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What if feedback only counted if the learner used it?

Title: What if feedback only counted if the learner used it?
Date/time: Fri. 6 December 2013. 1:00pm - 2:00pm (From 12:30. Event may go on to 3:30pm)
Place: Room 5.15 (teaching cluster)     Graham Hills Building     50 Richmond Street (548 4066)     Strathclyde University
How to get there:
Presenter Steve Draper,   School of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

Slides: PDF
Handout: PDF file of references cited (More references in the associated paper.)
Related material:


There is no point in giving feedback unless the learner uses it: modifies or actively reappraises something specific as a result.


Feedback that is used by learners

Design Principles

  1. Ensure something triggers the learner into processing feedback into future actions.

  2. Ensure marks are expressed on scales which are meaningful to the learner (connect to something they already know).

  3. Expect that several different scales or comparisons need to be provided for every mark.


This paper discusses two related candidate principles for feedback:

Most teachers give written feedback as if it were a required deliverable, like a checkout assistant handing every customer the printed receipt, even though few use them. The recent fad for setting return times for feedback is also like this: guaranteeing a service with no attention to whether it has any useful effect. E-assessment is if anything even more focussed on "delivery" without the slightest regard for actual impact. What if we judged our feedback strictly by the effects it had on the recipient learners?

This would apply equally to hand-written and digital assessment; and to essay-based and calculation-based subjects. The paper presents several techniques (each of which has been trialled successfully) which address this in different contexts, covering both marks and open-ended feedback comments. Provisionally, it clusters common learner actions in response to feedback into three groups:

Crucial to these interventions seems to be that, in one way or another, they prompt students into processing the feedback. This does not seem to happen automatically. Previously in my own practice I followed a lot of advice on feedback e.g. balancing positive and negative, stimulating discussion of it with both the tutor and peers; yet without much sign of impact. Evidence of students actually learning from it had been absent. Recently however there have been two different cases in which there has been something approaching success. This paper discusses the issue, the many signs of "no effect", and these signs of hope. It covers Feedback Calendars, prompting students to process feedback, and "2D" mark presentation (expressing marks both normatively and ipsatively).

In order to obtain further information about the talk, contact Lizann Bonnar.   (room GH 5.91)

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