Feedback on learning In the hands of the student David Nicol Emeritus Professor of Higher Education University of Strathclyde, Scotland Visiting Professor, University of Ulster Adjunct Professor, University of Swinburne, Australia
In the hands of the student
Emeritus Professor of Higher Education
University of Strathclyde, Scotland
Visiting Professor, University of Ulster
Adjunct Professor, University of Swinburne, Australia
Expert Consultant to JISC: Assessment and Feedback Programme
Talking about Teaching, York St John University, 25 Jan 2013
Theoretical perspective – cognitive dimensions
Teacher feedback and peer feedback
Written assignments – open-ended and complex tasks
Practice – illustrative cases – peer review
UK JISC-funded PEER project, see website www.reap.ac.uk/Peer.aspx
Nicol (2012) Resituating feedback from the reactive to the proactive
Feedback should develop the students’ capacity to make evaluative judgements about their own and others work (Boud and Associates, 2010: Cowan, 2010; Sadler, 2010)
Feedback should serve the function of progressively enabling students to better monitor, evaluate and regulate their own learning, independently of the teacher (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006: Nicol, 2009)
Students are less satisfied with teacher feedback than with any other aspect of their course (National Student Survey UK)
feedback is not timely
feedback is not detailed
feedback did not clarify things I did not understand
Faster turnaround times for assignments
Electronic feedback, including audio feedback
Feedback calendars to clarify timings
Improved feedback rubrics/criteria
More attention to providing corrective advice
Feedback on exams
Awareness raising campaigns to highlight student role in feedback
Decode feedback messages, internalise, construct meaning from them
Evaluate and compare this external feedback against own work
Identify discrepancies, misconceptions, alternative views, gaps in work
Revise and reconstruct knowledge based on the inner feedback that these processes generate
Transfer this revised understanding to new contexts and tasks
For feedback to be support learning, and develop evaluative judgement, two cognitive processes must be elicited:
Evaluation – students must reflect on and evaluate their own work in relation to a feedback input – identify gaps, misconceptions, errors, structural deficiencies, other perspectives, weaknesses etc.
Knowledge building – students must use the feedback they generate from these evaluative processes to repair misunderstandings and construct a better understanding. This entails knowledge building.
I use the following term borrowed from Roscoe and Chi (2008) to represent both processes of evaluation and knowledge building:
reflective knowledge building (RKB)
The question addressed is not just how do we improve use of teacher feedback but rather how do we harness and strengthen inner feedback processes?
Students evaluate/respond to comments – e.g. put them in own words and say what will do about them
When submit next assignment say how used earlier feedback (University of London)
Sequence assignments so that feedback is actually used – drafts and redrafts
Multi-stage projects and overlapping tasks
Patchwork text – different texts ‘stitched’ together (Winter, 2003).
For 3,4 and 5 suggestive feedback rather than corrective advice.
Technology: Recording comments and responses so that both teachers and students can easily revisit earlier feedback
Proforma (prompt sheet) for making responses to feedback – the responses are discussed in a tutorial.
Re-phrase (each of) my comments on your essay in your own words: what do they mean? what did they apply to? what future actions do they imply?
If you had to re-edit this essay then how would you apply my feedback to do this, if at all?
How will you apply my feedback to writing your next essay?
Is the feedback I wrote at all useful to you personally, as far as you can tell now?
Guiding principle in educational policy documents
Teacher feedback should be planned in ways that ensure that students are provided with explicit opportunities to respond to, evaluate and act on it.
Might be the single most powerful way of addressing the NSS issue
Can promote learning of scripted responses – students dependent on teacher (Orsmond and Merry, 2011)
Assumes that ‘others are required to identify and provide the information students need to learn and that learning is driven by how others go about this’ (Boud and Malloy, 2012)
Good feedback is adaptive (Vygotsky, 1978)
Still a transmission model even though the feedback loop is closed – students act on feedback
Practicality – workload
In the professions, feedback never comes from a single source: task is usually to evaluate, weigh up and reconcile and respond to different and sometimes contradictory feedback perspectives.
Professionals are not just ‘consumers’ of feedback but also ‘producers’
Nicol (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective
Definition of peer review
Peer review is an arrangement whereby students make evaluative judgements about the work of peers and provide a written feedback commentary.
In peer review, students produce as well as receive feedback.
