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Providing effective student feedback

The University requirements for providing student feedback are outlined in the Assessment (coursework, tests and examinations) procedures 2021.

Effective feedback enhances learning, engagement and assessment performance. Feedback should include strengths and weaknesses the learner has demonstrated, and feed forward, i.e. suggest strategies for improvement in future activities or assessment tasks.

Effective feedback should be:

  • Timely – Provide feedback as soon as possible after students submit their assessment, while it is still fresh in their minds and they have time to incorporate feedback into their next assessment.
  • Actionable – Provide concrete information and suggest strategies for improvement. Value-based statements such as “Excellent” or “Well done” do not help students understand why they did well or how to improve.
  • Aligned to learning outcomes and assessment criteria – Connect feedback to the learning outcomes and the specific criteria in the marking rubric.

Dimensions of feedback

Source of feedback

The source is important for students, where teachers bring expertise and authority; they are the “oracle” for advice and judgement. However, it is valuable to expose students to different forms of feedback and encourage greater engagement with both the giving and receiving of feedback. We see the potential for growth in both peer feedback and feedback from automated systems, but both are highly dependent on the effectiveness of software tools.

  1. Feedback from staff to students
    This is the most common source of feedback that students usually received.
  1. Feedback from automated systems
    Automated feedback is typically specific to the activity in question. It is linked to specific activities but is seen as a growing opportunity as machine learning applications become more effective. Such feedback is low cost to staff and perceived to be easily accessible but of less value to students. Concern has been expressed about the possibility of automated feedback being a replacement of expert teacher feedback, but it should be seen as complimentary. Examples include:
    • Grammarly (feedback on writing)
    • Turnitin (feedback on academic integrity)
    • intelligent tutoring systems
    • automated grading (quizzes)
    • customised resources using tools such as H5P
    • Perusall (automated feedback on reading annotations)
  1. Feedback from peers
    This provides a significant opportunity for the University. Peer assessment can be used for both for individual assignments and the team contribution to group projects. Tools include:


Existing tools in Canvas can be used to provide effective feedback for students in most situations. Some of the standard features (such as PDF annotation) are under-utilised, and hardware—such as tablets with stylus support—may be required to maximise the effective use of these. We also recommend the use of marking rubrics to communicate assessment expectations and provide specific feedback.

Scope of feedback

Feedback on individual work is of most value, but students also value comparing their work with that of others, and to appreciate the most common strengths and weaknesses observed across the cohort. Broader feedback related to an entire group is seen to encourage reflection.

  • Individual (work distinct from others)
  • Group (common feedback received by an entire group)

Visibility of feedback

Although most feedback is delivered privately, there is perceived value in learning vicariously (cf. Bandura, social learning theory) by seeing examples of work, along with the feedback given, over a variety of performance levels. Such feedback provides opportunity for learning prior to submission of work and helps students calibrate expectations.

  • Private (feedback to the individual)
  • Public (exemplars with feedback)

Anonymity of feedback

Typically, feedback from a teacher is identifiable and feedback from peers remains anonymous to the recipient, to protect relationships and reduce bias.  However, students should be given opportunities to develop skills of giving and receiving feedback to improve teamwork and interpersonal skills, which requires some feedback to be identifiable.

  • Anonymous (peer to peer)
  • Identifiable (teacher to student)

Target of feedback

The target of feedback is typically a single artifact submitted at a given moment in time but can also be an ephemeral event, or an activity that is monitored over a longer period of time. In such cases, it is more important to ensure careful documentation is maintained to provide an audit trail.

  • Single artifact (assignment, essay, test)
  • Ephemeral event (performance, presentation)
  • Longitudinal activity (e.g. work over the course of a project, eportfolio, participation in discussions)

Feedback for different forms of student work

Individual submissions – staff and/or automated feedback

These submissions typically take the form of an artifact, e.g., a PDF, a scanned document, or a photograph.

