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Feedback can be a waste of time
Prof. Steve Swithenby

Published on 21st February 2006

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Feedback is an important part of the learning process. Without wishing to undermine the crucial role of feedback, I would like to suggest that a great deal of effort is expended in providing feedback that has limited effect on student learning. We can make feedback more effective without any extra effort, but only if we think carefully about its learning potential and end our preoccupation with marks. This is not a new argument (e.g. Rowntree 1987).

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Brown, E., Gibbs, G. and Glover, C. (2003) ?Evaluating tools for investigating the impact of assessment regimes on student learning.? BEE-j Volume 2 (November). (accessed 21 February 2006).

Gibbs, G., and Macdonald, R. (2004) ?Improving student learning through changing assessment ? a conceptual and practical framework.? European Association for Research into Learning and Instruction, 2003, Padova, Italy. (accessed 21st February 2006)

Gibbs, G and Simpson, C (2004) Does your assessment support your students? learning? Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (on-line).? 1(1), 3-31. (accessed 21st February 2006)

Nicol, D. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2004) Rethinking formative assessment in HE: a theoretical model and seven principles of good feedback practice. In: C. Juwah, D. Macfarlane-Dick, R. Matthew, D. Nicol, D. Ross and B. Smith, Enhancing Student Learning through Effective Feedback, Higher Education Academy Generic Centre, June 2004.(accessed 21st February 2006)

Quality Assurance Agency ?Outcomes from institutional audit - Assessment of students.? QAA 097 01/06. (accessed 21st February 2006)

Related links:
Formative Assessment in Science Teaching (FAST) Project website

Centre for Open Leanring of Mathematics, Science, Computing and Technology (COLMSCT) - Centre website

"There are three aspects to preventing feedback being a waste of time. Steve?s presentation focuses on one of these aspects, and a very significant one: the nature and quality of the comments made on the student?s work. It?s important, however, not to lose sight of the other two aspects. First, the assignments in a course/module must be designed such that feedback on one assignment can be of use in future assignments. This is more easily achieved in some subjects than others, but is a crucial factor in students paying attention to feedback. And second, even the highest quality feedback is a waste of time if student do not know how to make good use of it. Hence work with students in making use of feedback is the crucial third aspect to preventing feedback being a waste of time." (Mirabelle Walker, The Open University, 21st February 2006)


"This raises some very important points. It is important to be supportive and encouraging to students, highlighting the progress which they have made and giving realistic constructive points for development.

Teachers need to acquire the skills needed for giving feedback appropriate to each individual student. In the OU, we give initial and on-going staff development in giving feedback on student assignments. However we all need to continually develop our skills in this area and we need to use feedback from students on our feedback to inform our practice." (Judy Ekins, the Open University, 21 February 2006)


"Is feedback a waste of time? A personal view. By Sally Jordan, the Open University

I believe that feedback has a crucial role to play in underpinning student learning, but that there is frequently a mismatch between our expectations of the purpose and usefulness of feedback and those of our students. Until we start to really listen to what evaluation tells us about this, there is a danger that our feedback will be of limited value and cost-effectiveness..." More...