Developing a feedback policy for Life Science

Dr Joanna Richardson

Dr Joanna Richardson, Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry, explains how the School of Life Sciences developed and implemented its feedback policy.  

What we did: 

Over the summer of 2021 I led a working group in the Life Sciences tasked with developing a new School assessment and feedback policy. This was in response to student feedback, via module evaluations and NSS responses, that assessment and feedback needed improvement in the School. While the Unviersity of Sussex has a marking, moderation and feedback policy, the principles set out within it are necessarily broad. Having a school policy would, we hoped, provide a for staff on how to effectively translate policy into action by providing more detailed principles for staff in Life Sciences and, therefore, help to improve feedback clarity and consistency for students and staff.  

How we did it: 

The School didn’t have its own assessment and feedback policy so I had to start from scratch. Having brought together a working group,* I convened a few initial meetings to discuss and agree the purpose of the policy, i.e. that problems the policy sought to address, and what should be included within it.  

I also looked at examples of practice in other schools and universities and teased out common themes. I also dipped into the pedagogic literature, notably the HEA feedback toolkit, and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. I took a lot of inspiration from the University of Sussex Business School because they had worked with student Connectors to develop clear assessment criteria. 

I then drafted a policy for discussion and further refinement with the working group, boards of study (department) meetings, the School education committee and, importantly, some of our students. Happily, the proposals were, bar a few suggestions for refinement, well received and the resulting policy articulates and supports three key principles: 

  1. Transparency: Clear communication of practices to staff and students 
  1. Consistency: Practices are applied consistently and fairly across the School 
  1. Relevance: Students can use assessment and feedback for effective learning 

The policy also clarifies the expectation that feedback should: refer to the assessment criteria qualitative adjectives (e.g. ‘Good’ etc), that it should be constructive. It also provided an indication of reasonable length for written feedback (100-200 words).  

Finally, to help the translation of policy into action, the key points of the policy (including a link to the whole document) are articulated on our staff facing web page. We also created student guidance, which is linked to from all canvas sites via our School template. 

Impact and feedback 

One of the key action points for staff was to include a 3-point “feedback template” in writing feedback for students, to standardise and simplify feedback. In response to staff comments, this was subsequently reduced to a 2-point template: 

  • Areas in which you did well in this assessment 
  • Areas in which you did less well in this assessment and guidance for improvement”) The external examiners have commented very favourably on the use of the template as an example of good practice, and our NSS scores in this area have improved. 

I think it’s important that policies like this one are responsive and can change. Of course, ensuring consistency in the application of any policy can be a challenge. Nevertheless, staff have appreciated clear guidance on the content and quantity of feedback, including the realization that it isn’t necessary to write reams of text to provide effective feedback. This has saved some markers time and is especially useful guidance for new members of faculty and our doctoral tutors.   

Top Tips  

  • Make sure your policy isn’t left on the digital shelf – has to be visible, findable, publicized, accessible and responsive to feedback. 
  • When developing such a policy, convene a group of experts (people with significant teaching and assessment experience) and look at what other institutions are doing (your Academic Developer can also help with this!) 
  • Consult students at every stage. 

* This working group included Joanna Richardson (Biochemistry, lead), Dr Jenna Macciochi (Biochemistry/BMS), Dr Zahid Pranjol (BMS/DoSE), Dr Louise Newnham (Genome), Dr Camilla Tornoe (Neuroscience), Dr Valentina Scarponi (EBE), Dr Shane Lo Fan Hin (Chemistry), Dr Claire May (Pharmacy), Dr Lorraine Smith (Foundation), Dr Christina Magkoufopoulou (TEL), and Ms Amy Horwood (Deputy School Administrator) 

Related links 

See Educational Enhancement guidance on: 

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