A continuation of the Coffee Course written as part of ANUOnline’s Coffee Course Professional Development Series, by Olga Kozar and Geraldine Timmins, originally published on 24 August, 2018.

As discussed on Day 1, a crucial element of effective feedback is whether students can use it in their current work. Anything students can employ immediately tends to have a much stronger impact than ‘general’ tips for the future.

question markReflection Question

Have you noticed any difference in how your students use your feedback based on when in the semester you’ve provided it?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Tip 1: Early feedback gets the… results!

Staging (= breaking down) assessments and giving students opportunities to regularly present their work-in-progress to peers and educators for feedback is good teaching practice. Not only will it help students manage their assignments (and time!) better, it’ll also work towards reducing ‘contract cheating’, and other forms of academic dishonesty.

Image: By Snowing, Freepik

For example, one approach is to break down a major assignment into several sub-tasks and specify a given task each week.

E.g.“This is a good week to do the literature review on your topic, and identify a gap that you’d like to explore in your assignment. Please prepare a one-paragraph summary of your literature review and be ready to share it in our next tutorial”.

The following week, students can prepare bullet points of the key arguments they’ll present in their assignments followed by a group discussion about those points, etc.

Research also suggests that when students are ‘novices’ in a discipline, they need extensive feedback on strategies and effort to ‘keep them going’ (Shrunk & Rice, 1991). As students become more experienced and confident, they often do not need as much ‘cheer-leading’ to complete a task, so the feedback on ‘effort’ can be reduced.

Time-saving Hack

Shift the bulk of feedback from the ‘end of semester’ assignments to an earlier time, and make feedback ongoing.

Tip 2: Have a ‘soft submission’ deadline

Another way to provide ‘feed-forward’ is having a soft deadline for an assessment submission. For example, students could bring a full draft of their work to the tutorial a week before an assignment is due and discuss it in class.

The educator could lead the discussion by asking targeted questions and using the criteria from the rubrics.

Asking questions such as “On this scale [from the rubric], how clear is the main argument of this work? How well are different perspectives integrated?” will not only maximise opportunities for self-assessment and reflection (which can be even more impactful than external feedback – see Boud & Falchikov, 2007; Li, Liu, & Steckelberg, 2010), but it will remind students about the specific criteria used to grade their work.

Educators could also provide anonymised samples of similar assignments and use these to ‘model’ peer review, or to present common mistakes made on past assignments. The key is to get students thinking as reviewers and assessors and is a chance to provide some individualised early feedback prior to assessments.

Tip 3: Get students to self-assess before they receive their marks

Ask students to assess their final submission using the rubric and reflect on their assignment before they submit or receive their marks.

As we saw in Day 2, self-assessment is an effective strategy to ensure students engage and understand your feedback (Boud & Molloy, 2013).

Asking students to use the marking criteria and write their own general feedback or reflection can significantly improve how much they engage with feedback. It will also give educators a useful starting point for feedback, as you can identify the key issues and misconceptions and address them in your own comments to students.

Similarly, several studies (e.g  Gruhn and Cheng, 2014; Montepare, 2005) report that giving students an opportunity to analyse their mistakes and reward them with additional marks is another way to improve learning. In their study, they allowed students to submit their exam answer sheet, take a copy of the exam paper home and prepare another version of their answers. Both ‘in-class’ and ‘at-home’ exams were scored, and a cumulative mark awarded.

Given the time investment required for double-scoring, we’d like to suggest a modified version of this approach: why not get students to identify 2-3 key potential mistakes that they may have made, write up in their own words why this happened, and what they could have done differently. This reflective piece could be submitted via Turnitin, and be awarded additional marks.

Tip 4: Have an exam or final assignment debriefing

Image: digilearnblog.liverpool.ac.uk, CC License Attribution 2.0.

Exams and final assignments can be a valuable learning opportunity, but, more often than not, students hand in the papers, get a grade… and that’s it.

If your students go on to do similar assessments in the future (chances are they will), this provides a valuable opportunity to provide feedback they could benefit from in a different subject, course or context.

Examples: If your students have an exam, you could arrange a 15-30 minute Q&A session with the whole cohort or class, straight after the exam (e.g. 10 minutes after the papers are handed in) ideally to foster peer-to-peer discussion.

Alternatively, you could have a ‘debrief’ (face-to-face or webinar) very soon after the papers have been marked and before grades are released.

As we touched in Day 1, not receiving feedback, or not receiving it in time enough to bring a student back on track, can have hugely detrimental effects.

A personal story:

When I (Geraldine) was doing my first degree (a highly competitive performance-based degree), I received a great mark on my first assignment so thought I was on track. But in the next part of the unit I was having difficulty with a main skill we needed to develop. I’m sure my educators could see I was having difficulty with the work, but they didn’t say anything. I ended up failing the unit (and I couldn’t proceed to 2nd year; the assessments were unusually weighted in this course) and I was utterly shocked and devastated.

Being 19 at the time, I wasn’t self-aware enough to know how to seek help or ask how to improve. My educators could have invited me to reflect on why I was experiencing difficulty or given me pointers on how to move through it. Other students got warnings but I got nothing. I felt like my educators failed in their duty of care to provide key feedback when they could have. The incident marked me and made me a real advocate for providing high quality feedback to students with time enough for them to benefit from it.

question markDiscussion Questions:

  1. Which of the above-mentioned strategies might work in your teaching?
  2. What are some possible issues you might encounter from using these techniques? How might you address them?
  3. Are there any other ‘timing-related’ tips that you could share with our community?


Gruhn, D. and Cheng, Y., (2014). A self-correcting approach to multiple-choice exams improves students’ learning. Teaching of Psychology, 41 (4), 335-339.

Montepare, J. M., (2005). A self-correcting approach to multiple-choice tests. APS Observer, 18 (10), 35-36.

Boud, D., & Falchikov, N. (2007). Rethinking assessment in higher education: Learning for the longer term: Routledge.

Li, L., Liu, X., & Steckelberg, A. L. (2010). Assessor or assessee: How student learning improves by giving and receiving peer feedback. British journal of educational technology, 41(3), 525-536.

Mahoney, P., Macfarlane, S., & Ajjawi, R. (2018). A qualitative synthesis of video feedback in higher education. Teaching in higher education, 1-23. doi:10.1080/13562517.2018.1471457

Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught on different courses, ranging from 1st year to PhD students. I now work in Learning and Teaching, which I love. I have 2 young kids and a dog, and I love meeting other Mq people, so give me a shout if you'd like to talk 'learning and teaching' or would like to brainstorm together.

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