Assessment and Feedback: The Person in the Process

Assessment and Feedback: The Person in the Process: Reflections on the University of Gloucestershire Festival of Learning

Dr Naomi Winstone reads the runes…..

On 13th June, I had the pleasure of being Keynote Speaker at the University of Gloucestershire Festival of Learning, for which the theme was Assessment and Feedback. In his welcome, the Dean for Academic Development spoke of this area of practice as something that the University really cares about. This was certainly evident in the sessions that I attended, which presented a wide variety of innovative practices.

In his seminal paper, David Nicol (2010) argues that students’ dissatisfaction with assessment and feedback reflects the ‘squeezing out’ of dialogue in the feedback process as a result of the massification of higher education. The first session that I attended consisted of two very contrasting talks that made me reflect upon the balance between managing the workload involved in assessing students’ work, and maintaining the important dialogic nature of feedback. The first talk was given by a member of staff and a student in collaboration, who discussed the importance of empathy towards the ‘other’ in the feedback process. The second talk presented an automated marking system as a way of reducing the burden of assessment on staff. The former placed emphasis on the roles of the educator and student in partnership (see Nash & Winstone, 2017a); the latter made no reference to the role of the student. In other sessions I was inspired by innovative uses of peer feedback, and feedback from graduates and industry experts. My reflections on Nicol’s discussion of dialogue were brought back to mind during the presentation of a dialogic feedback model in one of the afternoon sessions, where trust, care, and empathy were positioned as central tenets of the feedback process. The focus was placed on the personal dimension of the feedback process, not the logistics of marking or the nature of comments. During this session I found my thoughts about the day crystallising into two take-away points which I shared during the panel discussion:


People not comments

If we lose sight of the fact that feedback is about the relationship between educator and student, not about the comments written on marking sheets, then we also ignore the complex psychology of feedback (see Nash & Winstone, 2017b).

Process not product

If we focus on the production of comments, then the assessment process becomes more akin to a quality assurance procedure to demonstrate that assessment has taken place than a process that is ultimately designed to drive students’ learning, increase their confidence, and develop their skills.


In my keynote, I drew upon the distinction that David Carless (2015) makes between the ‘Old Paradigm’ of feedback as the transmission of comments, and the ‘New Paradigm’ of feedback as dialogue. In a stretched sector, it is perhaps inevitable that time, workload, and the efficient delivery of comments will be common themes in discourse. Yet by focusing on the person in the process, I believe that feedback has the potential to be less burdensome, more rewarding, and more impactful for all involved.



Carless, D. (2015). Excellence in University Assessment. London: Routledge.

Nash, R. A., & Winstone, N. E. (2017a). Responsibility sharing in the giving and receiving of assessment feedback. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1519.

Nash, R.A., & Winstone, N.E. (2017b). Why even the best feedback can bring out the worst in us. BBC Future.

Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education35(5), 501-517.



What do people get out of being a National Teaching Fellow?

In response to a recent JiscMail discussion regarding the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, several fellows offered accounts of what the award meant to them. This blog has previously published such accounts from NTFs teaching Law, Science  and Music.

Professor Debbie Holley

Professor Debbie Holley, Bournemouth University inaugural lecture 2018.

The new testimonies feature as part of a article. The contributors to the article were Stephen McHanwell, Peter Hartley, James Davenport, Debbie Holley (photographed above) and Vivien Rolfe, and below are details of what some of us got out of being a National Teaching Fellow.

  • The NTF changed my life – enabling me to gain a Professorship (Sheffield Hallam) and focus on educational development. This enabled my move to lead the Educational Development Unit at Bradford where we managed to influence institutional policy and bring in over one million pounds worth of project funding (HEA, Jisc) to investigate sector issues such as e-portfolios, student transitions, computer-aided assessment and assessment feedback, as well as being involved in two collaborative CETLs. I was Project Director on the PASS project, investigating programme assessment, and materials from this project are used by a number of universities to inform current plans, The project is continuing to develop post-funding, and we will have chapters in two new publications issued in 2018 (co-author with Ruth Whitfield from Bradford). Along with other initiatives which my NTF stimulated, this has enabled me to extend my career into semi-retirement.
    Peter Hartley – NTF 2000, Education
  • Because the NTF money was awarded to the individual NTF, the NTF could use it on “experimental” ideas, or ideas without the sort of certain return that bids to internal or external funders tend to require. In 2016, I submitted a paper (with colleagues, both internal and external) to SIGCSE 2017, the major US Computer Science Pedagogy conference. It was rejected. Nevertheless, I went (I was already in the States, but it still cost £1000), observed the various tracks of the very large conference, talked to people and showed the rejection to some “old hands”, and got valuable advice. This led to a (rather different) resubmission based on the same underlying research, which has now been accepted to SIGCSE 2018. The institution will now pay, but it would never have paid for the vital exploratory visit.  Another example is taking a student to FOSDEM (Free Open Source Developers’ European Meeting) to talk about his final year project. This was great  for the student, even though his project was not accepted into the main tree of the software, and gave me a great insight into what the barriers were to getting student code accepted.
    James Davenport – NTF 2014, Computer Science
  • My NTF funding of £10,000 awarded in 2012 was a lifeline for me as I moved universities at that time and therefore had the autonomy to develop my area of open education practice, particularly where internal funds were not available. I built national and international reputation in the field of open education, and the money funded conference attendance and travel, and over 30 research outputs since January 2014.
    Vivien Rolfe – NTF 2012, Physiology and Open Education
  • My NTF was of huge personal and professional benefit. It took three institutions and five attempts to finally gain this so much desired and valued award, and meeting the other NTFs in Liverpool Cathedral, and sharing the time with senior staff from my institution and my family was an evening i will never forget, as we walked across the candle lit walkway, pianist playing, to enjoy our meal together. No, it is not about financial award, it is about building community, having an expert body to reach out to for inspiration when times get tough and you have a deadline. It is about being welcomed in most Universities across the UK, there is a kindred spirit who aims high and puts the students at the heart of learning. But with University funding severely pressed, students expecting more and the demands of both TEF and REF, the NTF remains the one space where we can have that small amount of ‘creatively’ money and use it to offer our students the most wonderful set of learning experiences. The REF and TEF both, in theory will deliver additional ‘corporate’  funding to Universities. But our students deserve better – and we, the  exceptional educators who facilitate their learning and engender a love of the discipline deserve small scale funding pots to facilitate the pushing at the boundaries of education that our line managers, so tied up with corporate finance, are unable to offer. Who would have funded Jan Sellers Labyrinth work? Viv Rolfes OER work? My own JISC work delivering benefit to not only the institution, but the sector?
    Debbie Holley – NTF 2014, Digital Innovation

If you are part of the NTF community and wish to share your ideas or details of your innovative teaching practice, then do communicate via Twitter @NTF_Tweet or the NTF JiscMail list.

Happy New Year and lecture invitation

A Happy New Year to all National Teaching Fellows and visitors to our blog. We kick off the new year with an exciting event at the University of Bournemouth. On Wednesday 31st January Professor Debbie Holley will be giving her inaugural lecture which will enlighten us on many aspects of digital and open innovation, and the impact on student learning. Debbie is Head of the Centre for Excellence in Learning at Bournemouth.

Please visit the university website for further information.

Debbie Holley Invitation