Thanks for the feedback…but now what?

#HellomynameisSarah and I’m a Teaching Fellow in Child Health Nursing at the University of Surrey.

I’ve been nursing for a little over 20 years now and I’ve received a fair amount of clinical and academic feedback in that time – some if it very helpful and some of it…well, not so much! 

So, what makes good feedback and how can you use it to your advantage? In this blog post I’ll try to demystify it and show you how you can use it to progress your academic skills. 

So, I guess the first thing is to help you understand how tutors grade work and give feedback.

The feedback you receive is unique to your work. We grade your work using a combination of the following:- The module learning outcomes – did you meet them?- Grade Descriptors – where did your work fit in terms of the skills and knowledge you demonstrated?- Our experience and knowledge about the assignment/topicand our experience of marking

Whilst we’re marking your work we’re considering how well you’ve presented your discussion, how well you’ve communicated your ideas and how closely you’ve met the learning outcomes. We’re also looking at how widely you have read and used the evidence to support your discussions. We make comments in the text (these look like little speech bubbles or blue text on Turnitin) to alert you to areas we think are particularly strong, or perhaps where there are bits you could have explained more clearly or strengthened your discussion with evidence. We then give you broader, overall feedback which we structure using the following headings: – What has been done well?- Strengthen future work- General Comments

The comments you receive under these headings are important because they not only tell you what went right and what maybe didn’t go so well but they are also designed to give youinsight into what you can take away to help you improve next time – we call this ‘feedforward’. 

What is crucial here is that feedback is a partnership between the person who gives it and the person who receives it. From the point of view of the giver (me, for example) the feedback must be clear, easy for you to understand and give you some direction to take it away and apply it to future work. From the point of the receiver (you, for example) it must be read, understood and a link must be made between what I’ve said and what you do with that information. Feedback can be emotional – if you’ve worked hard and poured your heart into a piece of work and then you receive what you perceive to be negative feedback or a lower than expected grade it can knock your confidence. 

We know (from more studies than I can cite) that feedback often isn’t as helpful as it should be and that it isn’t used as effectively by students as it should be. So, if both parties accept that to be true, there’s a gap that needs to be bridged, right?

As academics, we are seeking to understand what good feedback looks like from your (the student) perspective – what helps you? What makes feedback easier for you to engage with? How can we help you to grab feedback by the horns and use it to drive your academic skills forward? There will be opportunities for you to get involved in this work so watch this space. 

So how do you use what’s available to you now to develop your skills? Here are some ideas…

1/ Get to know the grade descriptors and use these to self-assess when you’re developing your work

2/ Attend your lectures…sounds a bit basic right? But there is a clear and strong link between good attendance and more accomplished academic work. 

3/ Always ensure you understand the module/assignment learning outcomes

4/ If you are offered the opportunity to submit a draft for formative feedback then use it! It allows you to get feedback/feedforward on a proportion of your work and you’ll be able to apply it to the rest of your assignment – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

5/ Seek advice from the Academic Skills and Development Team (based in the library) and/or a member of the module team if you are struggling to understand what is required of you or need general academic support

6/ When you receive your result you will focus on the grade…you are human so by all means do that! BUT, don’t forget the feedback. You might want to wait a day or two but ensure you read it, however pleased or disappointed you are with your result. 

7/ When you read your feedback you need to ensure you understand it…is the language the marker has used clear and directive? Does it leave you with a real sense of what you did well and what you can do to develop?

8/ If it doesn’t or if you want to seek further advice you should contact the marker. You’ll be encouraged to do this if you are referred on an assignment but it may be that you just want to get a feel for what can be improved in future assignments. Or you might not understand something the marker has said. Without exception, a marker will be happy to meet with you to discuss your work – but as we aren’t psychic we do need you to take the initiative and get in touch. 

9/ Get an understanding of some academic terms, a common example is when you receive a comment around your lack of critical discussion…what does this mean? In academic writing when we ask you to be critical we aren’t asking for you pick holes in every bit of evidence you read but what we want to see is that you can consider what you read for potential flaws and see things from a different point of view, supporting this with counter-evidence. If you find academic language difficult then you aren’t alone but developing your knowledge of it can really help support your progress so always ask if it’s a term you don’t understand!

10/ Have you used FEATS (Feedback Engagement AndTracking at Surrey) yet? If you haven’t then get to know this amazing tool and let it work for you. An online portfolio, FEATS helps you to keep track of your feedback but also encourages you to engage with and act upon it. This handy video tells you more about how FEATS can help you identify priorities and access resources that might help you

You are a self-regulating adult learner and that what you do with your feedback is, ultimately, up to you. But if you have questions, need guidance or just want a better understanding of where you’re at and how to take your skills and knowledge forward then engaging successfully with feedback is, at least, part of the answer. 

I really hope this has given you some insight into how we give feedback and how you can get the very most from it!

Author: Sarah West, Teaching Fellow in Child Health Nursing