  • Formative feedback should focus on what needs to be changed to improve outcomes.
  • Rubrics with comments are desirable by students, especially where free-form comments are added, and where those comments are linked to the criteria.
  • Relying on only a summary comment at the end is less helpful as formative feedback, but can be useful if provided in addition to.
  • Canvas also supports audio feedback and an annotation tool and can reduce workload when used effectively, however, the use of these tools at the University is low.

Quiz involving either essay questions or MCQs.

  • Rubrics should be used to provide individual feedback per essay question. Additional comments can be added for each question.
  • MCQs should include formative feedback when incorrect responses are chosen, with directions to additional resources. Such feedback can be automated and developed as part of the MCQ.
  • Quiz feedback should be set to be released after the quiz is completed.

Individual submissions – peer feedback

Note: The peer review process works adequately in Canvas but it is difficult to extract marks for either recipient of the reviews (i.e., averaging the marks awarded), or for the quality of the reviews authored.

Feedback on an individual’s contribution to group work

Note: Currently this is not well supported in Canvas. There are options, but none that integrate seamlessly.

Class-wide feedback

Class-wide feedback provides a general overview of performance, allowing students to reflect on their own performance. It may assist in developing meta-cognitive and self-regulation skills when appropriately scaffolded.

  • Delivery through Canvas Announcements.

Ways of providing feedback for assessments

Pre-submission feedback

Where appropriate, inform students of opportunities to obtain automated feedback on the quality of their work before they submit.

  • Automate feedback on plagiarism through Turnitin. Create a separate ungraded draft assignment in Canvas so students can receive a Turnitin similarity report before they submit their final version for grading.
  • Enable the ETS® e-rater® technology in Turnitin for the draft assignment so that students can check the quality of the language before they submit.
  • Remind students to use spelling and grammar checker tools such as the Writer’s Diet or Grammarly.

Marking rubrics

  • Marking rubrics clarify the required elements of an assessment task and can help students review the quality of their assignment before submitting.
  • Rubrics supports a more consistent and objective grading scheme.
  • Rubrics also provide feedback to students on their performance in each criterion.
  • Adding a rubric to an assignment in Canvas can make marking and providing feedback more efficient, especially when grading with rubrics in Canvas’ SpeedGrader.



Providing feedback with marking rubrics

When marking an assignment in Canvas with a rubric that has performance level descriptors:

  • The marker can enhance the effectiveness of the feedback by providing further written comments for each criterion and for the assignment overall.
  • Overall feedback on a particular submission may be entered more quickly using the speech-to-text function or a short video recording.
  • A bank of comments created in an external document (e.g., a Google Doc or Excel spreadsheet) can make providing individual feedback more efficient. (A bank of comments cannot currently be created with this type of rubric in Canvas.)

If adding a rubric that has specific marking criteria but no performance level descriptors or ratings, select the option to write free-form comments. The marker can then create and reuse these comments while marking to provide individual feedback more efficiently.

If marking with a rubric in Turnitin GradeMark, create a comments bank using QuickMarks.

Whole class summary

  • A summary of the overall performance of the class on an assignment can reinforce the concepts and skills that students need to demonstrate. It can also encourage students to reflect further on their own performance.
  • This could be sent via Canvas Announcements or posted as a short video presentation.
  • Canvas Rubrics Analytics provides the average performance level of the whole class in each criterion in the rubric. This may enhance efficiency when summarising feedback, particularly with larger classes.
  • A summary from a previous class may also help later cohorts with the same assignment.

Utilising feedback

  • Encourage students to make use of suggestions from feedback on past assessments.
  • Prompt students to use feedback to help identify specific areas for improvement. Before they submit their next assignment, send a reminder through Canvas Announcements for students to refer to feedback in their past assessments.
  • Guidance for students on using feedback is available on the University of Auckland’s Learning Essentials website.


  • Create automated feedback when setting up self-marking quizzes (e.g., MCQs, True/ False, Fill in the blank) in Canvas or other quiz authoring tools (e.g., H5P).
  • Embedded feedback can include which answer is correct, why a response is right or wrong, suggested strategies to generate a correct response and which specific learning materials to review.

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