Marking and feedback of early feedback tasks (EFT)

Image of a chalkboard with the word "test" on it
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As you may already know, in response to the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2023, the Academic Board has approved changes to the Coursework Policy and Assessment Procedures and the University has a new Support for Students Policy. These changes came into effect on January 1, 2024.  The central piece of this change is introducing an ‘early feedback task‘ in all 1000-level unit subjects in 2024. This has already begun with those running in the January and February intensive sessions.

The purpose of this early feedback task is to offer students an early indication of their academic readiness for the unit. It may have a low weighting or no weighting in the overall assessment framework for the unit, but its importance lies in its role as a tool for providing personalised feedback to students about their progress. The task is designed to be timed such that feedback can be communicated and acted upon before the census date for the unit.

This policy change is designed with the students at its heart. It emphasises the importance of early assessment, timely feedback, and personalised communication. One of the key requirements of the policy is that students receive meaningful feedback on the early feedback task. Meaningful feedback assists students in understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and may also advise on strategies for academic success (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). Early assessment is particularly important to ensure that students can make a successful transition into studying at university. Early engagement in manageable assessed tasks can build confidence, give information on progress and achievement and allow educators to identify students in need of more support (Molloy, Boud & Henderson 2020).

What does meaningful feedback look like for different tasks?

Multiple choice, true/false and numeric quizzes

For quizzes, the best feedback identifies whether the student’s answer was correct or incorrect, explains why, and directs students to relevant resources or sections of the course for review. Feedback for each question should be tailored to all options, explaining why the answer is correct or incorrect. There is compelling evidence that well-constructed MCQ quizzes with meaningful feedback on both the correct and incorrect answers can significantly improve learning outcomes (Enders et al, 2020).

Simply providing a mark or indicating if the answer was correct without any explanation is not considered adequate feedback and should be avoided.

One of the powers of MCQs is that the educator writes both the questions and the answers available to the students – including the distractors. The distractors are often chosen to reflect common misconceptions, errors and conceptual mistakes. The feedback for each can thus be specific by reflecting these misunderstandings and supporting students in addressing them. Reviewing the results of an MCQ quiz can also be fruitful when questions are re-used, with more feedback added to the distractors which students select and distractors changed that are not selected.

Well-constructed MCQ quiz questions can help activate the retrieval process to reinforce learning (testing effect), and can also stabilise marginal knowledge, (knowledge stored in memory but not accessible at a given moment).

Small written tasks or discussion board posts

For small written tasks or discussion board posts, ideal feedback employs a rubric or marking guide with clear criteria and standards. This allows students to understand how they have performed on the task. An optional individual comment can add further value. A possible alternative is providing a mark or satisfactory/unsatisfactory status entered by the marker in Canvas, along with general feedback on class performance of the task.

Simply providing a mark without any additional feedback is not acceptable.

In-person tasks

For in-person tasks, such as group discussion participation or individual instrument classes, the best feedback options include a rubric in Canvas or SRES and possible written comments or a voice recording of feedback, given contemporaneously.

Again, simply providing a mark without any additional feedback is not sufficient.

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