Skills Hub

Using feedback

Transcript

Introduction

Peter - Hello I'm Peter Boxall and I teach in the English department at the University of Sussex.

Helen - Hello I'm Helen Prance I teach in Engineering and Design at the University of Sussex.
Peter and I are going to talk about what happens after you've submitted your work. How do you get feedback from your tutors on the work you've submitted and what do you do with that feedback? Where will you get it from and how are you going to use it to improve your work in the future?

Written Feedback

Helen - So perhaps the most obvious type of feedback is written and that will come in various forms. So, for example, you may have submitted some work and you'll get feedback, when you take the work back, on a cover sheet or in the form of written comments actually on the work. Those comments, and what is written, will very often be geared towards what the assessment is about and how you were told it was going to be assessed. So it will relate to the assessment criteria. It will say what aspects you did correctly and what aspects you need to improve on for the future.

But there are lots of other sorts of written feedback. So, for example, in the sciences you may do quite a lot of short pieces of coursework, for example, problem sheets or short lab reports, and we want to return those to you very quickly so you can see if you've got the right idea and whether you have understood the work. In those cases the written feedback could be quite short, it could be the mark you receive and just a very few comments on the work but it is important that you look at it and reflect on which bits you've got right and what you can gather from the feedback. Most importantly, ask the people who marked your work what you did and how you should improve so you use it as a basis for getting some more information about the work you have done.

Peter - In the Arts and Humanities the same applies really, to most written feedback you get on essays and dissertations, and some unseen examinations, that you get back throughout the study year. On essays, the written feedback you get will largely be in marginalia (on the side of the essay) correcting your grammar, directing you to reading you haven't done or making comments about the argument as it is progressing.

Online Feedback

Peter - A recent innovation in the arts and humanities side, which I don't think is in place on the science side, is that you also get written feedback in an online form where each essay will have two different kinds of feedback attached to it. These two bits of feedback are a general kind of feedback which tells you how the whole cohort has done in every assignment you take here, so that will be several of you made that mistake, several of you got this right and this is what we can learn about how the course is going. Alongside that general piece of feedback you will then have a substantial piece of feedback on the essay that you wrote yourself.

Helen - Some of the tutors in science will provide online feedback but in a slightly different format from how Peter just described it. We very often use a virtual learning environment, at Sussex it is called Study Direct, which supports the whole course. That can have a lot of resources on it, it can have quizzes, forums, chat facilities and some tutors will use it to provide the sort of generic feedback Peter has already mentioned. So they might engage in a discussion with the students about generic problems students had with a particular assignment or provide examples of good responses, good assessments, so that other students can see how they should have attempted the assignment. Quite often in the numerical subjects, like Mathematics and Chemistry and Physics and so on, tutors might well upload model answers to questions. So after you've done an exercise sheet, at some point later, they may well upload the model answers so you can see one version of a correct way of solving a problem. In those cases, again it is very important to look at the answers and think: ‘well, now that I have seen that, if I did a similar problem again do I think I could attempt it better than I did?'. If you can't you should go back to the tutor, whoever marked it, and ask what is meant by the model answer and how you would use that.

Oral Feedback

Peter - On the arts side of the university oral feedback is, I think, the most important kind of feedback that you're going to get. Given that most of the teaching that goes on in the arts side goes on in seminars, that's groups of 15 or so students with a member of faculty, it is important to realise that discussion that takes place between academics and students and between students themselves, constitutes in itself a kind of feedback. So the seminar itself is one place where a lot of oral feedback takes place. There are also two other distinct places that you go to for oral feedback as a student at the University of Sussex. The first of those would be with your Academic Advisor who is assigned to you when you first arrive here. Your Academic Advisor you see twice a year as a minimum and you'll go along to that faculty member's office hour and he or she will take you, at set points in the year, through all of the feedback that you have had for your essays and coursework, going through that and seeing if there are patterns developing and seeing what is good about your work and what needs improving and talking you through the whole profile you develop over the three years you are here.

The second kind of oral feedback you get is with tutors on your courses. So typically you will get an essay back from a tutor who will have made several comments in the margin. It is very important to book an office hour with that tutor, often tutors handwriting is hard to read, mine certainly is, and students will come to see me and ask what does that say for a start and secondly we will then have a discussion and I will take them through what they need to do to improve their work.

Helen - In Science and Engineering again, all the academics offer office hours. And there are other forms of oral feedback, for example, if you give a presentation, give a talk, an oral presentation or do a performance, of course the most immediate form of feedback is how well did it go down with the audience and the people listening to you. It's important to be sensitive to that and not switch off but to think as the audience are asking questions and responding, ‘what does that tell me about the way I did that assignment?'

Peer feedback

Peter - The last kind of feedback that we want to talk about here is the feedback that you get from your peers. At University the majority of teaching and learning that takes place, as much as academics might not want to acknowledge this, isn't from academic-to-student but from student-to-student. Students teach each other and support each other in every part of University life. We have a student mentor system where a number of students from the final year will have sessions with first year undergraduates to talk through issues of grammar and writing and other kinds of issues, as well as a range of other teaching and learning activities that aren't academic-to-student but student-to-student.

Helen - Yes, we do have student mentors in Science and Engineering and we also have another formalised system in some departments which is called Peer Assisted Learning where students will provide support; usually students in the higher years will provide support to first years on particular courses. Some courses are identified as providing quite a new experience, for example, some of the intensive programming courses in computing and some of the courses in mathematics are quite different from what the student might have been used to when they were at school. So in a way, this provides additional classes with support from students who have been through the course, know what was required and can help their peers understand what they are supposed to do and interpret the feedback they get on assignments. It proves very useful and very popular.

Using feedback

Peter - And finally we've got a couple of thoughts on how to use the feedback you're given while you're here. Perhaps the important thing to mention in this regard is that feedback is, by its nature, critical. Most academics will start off any slice on feedback by saying what is good about the essay but will then almost always go rather quickly on to talking about what needs improving. However good or bad the essay is, the feedback that is really useful is the constructively critical feedback. Often the first thing a student will do when they get an essay back is look at the mark and if the mark is very good, a good first for example, the tendency is to then put the essay aside and go and celebrate. It is very important, even on the work you have done best at, to remember to read that negative critical feedback because the critical feedback on the best work is the feedback that is going to push you hardest and that is the thing that I think you really need to make sure you listen to.

Helen - and it is true that, as Peter said, the thing that stands out very often, and the thing that gets published most instantly, is the mark you achieved and it is important to look at that mark in the context of what it means. Very often you will have been provided with assessment criteria which, in order to achieve a certain mark, is what you are supposed to do. It might be generic for a whole different set of assignments or it might be specific to a particular course assignment. So before jumping to a conclusion about a mark, refer to the assessment criteria - what does that tell me about what I achieved and what I should have done to perhaps achieve a higher mark?

Most importantly, the way to use feedback is first of all to read it, or listen to it, and then reflect on what it means and then apply it to whatever you're attempting to do next. It might be an assignment that is very similar to the one you received feedback on or it might be an assignment where only part of it relates to something you've heard, but you can use everything you've been told, or have read, to help you understand how to improve and how to get more out of your studies and to stretch yourself.


At Sussex you will receive various kinds of feedback about your academic progress. This section explains the types of feedback you will get at university and provides suggestions about how you can best use this feedback.

For information about how you can provide feedback to the university about your experience see the Giving feedback page of this website.

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