback they are given, as feedback is a two-way process. ‘Our commitment’ is a useful tool to reinforce this message.
Feedback is for learning
Feedback should help students to improve their future performance as well as provide comment on work already done. Feedback should affirm what is known and offer encouragement. Feedback methods should include: written, face-to-face, (both individual and collectively), from peers, electronically via MOLE, in audio files or email. Opportunities for students to reflect on their feedback more holistically should be provided by personal tutors or elsewhere.
Feedback is for learning and should:
- primarily help the student to improve their future academic performance (be formative);
- affirm ability and offer encouragement;
- build students’ confidence;
- be provided in all modules during the teaching period through a variety of methods appropriate to discipline and class size;
- embrace peer- and self-assessment as valuable learning tools;
- provide an opportunity for reflection on module feedback via their personal tutor;
- use appropriate technology to achieve these aims.
A variety of types of feedback should be offered, with greater emphasis on formative feedback that leads to improved future performance. Feedback should be provided in all modules during the teaching period through a variety of methods that enhance learning; part of the iteration of feedback should offer varied types of feedback, e.g. verbal, and provide opportunities for reflection. Encouragement is needed for students to look at their performance across all modules in a holistic manner to see where they're going and make connections between strengths and weaknesses across the board.
Feedback is clearly communicated to students
Departments should provide information about the types of feedback students will receive and the dates when it is available, for all modules e.g. a schedule of formal feedback. Departments should also ensure that students are made aware of the range of informal feedback that will be provided during the course of their study.
Feedback is clearly communicated to students:
- as part of their induction, transition and pre-arrival work with students, departments will describe the types of feedback they can expect at University, and how (and why) it differs from feedback in schools;
- departments will inform students of their processes and policies relating to feedback, and publicise the Principles of Feedback in student handbooks;
- students will be given information in each module about what types of feedback they will receive and when;
- Students will be informed about the types of informal feedback they will receive on an ad hoc basis throughout their study.
Types of feedback and dates for delivery of feedback should be included in module outlines/handbooks and be relevant to teaching. As well as providing information about departmental and institutional policies relating to feedback, students should also have the same level of integrated and clear information provided about the rationale behind what we provide.
Feedback is timely
Students should receive regular feedback throughout their modules, timed to help with their final assessment. Feedback on assessed work will normally be within 3 weeks.
Feedback is timely:
- regular opportunities for feedback should be integrated into the curriculum;
- feedback on all assessed coursework will normally be provided within three weeks after the submission deadline;
- if feedback delivery is delayed, students should be told why and given a new due date;
- where there are two (or more) pieces of assessed coursework in a module that take a similar form (e.g. assessed essays, or submitted lab exercises), feedback from the first piece will be made available prior to the submission date for the subsequent pieces.
The three week turnaround of feedback on summative assessed work remains, however, if there is a rise in the amount of feedback offered throughout a module (e.g. mini tasks, peer-assessed work), this may result in the feedback workload moving from ‘the marking period’ at the end of each module, to become more part of the delivery and development of modules. This presents an opportunity to move away from assessment ‘bunching’’ which would benefit students, and could be supported by various technologies to make it quicker to provide, but it could also present workload implications which would need to be addressed by departments to ensure that providing more formative feedback was a sustainable practice.
Where more than one piece of work is assessed, the first piece should always be returned in time for it to impact on the second.
Feedback is consistently delivered
Feedback will be delivered in an accessible and consistent manner, and will relate to module assessment criteria and learning outcomes. There will be an opportunity to view exam scripts.
Feedback is consistently delivered:
- agreed departmental practice is adhered to by all staff;
- there is a co-ordinated approach to the timing of feedback across and within modules;
- feedback is provided in an easily accessible format (increasingly this points to electronic feedback);
- for written feedback, standardised formats are used that relate to marking criteria and learning outcomes (departments should agree appropriate documentation);
- there is an opportunity for students to view exam scripts, under supervision, within 3 semester weeks of marks being released.
Students find it easier to engage with feedback that is consistent in both quality and method of delivery. To achieve consistency, all staff will need to use the mechanism for delivery agreed by the department. It is preferable that not all feedback is delivered at the same time: within programmes, co-ordination across the modules of timing (and type) of assessment and feedback is desirable. Provision of easily accessible feedback increasingly points to online feedback, with standardised sheets that refer to learning outcomes and marking criteria.
Exam scripts should be available for students to view, under supervision, within 3 semester weeks of exam marks being released. However, this does not imply that written feedback should be provided on exams scripts (unless this is existing departmental practice). It is intended that this allows students to see where they gained or lost marks.
Feedback quality is maintained
Departments will ensure that feedback is of good quality. Student reps will be involved in the process of maintaining that quality.
Feedback quality is maintained through:
- benchmarking and moderation processes within departments to ensure it is fit for purpose and appropriate;
- raised staff awareness through CPD;
- ensuring that levels of feedback are sustainable for staff to deliver;
- leadership by example within departments;
- including student representation;
- actively sharing existing good practice.
It is incumbent on departments that they check that feedback is fit for purpose and that it enhances learning at module, programme and departmental level, as part of any on-going annual review process. This is specifically to ensure that feedback genuinely supports student learning. Monitoring of feedback should take place to ascertain consistency of quality and appropriateness of type of feedback offered and mode of delivery. However, departments also need to ensure they have the means to assure quality: this includes both raising staff awareness through CPD, and making sure feedback can be delivered sustainably by staff.
The role of leadership by example within departments, and actively sharing existing good practice both feed into quality assurance. Students play an important part in quality assurance processes.
A student-facing version of these Principles is available in the downloads section of this page and should be included in student handbooks.
The Toolkit for Learning and Teaching page "Feedback" offers more information and support and examples of good practice from several departments as well as links to many resources on this topic.
Indicator 9 of the QAA's Quality Code, Chapter B6 "Assessment of Students and the Recognition of Prior Learning" states:
"Institutions [should] provide appropriate and timely feedback to students on assessed work in a way that promotes learning and facilitates improvement but does not increase the burden of assessment.
In meeting the needs of students for feedback on their progression and attainment, it can be helpful to consider:
- the desirability of providing feedback at an appropriate time in the learning process (see above paragraphs), and as soon as possible after the student has completed the assessment task;
- specifying the nature and extent of feedback that students can expect and whether this is to be accompanied by the return of assessed work. It is important to consider the particular needs of students studying part-time and/or remotely;
- the effective use of comments on returned work, including relating feedback to intended learning outcomes and assessment criteria, in order to help students identify areas for improvement as well as commending them for achievement;
- the role of oral feedback, either on a group or individual basis, as a means of supplementing or replacing written feedback;
- providing guidance about the point in the module or programme where it is no longer appropriate for a member of staff to continue providing feedback to a student on his/her work. This is normally when a student is approaching a summative assessment, such as submission of a dissertation, or handing in a coursework assignment."