Students' experiences of feedback on academic assignments in higher education: implications for practice

Liz McDowell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores differences in higher education students’ experiences of tutor feedback on assignments. In the UK, feedback on student work is effectively mandated through quality assurance systems such as the national Quality Assurance Agency’s Code of Practice (http:/// It features in the new National Student Survey (, which is used to evaluate the quality of education provided by universities. Nevertheless, the provision of feedback on students’ academic work is also regarded as raising dilemmas in relation to feasibility and effectiveness. Feasibility is brought into questions by the pressure on academic staff time and the difficulties of providing individual feedback to students who are taught in large groups. (Knight & Yorke, 2003, p.43). Modular curriculum structures are also said to give rise to problems of getting feedback to students in a timely manner (Weaver, 2006). Questions of effectiveness frequently centre on debates about whether students actually use feedback (Higgins et al., 2002), whether they understand it (Chanock, 2000; Higgins et al., 2001; Weaver, 2006) and whether the feedback is appropriately constructed (Ivanic et al., 2000). The positioning of feedback systems as part of auditable procedures is considered to damage the dialogic functions of feedback (Crook et al., 2006). One very important message from research in formative assessment is that, if feedback is to have any effect on learning, the learner must respond to it (Black & Wiliam, 1998). We therefore need to understand how students respond to assignments and to feedback. Higgins et al. (2001, p. 272) suggests that students are likely to ‘conceptualise feedback in qualitatively different ways’. However, most of the research to date treats higher education students as a group, either students ‘in general’ or all of the students on a particular course or at a specific level, such as first year undergraduates. This chapter explicitly addresses differences in the ways that students experience feedback and suggests that we can identify a small number of significantly different experiences which can sensitize us to new dimensions and considerations in feedback practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBalancing Dilemmas in Assessment and Learning in Contemporary Education
EditorsLiz McDowell, Anton Havnes
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages312
ISBN (Print)978-0415955843
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research in Education


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