Giving Effective Feedback

Giving Feedback


Research shows that students learn much better when they are provided with regular, targeted and personalised feedback (Ambrose, 2010). In SMU, it is recommended that classes feature regular practice opportunities and regular feedback to guide students in their learning. One way in which instructors do so is through online quizzes in eLearn (Click here for a resource on guidelines to check students’ understanding using quizzes).

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 is not always provided, is received too late to be useful and/or does not tell them where they can improve or why they have achieved certain results.

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 should be student-focused rather than work-focused. It is diagnostic in nature and seeks to identify and communicate what the student’s underlying learning issue is.

Here are some features that characterise good feedback practices. How many do you currently incorporate in your teaching practices?

  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

Here are some suggestions on how faculty members can provide feedback in an efficient and less time consuming manner.

  1. Explore the features of eLearn: there are many tools available in SMU’s eLearn Learning Management System that can be used to diagnose and communicate patterns of error to your students. These include Turnitin (which detects plagiarism and allows you to provide qualitative feedback for specific parts of students’ work) and Quiz Analytics (which can be used to analyse individual and group level performances, and generate visually impactful reports that can be used to anchor class discussions. Please email IITS at elearn [at] if you are keen to learn how to use these eLearn features.
  2. Prioritise your feedback: In many cases, it may not be necessary or even advisable to give feedback on all aspects of students’ performance. Focusing your feedback on key aspects makes it more targeted and avoids overwhelming both you and your students. The extent of information to include depends on many factors, such as your learning objectives, the level of your students, what they most need to improve, and the time you have available.
  3. Design frequent bite-sized practice opportunities: Practice 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.
  4. 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 in giving feedback.


  1. Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., Lovett, M. C., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching (click here to access the e-copy from the SMU Library)
  2. Moore, C., & Teather, S. (2013). Engaging students in peer review: Feedback as learning