Mary McGee Wood - Assessment and Feedback - Training and Consultancy

Teachers to students

"Feedback is an essential part of education and training programmes. It helps learners to maximise their potential at different stages of training, raise their awareness of strengths and areas for improvement, and identify actions to be taken to improve performance.

Feedback can be seen as informal (for example in day-to-day encounters between teachers and students or trainees, between peers or between colleagues) or formal (for example as part of written or clinical assessment). However, "there is no sharp dividing line between assessment and teaching in the area of giving feedback on learning" (Ramsden, 1992, p. 193). Feedback is part of the overall dialogue or interaction between teacher and learner, not a one-way communication."

Faculty Development, The London Deanery

The gradual move away from "feedback" restricted to comments written in the margins of students' essays to something more flexible and responsive is welcome (although its implications for teaching loads might not be). And students' growing assertiveness in asking for better feedback - and articulating what they mean by "better", especially in the NUS National Student Survey - should be respected. Universities are scrambling to be seen to be doing something about it, and we can expect the pace of change to quicken.

That change needs to be well judged, or the opportunity will be wasted. It is all too easy, and understandable, for heavily loaded and independent-minded academics to respond to central decrees with cynicism and disaffection. For new feedback mechanisms to be well used, they must be efficient as well as effective.

It is instructive to study the differences between the ten criteria for "good" feedback set out by the NUS from the student point of view and those of an equally responsible group of educators. The two are complementary, not conflicting, and should be taken together.

Yet even these thoughtful and constructive analyses largely assume that feedback is something given to students by teachers (or perhaps by other students). Equally valuable should be the feedback given by students to teachers.