Not talking about scenarios involving
..….informal feedback in collaborative tasks
.....students evaluating each other’s contribution to group working
.....students grading/marking each other’s work, although some rating might be part of peer design
Increases quantity and variety of feedback
No extra workload on teacher when software used (e.g. PeerMark)
Often perceived as more understandable as peers ‘on the same wavelength’ (Topping, 2003: Hounsell, 1987)
After receiving peer feedback students have opportunities to update their assignments. Hence activates reflective and knowledge re-construction
Simulates professional scenarios – evaluating and reconciling different feedback perspectives – calls for acts of judgement
Cho and MacArthur (2010) showed that students made more complex revisions to their work when feedback received from multiple peers when compared against a single peer or a single teacher.
Not enough attention has been focused on the potential of peer feedback not just as a way of increasing the quantity and quality of the feedback students receive, butalso as a way of giving students practice in making evaluative judgements and constructing feedback
See Nicol (2010) Developing students’ ability to construct feedback. Available at:
One aim was to:
Separate out the different feedback components involved in peer review – receipt versus production
Prior research had either reported only receipt of peer feedback
Or on combined effects of producing and receiving
Much research on peer review was confounded by an emphasis on students marking each other’s work
High-level cognitive activity: students cannot easily be passive
Students actively exercise assessment criteria from many perspectives
Writing commentaries causes students to evaluate and rehearse their own knowledge
Evaluate different approaches to same work and learn that quality can be produced in different ways
Shifts responsibility to student – puts them in role of assessor exercising critical judgement
Learn to evaluate their own work – as exactly the same skills are involved
Develops capacity to make evaluative judgements - a fundamental requirement for life beyond university. Also, this capacity underpins all graduate attribute development (Nicol, 2010)
Nicol, D (2011) Developing students’ ability to construct feedback, Published by QAA for Higher Education, UK
Peer Project case study
Funded by JISC: see www.reap.ac.uk/PEER.aspx
Online survey completed by 64 students
Focus group interviews
Peer review comments recorded online
Course work marks compared to previous years
Did you modify your initial submission as a result of the peer review activity?
How did you go about reviewing?
‘I read it through and compared it with what I had done to see if they had put something I had not done and then I added it in if they hadn’t. The four questions...[provided by the teacher]...were useful as they provided a framework for the review. If we hadn’t had the questions it would have been difficult. I did the reviews separately and then answered one then the other. The first was a better standard than the other – so I used the ideas from the better one to comment on the weaker one. I also read the guidelines in class when I did the peer review. There were ideas from the good one that I hadn’t even thought of in mine’
What do you think is best for learning – giving or receiving feedback?
‘For me it would probably be to give feedback because I think seeing what other people have done is more helpful than getting other people’s comments on what you have already done. By looking at other people’s work you can see for yourself what you have forgotten or not even thought about. When people give feedback on yours they generally just talk about what is there. They don’t say, well I did this on mine and you could put that in yours.’
What do you think is best for learning – giving or receiving feedback?
I think when you are reviewing...[the work of peers]...it’s more a self-learning process, you’re teaching yourself; well, I can see somebody’s done that and that’s a strength, and I should maybe try and incorporate that somehow into my work. Whereas getting...[teacher]... feedback you’re kind of getting told what to do; you’re getting told this is the way you should be doing it, and this is the right way to do it. You’re not really thinking for yourself.... I think...[reviewing]... would help you not need so much of teacher feedback, if there was more of this. Whereas, I think if you’re not being able to do...[reviewing]... then you will always be needing more...[teacher feedback]...
Would you choose to participate in a peer review exercise in the future?
Elicits multiple acts of evaluative judgement
Evaluate peer’s work against own
Evaluate one peer’s work against another (and own)
Evaluate work against given criteria to produce response
Students both create and apply evaluative criteria
Create criteria as they compare work with own (holistic)
Apply explicit criteria (analytic) to instances of practice
New perspective on good feedback practice
Students construct feedback ‘meanings’ for themselves while they produce it for others
More control over feedback and less need for teacher feedback
Giving and receiving feedback are qualitatively different
Feedback receipt helps bring deficiencies in own work to students’ attention, can be motivational and gives a experience of different audiences (readers)
Feedback production a more direct means of developing evaluative judgement – critical thinking, using criteria and standards, being more objective about own work
Fortunately receiving and giving usually occur in the same domain of assignment production – hence double duty – as both processes help develop important professional skills.
Maximise the number of reviews within practical limits
Integrate peer and self reviews – would enhance transfer
Embed opportunities for dialogue in reviewing process
Broaden the scope of the review criteria –beyond ‘critiquing’
Make reviewing a regular activity
Change focus of teacher feedback to commenting on quality of peer reviews.
