A magic wand for education: 10 ways to improve feedback and feed-forward

lthechat imageThe issue of feedback in education is a burning topic which is never likely to go away anytime soon. It is now a driving issue in improving student engagement and satisfaction, with traditional formats being threatened through the escalation of blended and large-scaled learning courses. It touches on all aspects of teaching delivery and assessment, though is to be felt more acutely with moves towards the TEF in the UK, and learning analytics promising greater transparency at cohort and personal level on student progress.

I was therefore eager to participate in the LTHEchat, led by Phil Race, on “feedback and feedforward: language and timing” (Wednesday, 19th October, 2016). The sessions are short, frenetic, but filled with many fascinating semi-structured debates from learning professionals across the UK, and beyond.

Questions delivered by Phil through the hour included:

  1. What is the most important feedback you have ever received?
  2. What was the single most damaging piece of feedback you  have ever had to weather?

  3. To what extent do the present systems and metrics get in the way of making feedback work for learners?

  4. ‘Feedback needs to be a dialogue, not a monologue’: what are your views?

  5. ‘Written feedback lacks the power of the warmth of face-to-face feedback’: how can we use oral feedback dialogue better?

  6. With a magic wand, how would you change the feedback world?

There was so much great discussion that I couldn’t possibly do it justice here. For a full transcript of the session, see the Storify. What really captured my imagination though were the responses to the final question. We can all have a good moan and get frustrated about the quality, quantity, timing and format of feedback across all levels of education (and we do!), but given the opportunity to change something definitively, what would we choose?

Here are 10 examples from the discussion:

  • Change restrictive frameworks – teachers are hampered by frameworks limiting time and pedagogic flexibility to address individual learner needs.”By changing restrictive academic awards frameworks, giving tutors freedom to do what works rather than uniformity” (Neil Cross)
  • Reduce content delivery – having the confidence and freedom to reduce the teaching load and introduce new delivery methods would free up time for better/more formative and summative assessment “Reduce drive to ‘cover’ masses of ‘material’ in favour of learner-centred dialogue. Journey, not race?” (Rob Grant)
  • A common language for feedback – more feedback alone cannot solve the problem. Teachers and students need training to make the terminology used consistent within and between stages of education  “I’m for your universal translator @eConfessio – staff & students speaking the same language of feedback/feedforward; oh joy!” (Diane Nutt)
  • Give greater ownership of learning to students – greater student ownership of their learner will push them to ask for feedback which will motivate them further   “My real ideal is to help students become such good judges themselves that they don’t need me for feedback” (Sophie Cormack); “I tend to encourage MA students to grade their own work b4 hand in – helps to manage expectations” (Anita Devi)
  • Design better online tools – online tools need to be able to support the pedagogic processes within curricula, not the other way round “have online tools which fit the teaching/assessment process, and are not an assemblage of clever ‘bits’” ((John Couperthwaite); “figure out a way to read rapidly through a large number of coursework submissions without my energy flagging” (Martin Rich)
  • More longitudinal thinking – feedback should connect prior learning and experiences, with future development and learning opportunities “EVERY student would engage with the feedback provided and use it to make their next assignment better.” (Simon Lancaster ); “Not only change but: make the common understanding of feedback more than just a piece of paper you receive long after hand in” (Josh Clare); “forget the buzzword and JDI – teaching is a dialogic process – support growth and learning always” (Teresa MacKinnon);  “More Synoptic assessment, content from multiple modules and more feed forward formative assessment = more learning” (Santanu Vasant)
  • Renewed investment in feedback – there needs to be a greater appreciation in the value of feedback in the learning process – with time, resources and training for academic practitioners.  “every student finds all feedback constructive / every lecturer takes time to make all feed back constructive” (HEA Stem)
  • Build better feedback opportunities into the curriculum – the curriculum should be framed around formative opportunities for discussion with tutors, reviewing prior and post learning, and life-wide experiences “make (good) feedback built into programmes/ activities from the start so it’s not some extra, teacher-focused activity” (Joy Robbins), “it seems to about time for many but maybe we could reduce the need for extensive feedback with better questions” (Robert Jenkins); “make feedback more central to teaching/learning, not a bolt on to summative assessment” (John Couperthwaite);  “helping people realise that feedback is more than the comments at the end of an essay” (Kate Wright)
  • More time – a recurring theme, but critical for giving teachers and students space to invest in dialogue and review of future learning “Give more structured time for lecturers to chat/engage/discuss with students 121” (Chris Rowell); “Reduce workload and volume of assessment to make space for quality feedback” (Paul Taylor);  “Again, time. Give time in assessment schedule for feedback before submission, then students can reflect fact and improve” (David Hopkins)
  • Improve assessment marking criteria – inconsistencies between markers, year on year, can lead to confusing understanding of progress from students; learning analytics may help or hinder this. “make the marking criteria clear and understandable and ask students to provide feedback on their work and their peers’ work” (Hala Mansour)


This is a personalised perspective of a busy tweetchat, but I hope it highlights a useful snapshot of the views of a wide range of educational practitioners, working at all levels of education. Phil Race has published further resources for review at https://phil-race.co.uk/2016/10/lthe-tweetchat-lthechat-wed-oct-19-8-00-9-00-pm/.