The spiral of the feedback loop

For the last three years we have adopted a new feedback practice to one of the two summative assessments of a level 5 core module of the BSc Economics programme at our institution. We have termed this approach the “Feedback Loop”, for its ability to prompt and generate improvement and changes. It requires students to voluntarily submit a piece of formative assessment that would build into a summative one. Using the Loop over a series of academic terms has meant the process has progressively evolved into a "Spiral", as we incorporate suggestions and feedback from our students on the Loop to enhance the process for the next cohort.

The Feedback Loop was piloted in 2015-16. Our experience is that the Feedback Loop increases engagement and the pass rate on the programme:

The econometric analysis of the last three years of pooled data has confirmed that:

  • Using the feedback loop (i.e. submitting, passing formative assessment and using feedforward) has a positive effect on students’ performance; it is particularly effective in achieving higher grades (with stronger effects for students in the 75th quantile).
  • Not doing the feedback loop (not submitting, failing the formative assessment and not using feedforward) produces detrimental effects, particularly for BAME students in the lower quartile.

 Thus, in our module, the BAME students and all those in the upper quartile are the ones who could gain more from the Feedback Loop.

What is the Feedback Loop?

The feedback loop is linked to one piece of assessment, an essay, in Term 1 for which it is possible to submit a preliminary outline in a form of formative assessment, to receive feed-forward to be used to prepare the final submission of the essay. The process is enriched by:

  1. Providing students with a "Clarity List" to explain what a good performance is;
  2. Inviting students to "search" for specific feedback to ask to the tutor;
  3. Final reflection and evaluation of the usefulness of the feedback loop process and how to improve it.

The Loop process is as follows:

Why has the Feedback Loop been beneficial for our students?

It is recognised that traditional feedback is:

  • Difficult to hear (emotional dimension): negative feedback may reduce self-confidence and self-esteem, and often focuses on praise and critique rather than explicitly on developing the student;
  • Feedback is difficult to recognise/remember/retain (cognitive dimensions): it can be too technical, and many details are often forgotten;
  • Feedback is difficult to use (motivational dimensions): traditional feedback that is 'given' to students may lead to passive reception and may fail to motivate self-improvement. It may further create hopelessness because students cannot act upon it.

The Feedback Loop addresses the above issues and it offers students the opportunity for formative learning because:

  1. It focuses on future actions (motivational dimension)
  2. It is developmental and evolving (cognitive dimension)
  3. It is dialogic and interactive (emotional dimension)

What feedback did we receive?

"The feedback gave me more ideas for organising and structuring my essay, and also for correcting my theoretical mistakes."

"Thank you for the feedback given in the outline and the document about clarity of good performance, both have been crucial to developing this essay. A lot of useful information and tips were given and the correction of my mistakes in the outline has been very important for improving my understanding of the topic."

"I feel that the feedback I received helped to identify whether I was on the right track in terms of the essay and showed me if I have room for improvement."

"I want to emphasise once more how useful the feedback on the outline was, it constituted the first step from where to begin writing and highlighted my initial mistakes so that I could try to fix them."

"The feedback I have received for my outline has been very helpful for writing this essay. For example, I did not mention anything about the equations about debt and graphs in the outline, but thanks to the feedback I have been able to understand what I should have researched and added to my evaluation."

Spiralling into the future…..linking loops into ipsative feedback at programme level.

We plan to give students a voice in the summative feedback process:

  1. Invite students to think of past feedback and to identify the feedback that helped them to prepare for and write the current assignment;
  2. Invite students to think about any feedforward (verbal, written, peer) received to prepare current assignment and to identify the main key points and action to take to respond to this feedforward received;
  3. Invite students to self-reflect and evaluate their performance;
  4. Prompt students to ask for feedback when they submit assignments.


By Dr Gabriella Cagliesi, Mahkameh Ghanei, and Professor Denise Hawkes, University of Greenwich Business School