Target task – draft, factual or open-ended (design, computer programme, essay, report etc)
Unit for task: individual, pair, group
Unit for review: individual, pair, group work
Matching reviewers: random, ability, topic
Number of reviews (counteracting poor reviews)
Privacy: anonymous or public outputs
Peer review rubric – not-given: guidelines: fixed format
Review focus: generic v disciplinary, holistic v analytic
Using peer feedback: drafts, self-review, new task
Requesting and responding to feedback
Grading: no marks, marks for participation, for reviews, marks for self-review after peer review
Ensure an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect
Engage students in active use of criteria and standards
Involve students in constructing commentaries in relation to peer judgements, not just awarding marks
Give practice in both analytic (componential) and holistic (configurational) judgements about quality
Facilitate dialogue around the object and quality of the review
Integrate self-review activities within peer review designs
Ensure that peer review is a regular activity and not a one-off event
Boud, D. and Associates (2010) Assessment 2020: Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education. Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Available from www.assessmentfutures.com
Cowan, J. (2010) Developing the ability for making evaluative judgements, Teaching in Higher Education, 15(3), 323-334.
Nicol, D. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006), Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218
Nicol, D (2009) Assessment for learner self-regulation: enhancing achievement in the first year using learning technologies, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(3), 335-352.
Nicol, D (2010) From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback in mass higher education, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 35:5, 501-517
Nicol, D (2010) The foundation for graduate attributes: developing self-regulation through self and peer assessment, QAA Scotland, Enhancement Themes. Available at: http://www.enhancementthemes.ac.uk/resources/publications/graduates-for-the-21st-century
Nicol, D (2011) Developing students’ ability to construct feedback, QAA Scotland, Enhancement Themes. Available at http://www.enhancementthemes.ac.uk/resources/publications/graduates-for-the-21st-century
Nicol, D (in press), Resituating feedback from the reactive to the proactive. In D. Boud and L. Malloy (Eds) Effective Feedback in Higher and Professional Education: understanding it and doing it well, Routledge UK
Roscoe, R. & Chi, M. (2008) Tutor learning: the role of explaining and responding to questions, Instructional Science, 36, 321-350.
Sadler, D.R (2010) Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 35:5, 535-550
Rare to find a learning outcome of the following types:
At the end of this module:
…you will be able to evaluate critically the quality and/or impact of your own work
…you will be able to evaluate critically the quality and impact of the work produced by others
Analysis of quality of feedback comments provided to peers under the 3 different scaffolding conditions: this involved coding the students feedback provision
Survey asking students about their experiences
[Only selected data reported here]
Analysis of students’ feedback on work of peers
Initial results show that the MFQ (feedback questions) led to better quality feedback comments than the MFC (feedback comments)
No Menu condition not significantly different from MFQ or MFC conditions.
However, further research needed as effects might be due to difficulty of questions and have not tested pairings of students for reviews.
Survey responses: students’ reports
All reported that reviewing engaged them in comparing peer’s work with own work and with the menu template (MFQ or MFC). Most made a physical comparison.
Reported that MFQ made them think more than MFC and were more helpful for their understanding
Were less happy about the NM condition
The teacher’s feedback comments help me understand the basic point to the assignments, however the questions allowed me to understand the assignment better as I had to research the answers myself and this allowed me to gain a better understanding of the topic
I prefer the questions provided from the AK equilibrium because it made me think more about the right answers and it allowed me to write my own comments using the questions as guidance. Having feedback comments from the Enzyme kinetics made it too easy to just copy and paste previous feedback comments in and I did not understand what some of the feedback comments referred to.
NM condition had mixed results as some students claimed that without any external input difficult to go beyond the ideas they had for their own work.
Without teacher support we only know what we answered – our perspective
Without the teacher feedback we lose an important area of the question we may not have known was even a requirement to answer
Highlights value of having an external reference point when providing feedback
Students engage with teacher feedback while also developing their evaluative skills to question others’ work.
Teacher’s feedback on the peer review helps develop students’ own feedback skills.
Implementation in a science discipline where feedback might differ - about accuracy as well as quality of judgement
Addresses issue that use of teacher feedback leads to ‘scripted’ responses (Boud, 2012).
Enables feedback to become a reusable resource.
Research shows that students learn through ‘reflective knowledge building’ not through information receipt (Phillips, 1995)
No evidence that delivery of more teacher-feedback, on its own, improves learning [despite Black and Wiliam, 1998)]
Feedback must be adapted to students’ prior knowledge (Vygotsky, 1978: Orsmond & Merry, 2010) and to current level of understanding.
The feedback paradox!
Does not directly develop students’ capacity to evaluative and judge the quality of their own work and that of others.