Feedback and Feedforward in UK Higher Education

By Anosh Butt

The Problem

Wolstencroft and De Main (2021) look at problems associated with traditional forms of formative and summative feedback and explore ideas related to feedforward to ensure that students engage with comments made by lecturers regarding their performance in assessment. The research identified that in UK universities, the issues of validity, reliability, and authenticity are heavily scrutinised (Wolstencroft and De Main, 2021). Students are usually assessed through either an end-of-module examination or by various coursework methods (Wolstencroft and De Main, 2021).

The study presented that the usual summative assessment consists of essays, reports, or presentations right across most higher education institutions in the UK. The research problematises the aspect of UK undergraduate student feedback by mentioning that students usually view curriculum through the lens of assessment, whereas academics see the design of the curriculum as a significant aspect and focus.

This dichotomy causes surface learning as students become assessment-driven rather than curriculum-driven, which results in students viewing feedback on assessments as products rather than a long-term dialogic process engaging both academics and students (Wolstencroft and De Main, 2021). These uncertainties show that only 60% of students accessed their feedback given to them in standard, written form with reasons that feedback comments were generic and lacked meaning (Wolstencroft and De Main, 2021).

The Solution

To investigate these problems a post-92 university in West Midlands, UK, was selected. The research opted for a large (n = 182) group of final-year undergraduate students studying for a business degree and utilised audio feedback and feedforward. It is essential to highlight that the idea of feedback is well researched; however, the concept of feedforward is comparatively recent and described as a process that seeks to give constructive advice through a series of points that need to be followed based on the past performance of the learner (Goldsmith 2003; San Pedro, 2012).

Three assessors were engaged to give audio feedback to students under the headings of introduction, theoretical base of the work, the reflective elements, application of theory to practice, conclusion, and the spelling, grammar, and referencing (Wolstencroft and De Main, 2021). The authors signify that these headings ensured consistency of approach to the audio feedback and allowed assessors to personalise comments within broad headings and grading criteria. Data collected for this research included a series of recorded interviews, informal feedback requested in seminars about the student experience, and students could also email comments about the process of the authors (Wolstencroft and De Main, 2021).

The study undertook a thematic approach to analyse the collected data and synthesised multiple sources of information to identify commonalities among various information sources. The analysis of the research findings acted as a bridge between qualitative research (represented by interviews and emails) and quantitative research (primarily the analysis of how students engaged with the comments).

Measurable impact

The research findings indicated an overwhelmingly positive response with the vast majority agreeing and commenting that they hope that audio feedback and feedforward would be used in other modules throughout the course. Wolstencroft and De Main (2021) declared that the students engaged positively with the comments of the assessors rather than the final mark, which was because students had to listen to all feedback and feedforward as marks were revealed at the end of the audio broadcast.

The research results presented examples of high-performing students who previously only used to look if their mark was above 70 and did not see comments if the marks were below what they expected. The aim of these students is that they only want a first-class degree, and they had never thought that everything is linked but found audio feedback and feedforward more effective than just text comments (Wolstencroft and De Main, 2021). High-performing undergraduate students also faced their previous mistakes due to audio feedback, which were continuously being pointed out by assessors in previous assignments but ignored by students as they had not read them due to their instrumental approach.

The study findings indicated that audio feedback and feedforward caused international students to realise that they are not well prepared for the process of assessment in UK Higher Education. A few undergraduate international students who had almost been studying for more than three years still did not know how to view feedback and comments, which further indicated the importance of audio feedback.

The research emphasised the significance of audio feedback and feedforward and removed students from a purely instrumental approach to assessment to get them to engage far more in the process. Audio comments given by assessors were perceived by students as tailored and customised to the individual student, and hence their credibility increased (Wolstencroft and De Main, 2021). Potential further research is needed to identify the timing of utilising audio feedback for the first time. The current investigation focussed on final year students, and many expressed advantages of it being introduced earlier as the benefit of feedforward is lost if a student moves away from academic study.


Q: How does the effectiveness of audio feedback and feedforward compare with traditional text-based feedback in terms of improving students' academic writing skills?

A: The effectiveness of audio feedback and feedforward, when compared to traditional text-based feedback, in improving students' academic writing skills can be significant, though specific comparative studies may provide more detailed insights. Audio feedback allows for a more nuanced and personal way of communicating, which can help students understand the context and the tone behind the feedback they receive. This can be particularly beneficial for conveying complex ideas or subtle suggestions for improvement that are often lost in written text. Moreover, the use of student voice in audio feedback can make the feedback process more engaging and can help students feel more connected to their assessors, potentially increasing their motivation to act on the feedback. However, the impact on academic writing skills would also depend on how students process and apply the feedback. Text analysis tools could support this by helping educators identify common areas of improvement across a cohort, thereby tailoring their audio feedback to address these issues more effectively.

Q: What are the challenges and limitations associated with implementing audio feedback and feedforward across different disciplines within higher education?

A: Implementing audio feedback and feedforward across different disciplines within higher education comes with several challenges and limitations. One of the main challenges is the diverse nature of assessments across disciplines, which may require different feedback approaches. For instance, feedback for a creative writing assignment might focus on narrative and style, while feedback for a scientific report might concentrate on accuracy and analysis. This diversity necessitates a flexible approach to feedback that audio may not always provide, especially for complex diagrams or equations that are easier to annotate visually. Another limitation is the potential technical barriers, including the need for suitable recording equipment and the ability for both students and staff to access and use the necessary technology effectively. Additionally, the personalisation of feedback, while beneficial, can be time-consuming for educators, especially in large classes. Finally, there's the consideration of student preferences and the varying effectiveness of audio feedback for different student needs. Incorporating student voice in the feedback process, by allowing students to express their preferences and concerns, could help mitigate some of these challenges by ensuring that feedback methods are tailored to their needs.

Q: How do students' perceptions of their own learning change as a result of engaging with audio feedback and feedforward, especially in terms of self-regulation and motivation?

A: Engaging with audio feedback and feedforward can significantly alter students' perceptions of their own learning, particularly in the areas of self-regulation and motivation. When students receive feedback in an audio format, they may find it easier to understand the intent and emotion behind the assessor's words, leading to a greater sense of connection and engagement with the feedback process. This personalised approach can help students see the value in the feedback, encouraging them to take ownership of their learning and to actively engage in self-regulation. They might become more motivated to reflect on their performance, identify areas for improvement, and set specific goals for future assignments. Furthermore, audio feedback can demystify the assessment process, making it seem more approachable and less formal, which can boost students' confidence in their abilities. The concept of student voice plays a crucial role here, as it is not just about providing feedback but also about fostering a dialogue where students feel heard and supported. This, in turn, can motivate them to invest more in their learning journey, seeking out additional resources and opportunities to improve.


[Source Paper] Wolstencroft, P. and De Main, L., 2020. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that before?’ Engaging undergraduate students in feedback and feedforward within UK higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, pp.1-12.
DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2020.1759517

[1] Goldsmith, M. 2003. “Try Feedforward Rather than Feedback.” The Journal for Quality and Participation 26 (3): 38–40.

[2] San Pedro, M. 2012. “Feedback and Feedforward: Focal Points for Improving Academic Performance.” Journal of Technology and Science Education 2 (2): 77–85.
DOI: 10.3926/jotse.49

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