What students told us ‘good’ feedback means to them

Asking students what they need from our feedback and responding to their answers makes them active partners in their learning process



University of Technology Sydney
28 Jun 2023
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A university tutor gives students feedback

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Feedback is an important part of the learning process. However, what faculty consider good feedback might not align with what their students think. We recently surveyed a group of students to better understand their perspective on feedback so that as educators we could engage them in a discussion on the topic and enhance their learning experience.

‘What is good feedback?’

We asked nearly 300 predominantly first-year marketing students to respond to the question: “What is good feedback?”

While it was a simple, direct question, it provided us with a range of detailed responses that we believe gave us a strong indication of what students would like in their feedback. We analysed the data through a word-cloud visualisation and Leximancer software.

What students said was good feedback

Apart from the word “feedback”, the 10 most common words in students’ responses were: improve, can, constructive, work, written, better, specific, well, like and detailed.

Next, students’ open-ended responses were analysed using the text mining software Leximancer. The analysis recognises “concepts”, which are collections of words that are grouped together in the text and these concepts are clustered into higher-level “themes”. These themes are represented by balloons with concepts connected showing lines of relationships when the conceptual map is generated. The themes are ranked by “hits”, which are the number of texts associated with the theme.

This study resulted in six overall themes with 28 concepts identified. The themes and concepts were: feedback (written, wrong, students, verbal, tutors, learning); constructive (marks, assignment, specific, grade, certain); sure (better, things, questions, attend); doing (personal, best, mistakes); detailed (areas); and analyse (analyse). The table below also presents some examples.

Feedback responses: 6 themes and 28 concepts identified:

Theme: Feedback (hits: 70)

Concepts: feedback, work, feedback, written, wrong, students, verbal, tutors, learning

Response example:

  • Feedback that I can use to make my work better, and help me learn. How to improve, not just stated what I did wrong
  • Feedback directly from the teacher and written feedback

Theme: Constructive (hits: 61)

Concepts: constructive, constructive, marks, assignment, specific, grade, certain

Response example:

  • Constructive feedback based on mistakes not strengths
  • Assessment feedback with constructive written feedback on how to improve for next time constructive

Theme: Sure (hits: 33)

Concepts: sure, better, things, questions, attend

Response example:

  • Feedback that I can use to make my work better, and help me learn
  • Telling me what can be done better and how I should change it so that it is a better level of understanding for key concepts

Theme: Doing (hits: 23)

Concepts: doing, personal, best, mistakes

Response example:

  • I like to receive feedbacks that I can used to improve my method of doing things
  • Small paragraph on what I’m doing well in and what I’m not (but most importantly how to improve that)

Theme: Detailed (hits: 18)

Concepts: detailed, areas

Response example:

  • Just straight to the point feedback that is detailed
  • Feedback based on detailed criteria with information on ways to improve

Theme: Analyse (hits: 2)

Concepts: analyse

Response example:

  • Feedback is normally a lot more honest when it is given to you one-on-one and this helps to analyse what the tutor is saying without the distraction of other people
  • Just saying ‘you didn’t analyse this enough’ is not good enough. Detail what is missing.

The Leximancer analysis also includes “balloons” to visually present the themes and their relationship to the concepts. According to the visual results, the main themes are clearly “feedback” and “constructive”, yet each has relationships with two different themes. This indicates that the students want feedback that is analytical (“analyse”) and practical (“doing”), plus the constructive feedback should be clear (“sure”) and detailed (“detailed”).

Constructive feedback concept balloon

Some other points that were raised by students were that while some like verbal feedback, feedback that is written is key. Also, students want the feedback to be specific to them and for it to show them how to improve, with comments focused on where their mistakes were and how to correct them; and they want to learn from the feedback and know how to improve in the future, which is emphasised by the frequency of the word “constructive”.

How should we respond to the student feedback survey?

After hearing from what students consider good feedback, how should we respond? And how can time-poor educators in particular provide personal and detailed feedback in the most effective way for students? Two potential solutions are:

Peer-based feedback

Asking students to provide feedback on what their fellow students have written, including in their assessments, is effective and improves their engagement with the course content. When we experimented with this in an online class, students posted a variety of interesting feedback and comments. Plus the peer evaluation tasks provided a range of responses which greatly helped students bond with each other and with us as the educators.

Marking rubrics

Our institution requires a marking rubric for every subject, which can be very useful in marking and providing feedback through a structured framework. A well-presented rubric can provide the student with constructive detail and a clear understanding of what was expected, where they may not have met these expectations and the reason they received their given grade. It is also given to all the students in the subject, which establishes fairness and consistency of feedback criteria across the class.

From asking a simple question: What is good feedback?”, we have obtained a rich dataset to understand what students would like from us. Our job now is to listen and respond so that students become active partners in their learning process.

David Waller is associate professor and head of the marketing discipline group, Kaye Chan is senior lecturer in marketing, and Geetanjali Saluja is senior lecturer in marketing, all at the University of Technology Sydney.

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