The following findings emerged from a thematic analysis of two open response items – one staff item, and one student item – from the large-scale survey of staff and students at Monash University and Deakin University. The staff item asked respondents to identify what they consider to be the greatest challenge to creating effective feedback, and why, while the student item asked respondents to more broadly indicate how universities might support more effective feedback.
Percentages and data presented below are based on the entire sample of students (n = 4514) and staff with assessment responsibilities (n = 323). Thematic analysis was performed using an extensive coding framework developed by three project team members. The framework was derived through an iterative process of reading subsets of data, and then suggesting, discussing, and testing preliminary codes. Once this process was complete, a research assistant was briefed on the coding structure and began coding both staff and student responses. Multiple codes were applied to data provided by a single respondent. In the early stages of coding, the research assistant and a project team member would confer regularly about the suitability of the coding, and whether additional codes needed to be added. Once the coding framework was finalised, it was applied to the entire dataset.
- Sixty per cent of staff cited time and workload pressures as the greatest challenge to effective feedback. With regard to students, a high proportion (40%) suggested that the main way in universities could support more effective feedback practices was by improving the content of feedback comments. For example, students reported that they desire comments that are more detailed, more comprehensive, less generic, and more specific to their individual needs and capabilities.
- While staff and students both highlighted different challenges with relation to feedback, these issues are intrinsically linked. When staff are challenged by time and workload, the quality and amount of comments they provide to students will likely suffer. Our case studies of effective feedback showcase several methods educators have used to address this challenge, including modifying traditional models of teaching delivery, exploring different labour models in order to distribute leadership in large subjects, outsourcing educators for certain components of a subject, or reallocating marking time to feedback time.
The majority of staff (60%) nominated time and workload pressures as the most significant challenge to creating effective feedback, with most responses citing general time and workload challenges (66%) and budget constraints on feedback provision (20%) as their main difficulties. This result is largely unsurprising, as time and workload pressures are well-recognised in the feedback literature as challenges for staff with assessment duties. Other themes which emerged included challenges around feedback content (26%), staff attitudes and capabilities (18%), and student attitudes or capabilities (17%).
Within feedback content, most staff identified concerns around creating feedback that is less generic and more specific to students and their work, and providing students with a greater quantity of feedback, more detail or more comprehensive comments.
Concerns regarding staff attitudes and capabilities centred on difficulties in forming relationships with students and understanding students’ needs as individuals, along with issues in providing sensitive feedback to students. Staff also highlighted concerns around students failing to make use of or engage with feedback, including lack of motivation or reluctance to read or value feedback.
It is interesting to note that similar numbers of staff cited concerns with staff feedback attitudes and capabilities as with student attitudes and capabilities, suggesting feedback literacy is an important skillset for both educators and students.
When considering how universities might better support effective feedback, the majority of students (40%) nominated content as an area for improvement. Within the theme of content, many students cited the volume and specificity of feedback as wanting – that is, a need for a greater quantity of feedback that is more detailed, more comprehensive, less generic, and more specific to each student’s needs and capabilities. Given that staff also recognise feedback content to be a challenge of feedback provision, this result suggests that other factors (such as time and workload pressures) may play a role in constraining the breadth and detail of feedback comments.
Other themes which students considered could be improved included feedback modality (28%), staff attitudes and capabilities (18%), and feedback impact (17%).
A small but significant percentage (15%) of all student respondents flagged a desire for richer feedback within the broader modality theme, referencing the benefits of alternatives to traditional written feedback such as face-to-face, audio and video feedback; students also identified modality more generally as an area which could be improved.
Within the theme of staff attitudes and capabilities for feedback, students indicated a need for improved staff knowledge, competency and credibility around feedback provision, including the need for more training. This theme often occurred in conjunction with references to sessional tutors and/or marking staff – a perhaps unsurprising result, given that the literature around sessional academic staff recognises induction and training processes for sessional tutors and markers are often inadequate or even non-existent.
Students also indicated a need to improve the overall impact of feedback, particularly the usefulness of feedback comments; this theme included comments which are unhelpful or unusable, or which are not constructive or fail to provide suggestions for improvement.