10 Things I Learnt About Assessment and Feedback

by Liz Austen

Last week I attended two conferences: International Assessment in HE (#Assessmentheconf) and our internal Learning and Teaching Conference (#shult17).  On reflection, here are some of the things I learnt – or perhaps un-learnt and then re-learnt* :-

  1. feedback is only feedback if there is a monitored response to the message (and this requires coherent course design and relationships between assessments)
  2. feedforward is only necessary if feedback (as described in point 1) is ineffective
  3. developing feedback literacy within modules and embedding formative feedback should not require more time – there is only a need to reorganise the time your currently have (although admittedly working out how takes time)
  4. dialogic feedback does not always require a conversation – techniques for quasi-dialogue e.g. audio/video feedback, or written feedback which incorporates an interpersonal tone, can be developed with similar effects
  5. large cohorts are not an excuse for providing ineffective feedback (in Australia they are providing audio feedback to cohorts of 1500, multiple times a year)
  6. anonymous marking and the impact on feedback still divides opinion – whilst some maintain that anonymous marking impacts on dialogue and the feedback loop, others suggest that marking can be completed anonymously before revealing the student details and engaging in feedback
  7. time and space to develop assessment and feedback literacy within modules/courses will prove beneficial (e.g. use of exemplars, assessment co-design, peer assessment)
  8. not all learning is assessed – consider invisible learning and alternative indicators of learning gain
  9. assessment design does not need to be driven by criteria, measures and processes – a recognition of socially useful knowledge and an outcomes/capabilities based approach provides an alternative
  10. the ‘student’ identity needs reframing to focus on an identity as ‘learner’ and place emphasis on activity rather than passivity


Whilst at the AHE conference I also presented with my colleague Cathy Malone (SHU LEAD).  Our aim was to present selected findings from a mixed methods research project which analysed the characteristics of feedback that students valued.  We triangulated student opinions about feedback (collected through focus groups) with their evaluations of feedback texts. Student evaluations informed corpus construction and contrastive analysis. We discussed: praise, length, interpersonal positioning, achievement, detail, forward orientation and error, which should all be considered holistically, rather than as separate components which function independently.


Our research also highlighted the importance of the affective response of student readers to feedback, and how this mediates student engagement with feedback messages. Of particular interest was the discursive orientation, and agency, of student readers within the text.

You can hear a snapshot of these finding in our forthcoming webinar for the Transforming Assessment series. We also hope to publish these results in the coming months.

* these notes are based on the comments and views of others.  I was particularly influenced by the presentations of David Boud (feedback) and Jan McArthur (assessment for social justice) at the AHE Conference.

Previous publications on this topic can be found here.

Image courtesy of Flickr