Enhancing Feedback in Higher Education

By Christine Enowmbi Tambe

Formative assessment, which is utilised by both students and teachers to identify areas where knowledge is inadequate and assistance is required, has been identified as a critical source of timely and high-quality feedback. Gibbs and Simpson (1) outlined six characteristics of feedback that improve student performance:

  • Feedback is sufficiently frequent and detailed;
  • Feedback is focused on students’ performance, learning and activities within their control, rather than on the students themselves;
  • Feedback is timely in the sense that it is received when it still matters and in time to be applied;
  • Feedback is relevant to the aim of the assessment and its evaluation criteria;
  • Feedback is suitable to students’ conceptions of learning, knowledge, and discipline discourse;
  • Feedback is acknowledged and is acted upon.

In a blended learning environment, instructors and peers can provide feedback via face-to-face and online interactions. Formal, structured learning management systems (LMSs) and informal social networking sites (SNSs), such as Facebook and Twitter, are both examples of online learning spaces, each has its own set of learning objectives. According to research (2,3), students found Facebook to be better suited to collaborative learning. In a 2017 study, McCarthy (4) assesses the Café, a Facebook-hosted e-learning application, as an appropriate online learning environment for peer feedback. Furthermore, the author (4) compares face-to-face teacher and peer feedback to online peer feedback to identify the benefits and drawbacks of each feedback technique.

The efficacy of the three feedback strategies were trialled for formative assessment tasks within two first-year courses in the Bachelor of Media Arts program at the University of South Australia. A total of 118 students, including 19 international students participated in the study. The formative assessment tasks and subsequent feedback models were designed in accordance with Gibbs and Simpson's feedback recommendations (1). Every 2 weeks, students discussed their work in classroom tutorial groups under the guidance of a tutor. In alternating weeks, students submitted work-in-progress to the Café to be critiqued by their peers. It was imperative for instructors to provide students with explicit assessment criteria to guide the construction of their commentary. Participation in these formative assessment activities was worth 15% of the final grade for the course, and students were evaluated by their instructors on three key components: (1) the quality of the submitted work to the Café, (2) the quality and consistency of their peer critiques and conversations in the Café and (3) their attendance and participation in group discussions during tutorial classes. The students’ perceptions of the different feedback measures were evaluated through an online survey at the end of the semester.

The Café proved to be an effective host for the online activities, with students praising the forum's interactivity and accessibility - simply being able to access the forum via Facebook was viewed as a huge plus. McCarthy (4) found that the students enjoyed interacting with different learning environments to exchange feedback. Some students enjoy face-to-face academic discussions, while others prefer to interact with their peers and instructors online. Therefore, by accepting a wide range of student attitudes, providing flexible learning spaces allows for better interaction between students in large classes and promotes engagement with course material. Students are also given the opportunity to improve their oral and written communication skills.

Staff feedback was, unsurprisingly, the most popular formative assessment feedback model with students as they perceived instructors to be experts in the field and their feedback to be more critical, and thus placed greater emphasis on their comments. Students also appreciated providing feedback to their peers in addition to receiving feedback themselves. Students frequently returned to their own work with new revision ideas after critically examining a peer's contribution, resulting in the production of stronger work.

Peer feedback exchanged online was more popular than that exchanged in-person, especially with international students. Some students may encounter significant hurdles such as language barriers and social inhibitions when having face-to-face academic discussions. Peer interaction online provides an environment for students to consider their ideas and critiques more thoroughly before presenting them. This was an important finding that demonstrated the value of blended learning in the early years of higher education, which provided students from diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds with both online and in-class learning spaces for collaborative learning. This makes it easier for them to fit into the university culture, stimulates meaningful peer interaction, and enhances their overall learning experience.


Q: How does the process of giving and receiving feedback through platforms like the Café influence students' development of critical thinking and analytical skills, especially in the context of text analysis?

A: The process of giving and receiving feedback through platforms like the Café significantly enhances students' development of critical thinking and analytical skills, particularly in the realm of text analysis. When students engage in peer feedback, they not only critique others' work but also reflect on the feedback received, fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This exercise demands that they apply critical thinking to identify strengths and weaknesses in both their work and that of their peers. As they articulate their thoughts and critiques, students refine their ability to analyse texts, spotting nuances and complexities that might have been overlooked. Moreover, the informal nature of platforms like the Café allows for a more relaxed exchange of ideas, encouraging students to express their "student voice" more freely and confidently. This openness promotes a richer, more diverse dialogue around the texts being analysed, further developing students' analytical capabilities.

Q: In what ways can the feedback received from both peers and instructors be effectively incorporated into a student's learning process to ensure it leads to meaningful improvements in their work?

A: Incorporating feedback from both peers and instructors into a student's learning process requires reflection, openness to critique, and the application of suggestions to future work. To ensure feedback leads to meaningful improvements, students should first critically assess the feedback to understand its relevance and applicability to their work. Engaging with feedback as a constructive dialogue rather than mere criticism allows students to identify specific areas for improvement. They can then set clear, achievable goals to address these areas in subsequent tasks. Additionally, discussing feedback with peers or instructors can provide further clarification and ideas for how to implement changes effectively. The concept of student voice plays a crucial role here, as students need to feel empowered to seek clarification and engage in discussions about their feedback. Regularly revisiting feedback when working on new assignments or revising work ensures that the advice is actively applied, fostering a cycle of continuous improvement and deeper learning.

Q: How does the students' ability to articulate their thoughts and feedback in writing, particularly in an online environment like the Café, contribute to their understanding of the subject matter and their own voice in academic discourse?

A: The ability of students to articulate their thoughts and feedback in writing, especially in an online environment like the Café, is pivotal in enhancing their understanding of the subject matter and developing their own voice in academic discourse. Writing allows students to organise their thoughts coherently and to engage more deeply with the text or subject matter they are analysing. This process encourages a reflective approach to learning, where students consider not just what they think but why they think that way, leading to a more nuanced understanding of the content. Additionally, the act of writing feedback for peers requires students to employ text analysis skills, further solidifying their grasp of the subject matter. The online environment provides a platform for a wide range of voices to be heard, fostering a diverse academic discourse. Students learn to appreciate different perspectives and understand the importance of substantiating their arguments, which is essential in academic writing. Through this practice, students find and refine their unique student voice, becoming more confident in expressing their viewpoints and contributing to scholarly discussions.


[Source] McCarthy J. Enhancing feedback in higher education: Students’ attitudes towards online and in-class formative assessment feedback models. Active Learning in Higher Education. 2017 Jul;18(2):127-41.
DOI: 10.1177%2F1469787417707615

[1] Gibbs G, Simpson C. Does your assessment support your students’ learning. Journal of Teaching and learning in Higher Education. 2004;1(1):1-30.
Available Here

[2] Rambe P. Critical discourse analysis of collaborative engagement in Facebook postings. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 2012 Apr 2;28(2).
DOI: 10.14742/ajet.875

[3] Wang Q, Woo HL, Quek CL, Yang Y, Liu M. Using the Facebook group as a learning management system: An exploratory study. British journal of educational technology. 2012 May;43(3):428-38.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01195.x

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