Thursday, 20 February 2014

Feedback Expectations - Headline Findings

The F3 Project team captured the opinions of level one students before their first experiences of summative university feedback using an online and paper survey (n=288, 6.3% of new entrants) and small group interviews (n=28, conducted in student residences and focus groups). The headline findings were as follows:

1. Level one students have a sophisticated appreciation of the multiple roles of feedback at university that is strongly associated with improvement, but not limited to grade.

Student Ambassadors for Learning and Teaching Report: 
‘Although grades are important to students, feedback is not exclusively used by students as a gateway to high grades. It seems students also feel that feedback can help them to understand how their work has been marked, and subsequently what that mark says about how they have expressed their ideas and methods. Results suggest that students believe feedback can enhance the ongoing learning process that they are engaged with when completing their degree.’

Student quotations:
  • ‘A clear and honest opinion of my approach to the given coursework, identification of my strengths and weaknesses, as well as practical improvements which I may make in the future.’ 
  • ‘A means of improvement where I can hear about where I went wrong. But also a chance to hear what I am doing correctly so I can do it consistently.’

 2. Level one students perceive university feedback to be less detailed, less personal and less readily available than school feedback.

Student Ambassadors for Learning and Teaching Report: 
‘The key differences between university and school that were viewed most negatively were: The level of detail of feedback received; the number of opportunities available for students to receive feedback; the personalised aspect of feedback; the amount of one to one feedback that was received. 139 negative comments were made about university feedback compared with just 34 positive comments.’

Student quotations:
  • ‘At school, feedback is available more frequently and on a more personal level. University feedback is more formal.’ 
  • ‘[feedback] isn't presented to you as obviously - you have to seek it out. At school it is almost forced onto you.’

 3. A significant proportion of students aren’t getting, or don’t know that they are getting, sufficient advice on how to use feedback at university.

Student Ambassadors for Learning and Teaching Report: 
‘The data strongly suggests that students do not perceive that they are getting appropriate and sufficient advice on using university feedback. 49.3% of students identify that they are receiving either no advice or very little advice on making the most of the feedback they are given.’

Student quotations:
  • ‘It seems to be them telling us to note given feedback, that everything they do is a form of feedback, and not a lot of individualised, what I'd term 'proper', feedback.’ 
  • ‘Nothing much has been given. Mainly just an email or link on MOLE showing the marking criteria.’

 4. A blended approach combining elements of written and oral feedback appears to be valued by students as a way to understand and use feedback effectively.

For 78.8% of level one students written feedback is considered to be effective or very effective, while 76.3% consider oral feedback from a teacher to be effective or very effective. 69.5% rate both written and oral feedback as effective or very effective.  Comments suggest that many students expect feedback to be delivered as part of a process including generic or individual written feedback followed up by face-to-face support on interpreting and using it. 

Student quotations:
  • ‘Receiving written/oral word from the lecturer/tutor about my work; what was well done, what was poorly done, why I received the mark/grade given, what I can do to improve to reach a higher mark/grade’ 
  • ‘Receiving comments on essays or other work handed in and graded, discussing the grades with a member of staff (e.g. tutor)’

5. A significant number of level one students feel that limited access to personal, one-to-one feedback from a university tutor a particular challenge of the transition to HE.

Lack of personal or individual feedback and lack of one-to-one feedback were cited as key differences between school and university feedback. A number of students expressed a sense of intimidation when approaching university tutors for feedback, suggesting that the lack of a personal connection between learner and teacher can impact negatively on the feedback process. 

Student quotations:
  • ‘It’s harder to talk to someone in a university as it’s just so huge and widespread!’ 
  • ‘It’s not that comfortable to approach a tutor for help because you don’t have much of a relationship with them.’ 
  • 'It feels like you have to pester the lecturer/personal tutor to get feedback dialogue going. It feels like a one way communication.’ 



In the context of this feedback-rich environment, the F3 project aims to provide support to students and staff to maximise the usefulness of the feedback process and to make the case for the effectiveness of feedback for learning across modules. Its key goals are to:

  • Support students in making a successful transition from the more nurturing feedback environment of school to self-regulated learning at university.
  • Provide practical, evidence based recommendations to teaching staff to complement the University of Sheffield’s Principles of Feedback.
  • Support students in seeking out, recording and exploiting the full potential of the feedback that they are receiving. 
  • Enhance the quality of one-to-one interactions between students and module tutors and/or personal tutors.
Watch this space for a discussion of the Flexible Formative Feedback Project's proposed outputs.

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