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Giving Effective Feedback

Feedback refers to responses given to students in relation to what they have produced or said. It acknowledges the progress made by the students towards achieving the learning outcomes of the course, and points to ways in which they can improve.

Research shows that students learn much better when they are provided with regular, targeted and personalised feedback. This is one of the principles that underpins SMU’s emphasis on interactive, participatory learning – faculty members are strongly encouraged to incorporate practice opportunities in class and provide regular feedback to guide students in their learning.

Quality and regularity of feedback consistently rates lower than other areas of teaching and learning in the FACETS student feedback surveys. Common concerns highlighted by students are that feedback:

  1. is not always provided
  2. is not detailed enough
  3. is received too late to be useful, and
  4. does not tell them where they can improve or why they have achieved certain results

This section offers information on what makes some feedback more effective than others, and provides suggestions on how faculty members can provide feedback in an efficient and less time consuming manner.

What Constitutes Effective Feedback?

Effective feedback informs students where they are relative to the course and lesson objectives, and what they need to do to improve. It is more than a statement about what is right or wrong about a piece of work. It is primarily student-focused rather than work-focused. It is diagnostic in nature and seeks to identify and communicate what a student’s underlying learning issue is.

Effective feedback must:

  • Focus students on the key knowledge and skills you want them to learn
  • Be provided at a time and frequency when students will be most likely to use it and
  • Be linked to additional practice opportunities

Here is a checklist for your self-reflection on the quality of your approach to feedback:

  1. Identifies areas where students are doing well and areas where there is room for improvement
  2. Provides explanations and offers suggestions on how to approach areas of improvement.
  3. Is timely enough so that it can be used by students in preparing for future assessment.
  4. Is detailed enough to be meaningful to students
  5. Is provided in contexts where students can ask questions about the feedback, provide it to each other, and discuss their interpretation of it with each other
  6. Is supplemented with follow-up opportunities to attempt the assessment (or similar assessment) again.

How can I provide feedback effectively and efficiently?

Here are some strategies to help you juggle the provision of feedback, with your other teaching and research commitments.

Explore the use of e-Tools to diagnose and communicate patterns of error to your students SMU’s eLearn platform offers tools such as Turnitin and Quiz Analytics which can be used to analyse individual and group level performances. The reports generated can be analysed and discussed together as a class

Prioritise your feedback The extent of information to include depends on many factors – your learning objectives, level of students, what they most need to improve, and the time you have available. In many cases, it may not be necessary or even advisable to give feedback on all aspects of students’ performance but rather focus your feedback on key aspects. This avoids overwhelming both you and your students.

Design frequent bite-sized practice opportunitiesPractice opportunities do not have to be complex or lengthy to be effective. In fact, more tasks of shorter length or smaller scope provide the frequency of feedback that allows students to refine their understanding. Having pop quizzes or 1-minute papers at regular intervals allows students to receive feedback and reattempt to apply what they have learnt from the feedback.

Leverage on peer (student) feedback Not all personalised feedback has to come from the instructor to be valuable. Students can provide constructive feedback on each other’s work as part of an active learning class environment. Peer review does not usually carry the levels of anxiety, concern or inhibition that sometimes arise from the presence of the instructor. It also helps students become better at identifying the qualities of good work and diagnosing their own problems. Besides the advantage to students, peer feedback allows you to increase the frequency of feedback without increasing your load.

For peer feedback to be effective and meaningful, provide students with explicit guidelines, criteria and rubrics, as well as practice opportunities.

This document provides an analysis of feedback strategies, supplemented with examples of good feedback practice.


  1. Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., Lovett, M. C., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching (available as an eBook in the SMU library)
  2. Providing Effective Feedback to Students, Teaching and Learning Quality Assurance Committee, University of Melbourne, 2014


Last updated on 05 Jul 2018 .