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Closing the loop: bridging the gap between provision and implementation of feedback

675px-FileStack_retouchedNSS scores across disciplines and universities consistently show that feedback-related questions receive the poorest scores from students. Besides poor general feelings about the feedback they have received, there is a stark gap between students’ estimations of the level of detail and promptness of the feedback compared to their ability to implement the feedback: there are large, persistent gaps between responses to ‘I have received detailed comments on my work’ and ‘Feedback on my work has helped me clarify things I did not understand’. This indicates that, while students recognise that they are receiving feedback, they don’t understand it well enough to use it as a tool for learning and thereby don’t understand how to implement it to improve future results.

At the same time, lecturers are frustrated by increasing workloads and frustrations about communication and uptake of feedback. All of us are left with stacks of uncollected essays at the end of each term that represent our time and effort to provide feedback, seemingly carelessly rejected by students. Yet how can we improve the uptake of feedback whilst working within the severe constraints on time and resources, especially in large modules?

Something has to change.

‘Closing the loop: bridging the gap between provision and implementation of feedback’ is a project funded by a Higher Education Academy collaborative Teaching Development Grant. Running from June 2013 through December 2014, it brings together four researchers – Dr Helen Williams, Dr Bettina Renz, Dr Nicola Smith and Dr Hardeep Basra – in the politics departments at the University of Nottingham and the University of Birmingham.

The project will run in three stages:

  1. Auditing past feedback to identify common themes raised by lecturers across years, grade boundaries, and departments. The themes identified will then be used to create draft feedback to be tested in the second stage.
  2. Testing draft feedback in student-run focus groups. Do students understand what the feedback says? If not, how could it be improved? What are common points of confusion from the students’ perspective? How would they best like to receive feedback, e.g. in one long explanation; in shorter explanations with links for further information; in another form? The findings from the first two stages will then be combined to produce the project outputs in the third stage.
  3. Creating a series of electronic resources with pre-programmed, student-tested feedback. Following the students’ insights, we will package the final versions of the feedback as Open Educational Resources. This means that they will be freely available and customisable. They will be packaged in the first instance as GradeMark QuickMarks, Adobe pdf forms, Word macro-enabled documents, and plain-text documents. A user guide will be available, and we will also run a series of training workshops.

Interested? Want to know more? Want to participate? The following opportunities are available:


  • We will be recruiting undergraduate research assistants from the two politics departments to run and transcribe the focus groups and to code and analyse the results. Paid positions are available.
  • We are looking for students considering becoming a teacher after graduation who would be interested in working on the project for their dissertations.
  • We will be recruiting focus group participants. Participation will have a guarantee of anonymity and will be paid.
  • We’d love to hear your feedback about the project. What do you have to tell us about our feedback? What do you think of our materials? What have we missed?


  • We are happy to receive input at any stage of the project. What are common frustrations you face in giving assessment feedback? What kind of materials could support you without adding to your burdens?
  • We will offer a series of training workshops in which staff members from any subject are welcome to try out the materials.


  • Any interested parties can request to be added to our e-mail list. We will keep you informed of findings, outputs, training, and dissemination activities.

If you would like to get involved, please contact Dr Hardeep Basra,

If you would like to join our mailing list please fill out this form.

Project website will follow.

Published inClosing the loop


  1. Mike Killingworth Mike Killingworth

    Why do you think that the kind of student who doesn’t collect their essays will participate in focus groups?

    Perhaps you should investigate further why it is that people go to university. Or maybe that would just lead to a feedback problem of a different sort…

    • Mike,

      Thank you for your comments. As to participation in the focus groups, participation is paid, which tends to increase interest, whilst essay collection is unpaid. I would also hypothesise that essay non-collection is related to students not feeling that the feedback they get does more than simply justify the mark and therefore is not useful for improving their future marks.

      The question about why people go to university is a rather separate one and outside of the time and resource limitations of my project, though it is a very interesting one and does reflect the different expectations of what universities are for.

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