Helping students to explain what they want from feedback: findings from a large-scale survey

Mark Carver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Surveys asking Higher Education students about feedback tend to find similar results: feedback should be prompt, specific, understandable and regular. Efforts to improve the feedback experience therefore emphasises that feedback be more frequent, detailed and turnaround times reduced. However, despite similar wording on many surveys, a significant number of students misunderstand key words such as ‘prompt’. Surveys also typically only get to ask a small number of questions about feedback, so misunderstanding has a significant effect on what can be concluded from students’ responses to these questions.

To try elicit a more nuanced understanding of feedback, 613 students completed a 35-item survey about a specific time they received feedback during a work-based learning placement. Students typically saw feedback as straightforward communication where an expert tells them what to do. This contrasts with more contemporary definitions of feedback as sustainable, learning-oriented practice. However, principal component analysis of the survey responses indicated a pattern of responses which suggests that the vast majority of students tacitly hold a more sophisticated understanding of feedback which they struggled to express. Their patterns of response directly challenge many of the ways that feedback provision is currently monitored, suggesting better ways to evaluate and improve feedback provision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-52
Number of pages14
JournalPractitioner Research in Higher Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2016


  • Feedback
  • Feedforward
  • Work-based learning
  • Mentoring
  • Dialogue
  • Student satisfaction

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