Feedback can generally be described "as a process through which students make sense of information from various sources and use it to enhance their work or learning strategies,” (Carless & Boud, 2018, p. 1315).

This definition highlights some key elements of feedback, which are that:

  • Learners and academics have a key role in making sense of the feedback and using it to improve their work.
  • Feedback is not related to a one-off assessment event but should occur throughout.
  • Feedback can come from different sources such as peers, teachers, friends or automated computer-based systems (such as a quiz).

Formative feedback

Formative feedback is generally ongoing, often informal, and provided throughout the learning process. It aims to tell learners what they are doing well and what might need improving (Biggs & Tang, 2011).  Formative feedback can also help learners develop feedback literacy (see below) as it allows them to reflect on and make judgements about the quality of their work and how to improve it. This future-focussed aspect of feedback is sometimes referred to as ‘feed-forward’. Incorporating formative feedback allows learners to learn and improve before a more formal assessment of their work takes place.

Summative feedback

Summative feedback is provided in the context of summative assessment, which usually occurs at the end of a learning period, such as a topic or subject, and is designed to provide a formal judgement of learner performance. Summative feedback is provided against set marking criteria, usually as a rubric.

Student feedback literacy

According to Carless and Boud (2018), student feedback literacy "involves an understanding of that feedback is and how it can be managed effectively; capacities and dispositions to make productive use of feedback; an appreciation of the roles and teachers and themselves in the process,” (p. 316).

Feedback literate learners can:

  • Engage with the feedback: Learners take the time to read, understand, and ask questions about the feedback they have received.
  • Appreciate feedback: Learners understand how feedback can assist in improving their work and recognise their active role in the process. They recognise that feedback can come in different formats (written, oral, video) from various sources (peer-to-peer, tutor).
  • Make judgements: Learners develop skills to judge the quality of their work and that of their peers against objective criteria.
  • Manage affect: Learners don’t take feedback personally, but instead manage their response to feedback, adapting to new perspectives based on what is appropriate to their work.
  • Act on feedback: Learners can develop a range of strategies for acting on the feedback they receive. (Carless & Boud, 2018).

Designing feedback opportunities

When designing your subject, it is important to plan multiple opportunities to allow learners to receive, interpret, engage in, and act on feedback conversations. This can include formal, incidental, self or peer feedback. The following examples adapted from the Designing Effective Feedback Processes in Higher Education: A Learning-Focused Approach, (Winstone & David Carless, 2020) provide examples of formative and summative feedback, including:

  • Online quizzes which allow learners to receive immediate feedback on a regular basis.
  • Live polling via systems such as Mentimeter or Poll Everywhere provides the opportunity to test knowledge and comprehension.
  • Guided Peer-to-Peer feedback provides the opportunity to review and discuss other learners’ work (using a scaffolded and non-judgemental approach), which helps learners engage with the marking criteria and offer solutions which help with self-evaluating their own work.
  • Self-reflection questionnaires or activities create the opportunity to reflect on and make judgments about their own work and consider what actions they may need to take to improve their performance.
  • Discussion Board or Padlet based discussions that allow learners to engage with peers and provide feedback
  • Providing exemplars of learners work to demonstrate assessment expectations;
  • Explaining and unpacking assessment criteria before learners complete the assignment, to clarify expectations, understand potential feedback comments, and allow opportunities for questions;
  • Series of similar tasks or two-part tasks that allow learners to improve a process over a period of time. This is where learners complete a task and are given feedback, which they then use on a final related task. An example may be feedback given on a group oral presentation which can be utilised and integrated into a future written task on the same topic (such as lab reports or a product review) ;
  • Draft feedback and reflection allow learners to submit an early draft for feedback on a future submitted work. You may wish to have learners present their final submission with a reflection on the changes they have made;
  • Portfolios and e-portfolios involve the collection and selection of editing of material over a period of time, during which formative feedback can be provided from either the tutor or peer-to-peer, or both;
  • Comment banks created using Turnitin are an efficient way to provide general feedback, but can also be personalised for individual learners needs;
  • Video or audio feedback can also provide personalised feedback and can be either summative or formative.

How to give effective feedback

In addition to designing feedback opportunities, academics need to support learners in developing feedback literacy to ensure the learners understand the feedback given and know how to action the feedback to improve their learning.

In providing feedback to learners, you need to:

  • ensure learners understand and know how to use feedback
  • make sure that the feedback is timely, informative and supportive
  • be clear, do not assume learners have the same understanding of academic language
  • focus feedback on the task, not the learner
  • outline what the learner did well and how the work can be improved
  • provide useful information that encourages and motivates learners to improve.  This includes avoiding empty phrases such as ‘good work’ or ‘This is incorrect’. Aim for phrases that state what the learner has done well or how the work could be improved.
  • provide the opportunity for learners to discuss feedback with peers and teachers as a continued conversation
  • ensure the marks are justified against the stated assessment criteria and standards.
  • refer relevant learners to appropriate academic support services and ensure feedback complies with assessment policies.

Adapted from Henderson, M. & Phillips, M. (2014). Technology enhanced feedback on assessment. Paper presented at the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014, Adelaide, SA.  with additions

Remember, the key elements of effective feedback are:

  • personal engagement with the learner
  • identifying what they did well and what they may want to improve
  • using a feedforward strategy, where possible, and explaining in specific terms how their work could be improved
  • focusing on being constructive (never sarcastic or humiliating)
  • finishing with a positive statement and an invitation for more communication.

Here is a suggested structure for how you can put together your final comments to learners on their assessment.



Example text for relevant section


Set the scene.

Hi Sandy, well done on submitting your first assessment in this subject.

Relational work

Acknowledge students' circumstances.

I know this is a busy time for first year students, so I commend you on completing this work.

Goal statement

Highlight what particular items feedback will focus on.

The primary goal of my comments will be to give you feedback on the key arguments of your case study.

Evaluative summary

General evaluative statement highlighting strengths and weaknesses before going into specifics.

What I noticed straight away was ... (focus on the key elements that link to the task).

Textual work

Describe the patterns with one or two examples.

One thing that would improve this work (focus on what needs improving). For example, in your introduction you …

Comment on substance with emphasis on feedforward

Structure comments on how students can improve and extend their thinking.

Think about what this means in a broader context (comment on the substance of the assessment with emphasis on feedforward).

Wrap up and invite further communication

Incorporate a personal component and invite a continued conversation with the student on feedback to guide future work.

Congratulations on the work you have done so far. I'm looking forward to what you do next. If you would like to meet to discuss how to improve the work, please don't hesitate to call me.

[Adapted from Henderson, M. & Phillips, M. (2014). Technology enhanced feedback on assessment. Paper presented at the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014, Adelaide, SA.]


Carless, D., & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment and evaluation in higher education, 43(8), 1315 - 1325.

Henderson, M. & Phillips, M. (2014). Technology enhanced feedback on assessment. Paper presented at the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014, Adelaide, SA.

Winstone, N. & Carless, D. (2020). Designing Effective Feedback Processes in Higher Education: A Learning-Focused Approach. Routledge.