Awakening students to the value of feedback


Student feedback, particularly in relation to assessed work, is a hot topic. Various initiatives over the years have focused on ways to improve levels of student engagement and satisfaction with feedback but it continues to be both a challenging and key area for the institution and individual Schools.

In support of this, a student intervention called Making feedback work for you was piloted in two schools in Academic Year 2013-14. Designed by Edinburgh Napier University, the intervention did not directly address the widely reported topic of what constitutes well designed and delivered feedback, but instead considered the attitudinal perspectives of students who are receiving academic feedback, how it affects their associated actions and its impact upon their subsequent performance.

Coordinated by Ros Campbell (CAPOD) and Erwin Lai (CAPOD), the pilot aimed to assess the viability, suitability and sustainability of the intervention for implementation across the wider University.

The intervention

The intervention draws on two key concepts:

  1. The Conscious Competence Matrix: Adapted from Howell (1982), the Conscious Competence matrix describes a four step journey to becoming accomplished at any skill. The key concepts highlighted to students are that: awareness of what ‘competence’ consists of is critical, i.e. a clear understanding of learning outcomes and marking criteria; it is normal for students to be at different points on the journey for different skills; effort that is efficiently targeted through effective feedback is key to success on the journey.
  1. Growth (incremental) versus Fixed (entity) Mindset: Mindset is situational and is your view of your ability to do a particular thing. A Fixed mindset believes that ability is ‘set’ (whether high, medium or low) and unlikely to change over time. This attitude promotes the setting of personal goals that are performance (rather than learning) oriented, which in turn discourages attention to feedback and effort, and over time promotes helplessness. Adopting a growth mindset requires a belief that ability is malleable, i.e. can improve or worsen over time.  This attitude promotes the setting of learning-based personal goals, which in turn promotes attention to feedback and targeted effort to develop and improve skills, promoting perseverance over time.

Delivery mode

A blended learning approach was adopted for the pilot:

  1. Online course: An adapted online Moodle course offered potential for large numbers of students to be exposed to the material in a consistent and cost-effective way, reduced the importance of the skill set of the staff member delivering the workshop, and provided an opportunity to trial a relatively new online course. Students were asked to complete the course in their own time. In addition to the two key concepts, students were encouraged to reflect on sources of feedback; consider personal barriers to learning/using feedback; and complete a feedback action sheet drawing on ‘real’ feedback from their last assignment.
  2. Face-to-face workshop: Students were then required to attend an interactive follow-up workshop during class time. Drawing on key concepts in the online course, students worked individually and in groups to: Consider skills being assessed within the assignment they had just completed; identify personal areas of strengths and weakness regarding these skills, share strategies and tips; reflect on feedback from their latest assignment; and begin producing a personal action plan.

This pilot project produced useful results and important lessons. Overall, the intervention appeared to be of benefit to a majority of students in both pilot schools. Both the online course and face-to-face workshops had some positive impact on the student cohorts involved in the pilot, with the face-to-face workshops reviewing far more positively than the online course.

Key results

  1. 61% of students felt the online course should be made available to all students in the University
  2. 88% of students felt the workshop should be made available to all students in the University
  3. A significant number of students (60% of Computer Science students and 69% of Classics students) felt the workshop will help them in their studies.

Sample of student comments gathered at various stages of the pilot

“It changed the way I view feedback. I pay much closer attention to it now”.

“I gained new ideas on how to improve and gain confidence in the methods I was already using”.

“I plan to put more time into reviewing feedback, particularly negative feedback, which until now I was often very dismissive of”.

“I will really think about feedback, view it positively and think about how I can improve in weaker areas”.

“I will start taking feedback more seriously”.

“I will analyse feedback more carefully and use some tactics discussed in groups to improve my skills”.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how thought-provoking it was and would like others to have this experience”.

“I’m more likely to consult with peers for extra ideas and feedback”.

Computer Science students perceived an improvement in the level and quality of feedback received (although the school confirmed the feedback was in line with their standard provision):

“The feedback we received for the feedback session was really fantastic, as there was so much more than usual…and everyone received broadly the same amount of feedback. People are really hoping this carries on”. (Minutes, SSCC meeting, 10-3-14)


There were indications that the intervention should be considered for wider roll-out across the University, although it must be noted that support for this was less apparent for the online course (only 60%), compared with the face-to-face workshop (88%).

Next steps

An overview and outcomes of the pilot were presented at a Learning and Teaching Open Forum event in February 2015. On the basis of the pilot results, challenges, and effort required, all five discussion groups agreed that a University-wide roll-out of this initiative would be worthwhile. When asked to consider the most effective way of doing this, participants suggested a further pilot. Ros and Erwin are in the process of recruiting pilot schools and designing an enhanced version of the intervention tailored to St Andrews students.

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