You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

A professor reviews an assignment with a student at his desk

Faculty members can help students understand their expectations and boost academic success through effective and clear feedback.

FT Trade/E+/Getty Images

College students have a variety of challenges impacting their education, and sometimes faculty members can be contributing to those barriers.

A spring 2023 Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found four in 10 students say their academic success has been negatively affected by unclear expectations from their professor and 42 percent of respondents say they want more clear expectations from instructors.

One way faculty members can bridge this gap is by providing students with meaningful feedback throughout the course, painting a picture of what student success looks like in their eyes.

Defining feedback: Feedback is information given to students about their performance that can guide their future behaviors, according to Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. It can help direct students to areas of progress as well as evaluate what students are not understanding and where to direct subsequent efforts.

“Feedback should never come off as judgment,” wrote Andrew Shean, chief learning officer at Penn Foster Group, in an Inside Higher Ed Views piece. “Instead, it should uplift learners, challenge them to think differently, deepen their understanding and build their confidence.”

The best feedback, according to the University of South Carolina Center for Teaching Excellence, is:

  • Educative in nature. Students should receive an explanation of what they’re doing right and wrong, but overall feedback should focus on what the student is doing correctly.
  • Given in a timely manner. Students remember feedback (and do so more positively) associated with their work when it’s given immediately.
  • Sensitive to the individual. Some students can be pushed in their academics more than others who may need gentle encouragement, and professors should vary their responses to each student’s needs.

Delivering feedback: Many professors provide feedback through written remarks on individual students’ work. Here are some other methods of delivering effective feedback:

  • Whole-class feedback. This can be done orally during the class period or in a shared written document, according to Elon University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.
  • Peer-to-peer feedback. Students can get familiar with an instructor’s expectations through evaluating a classmate’s work using the rubric. This can also benefit self-evaluation of their work.
  • Audio or video feedback. Feedback delivered via audio or video can humanize the process, making feedback more conversational, friendly and personal. Video or audio feedback can support online learners, too, and give them a chance to connect with the faculty member.
  • One-on-one meetings. A personal meeting provides the opportunity to expand on feedback and facilitate a dialogue with the student, posing questions about the assignment and make a plan moving forward.
  • Small group meetings. Larger classes may be better suited for small group meetings, which require peers to evaluate each other’s work and then share feedback alongside the professor, reducing some of the work of the faculty member.

Doing it well: When delivering criticism or encouragement, professors should consider the following:

  • Create a culture of feedback. Faculty should strive to make feedback normalized and valued, according to Columbia. Feedback, mistakes, practice and revision should all be tied to learning, and students should feel welcome to share their own opinions about the course.
  • Align feedback with learning objectives. Putting feedback in the context of overall course objectives can provide clarity into the expectations for the assignment and help students understand why certain elements are important. A rubric is a clear way to demonstrate how expectations fit into learning.
  • Keep feedback focused. Instructors should keep feedback specific to the assignment outcomes and the student’s individual stage of development. Breaking down large or complex projects into stages can be helpful for the student to receive different layers of feedback throughout the process and also to receive direct feedback ranging from general ideas to more specific focus along the way.

“By embracing purposeful feedback strategies, educators foster an environment where learners are encouraged to strive for excellence, embrace challenges and celebrate progress,” according to the University of Maryland Baltimore Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning.

Do you have an academic success tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

Next Story

Found In

More from Academic Life