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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

6.1.5: University Policy on the Provision of Feedback on Assessed Work

1. Education Committee has approved the following requirements in relation to the provision of feedback to students on their assessed work. Some indications of good practice on this issue are also provided below.

Rationale

2. The basic principle is that students should receive feedback on all modules at some point. For example, if a module includes no work specifically designated for formative assessment, students will need feedback on their summatively assessed work (whether this be coursework or an exam) to help them monitor their progress and identify areas of strength and weakness in their work. Departments / schools may, however, feel it appropriate to provide feedback to students on both formative and summative assessment in the same module.

3. The rationale for this policy is that all assessed work provides students with the opportunity to develop their understanding of the subject and to enhance a range of skills which will vary depending on the mode of assessment employed. So, for example, the processing of revising for and taking an examination may enhance students' knowledge of the facts, encourage them to work independently and under pressure, to 'think on their feet', and develop skills in writing concise but effective arguments. By contrast an essay written over a period of several weeks may enhance their research skills, their ability to sustain a longer and more complex argument and to synthesise and evaluate a range of approaches and issues. The process may also help students to develop their time management and planning skills. Other modes of assessment such as assessment of practical work, group projects or presentations develop further skills. Several benchmark statements recognise that the assessment process is not neutral, and affects student learning in many complex ways, above and beyond simply mastering a topic. It is therefore developmental even when the assessment itself is summative rather than formative. This makes it appropriate to support students' development by providing feedback on their assessment whether it is summative or formative.

Requirements

4. Education Committee requires that departments/schools:

a. provide feedback at some point to each student on each module taken;

b. provide at least some of this feedback in written form, to give both students and academic colleagues a record of the issues raised [1];

c. provide some written feedback on all summatively assessed coursework. Where feedback is provided in written form, it should normally be typed [2];

d. provide feedback on all formatively assessed work in some form (guidelines are provided below). Where feedback is provided in written form, it should normally be typed [2];

e. in instances where a formative assessment task is designed as preparation for a specific summative assessment, provide feedback in sufficient time as to allow students to benefit in that summative work;

f. establish a student-facing policy appropriate for the subject area with regard to the provision of feedback, to ensure that suitable feedback is given. Minimal requirements and guidelines in relation to such feedback policies are given below.

Departmental / School Feedback Policies

5. Education Committee has established the following expectations for departmental / school policies for the provision of feedback to students, drawing on good practice within departments. All such policies should:

a. be written in a clear, student-facing style;

b. be communicated to students via publication in student handbooks;

c. explain the purpose of feedback, differentiating between formative and summative assessment as appropriate. Within this, it is good practice to aim to convey the positive sense that feedback is readily available to students and is designed to aid (and highly important for) their academic development. It is also good practice to establish that feedback will identify both strengths and weaknesses in students’ work.

d. highlight the different forms of feedback that may be made available to students (thus clarifying that feedback may not, for example, be restricted to written comments on essays);

e. include a specific timescale for when students can expect to receive feedback on their formative and summative work, and contain a commitment to inform students of instances when this timescale cannot be met and the reasons for this. If departments / schools wish to establish different timescales for different circumstances (e.g. specific arrangements for dissertations; different timescales for formative and summative work), these should be clearly explained to students;

f. include a brief explanation of the procedures used within the department / school to ensure the quality and timeliness of feedback.

Provision of Feedback on Formative Assessment

6. Education Committee requires that students should be provided with feedback on all formative assessment in some form. This feedback may take a variety of forms. For instance, it may be addressed to the individual student (commenting specifically on their work) or to a group of students (commenting on common strengths and weaknesses in a particular assignment). It may also be delivered in written form (for example, through email; annotations on essays; feedback sheets) or orally (for instance, via an in-class reflection exercise; through staff-moderated peer-to-peer feedback). Whichever method is chosen, it should be clearly signposted as the form in which feedback is delivered on that particular piece of formative assessment, to avoid confusion and encourage students to actively reflect on the messages provided.

Good Practice

7. In addition to the above expectations, Education Committee commends the following to departments/schools as good practice and as issues which should be considered when establishing the departmental/school policy for feedback to students.

8. It is good practice to give students opportunities, e.g. in induction days or tutorial sessions, to discuss the assessment criteria used in the department and to explore the implications of that for their own learning. This might include asking students to mark their own/each other's/dummy essays and discuss their assessment of them against published criteria.

9. It is good practice to give written feedback to all students on formative work, supplemented by oral feedback as necessary.

10. It is good practice to offer feedback on summative examination work to students attaining consistently low marks in examinations and those who have performed uncharacteristically badly in one or more examination. The reason for this is that there is good reason to suppose that developmental feedback may enhance the performance of such students in the future. Such feedback should be provided in a meeting between the student and a member of the board of examiners, and this meeting may include sharing the relevant mark proformas with the student, and allowing the student to take a copy of the proforma if they wish to do so, if either the member of staff or the student feel that this would be helpful.

11. Feedback on examination performance should be focused on performance relative to the published assessment criteria and on broad areas of good/poor performance. No feedback should breach the confidentiality of the board of examiners or include comparison with the work of other students by name.

12. Written feedback on assessed work should be appropriate to the type of work, the year of study and the subject, and reflect the criteria by which the work is being marked. Boards of Studies may wish to use standard feedback sheets to support this process.

13. Student representatives on the Staff-Student Consultative Committee should be consulted when drafting the departmental policy on feedback, especially in relation to reasonable timescales for the receipt of feedback on coursework.

1. It is permissible for academic colleagues to substitute audio-recorded feedback for written feedback (or to combine audio-recorded feedback with written feedback) provided that the result is a permanent record that is easily accessible to both students and staff and is stored for use in the event of an appeal.

2 Handwritten annotations may still be made on coursework, in addition to typed written feedback. Hardwritten feedback may also be provided more generally, where there is a clear pedagogic rationale for doing so (e.g. to facilitate the provision of immediate feedback during fieldwork or other activities, for example).