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What's Wrong With Giving Students Feedback?

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.1158.1 - 6.1158.8

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Paper Authors

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Richard Upchurch

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Judith Sims-Knight

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What’s Wrong with Giving Students Feedback?

Judith E. Sims-Knight, Richard L. Upchurch University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Abstract This paper reviewed the extensive evidence on the effectiveness of feedback on learning. The research supported five claims about feedback. First, informational feedback is effective in domains with clear right or wrong answers when tested immediately after training. Second, when the same maximal feedback conditions are tested for retention or transfer, they are less effective than conditions with less feedback. Third, feedback can draw attention away from the learning task. Fourth, feedback apparently plays a minor role in actual classroom situations. Fifth, teaching students to provide their own feedback and explanation is an effective alternative. These findings suggest that instructors may be more effective if they put less effort into grading and commenting on students’ products and more effort into structuring their courses to help students learn how to assess and reflect on their state of learning themselves. Two specific pedagogical strategies are suggested. First, giving students more assignments than the instructor could grade or comment on will provide more of the kinds of practice they need to develop expertise. Second, helping students to learn how to assess and reflect on their state of learning will help them learn how to provide their own feedback and thus help them to become independent life-long learners.

I. Introduction

Conventional wisdom dictates that giving students feedback promotes learning. Instructors in all disciplines spend hours laboriously correcting and explaining errors on quizzes and tests, reports and papers. Their belief in the importance and effectiveness of feedback is supported by research in a variety of contexts. For example, Azevedo’s meta-analysis of research on the effectiveness of feedback in computerized instruction found strong and consistent superiority of feedback conditions compared to nonfeedback1. In addition, a number of studies have found that elaborated feedback, in which students are helped to find the right path, are more effective than situations in which they are simply told whether they are right or wrong.2 3 4 5

Although there are strong and consistent findings that feedback improves immediate performance under some circumstances, it is also clear that in some situations feedback is irrelevant and sometimes even harmful. In a meta-analysis of research in educational, organizational, and laboratory settings, Kluger and DeLisi3 found that in one-third of the comparisons the feedback condition had worse performance than the group who was given no feedback.

Because so much of instructors’ time is spent giving students feedback by commenting, correcting, and grading student work, it is important to know if this labor fosters learning. Understanding the factors that produce the inconsistency in feedback research should guide

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Upchurch, R., & Sims-Knight, J. (2001, June), What's Wrong With Giving Students Feedback? Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2001 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015