Reimagining feedback to be feedforward

Upon successful completion of this class, students will be able to…

That phrase, or some variation of it, appears in nearly every syllabus at UAF. If you want to help your students achieve mastery of what comes next, the single most important thing research says to do is leave feedback (Hattie, 2009).

It might be helpful to reconceptualize the concept of feedback to recognize the influence on achievement that it can be. This idea isn’t new, and it certainly isn’t mine, though I appreciate the reminder as we all prepare for the start of a new semester to think of grading as a student-centered process and not a faculty-centered product (Carless & Boud, 2018). Student feedback in the traditional sense (i.e., faculty-centered and product-based) can be viewed as one-sided: from faculty to students. It typically revolves around a specific assignment and involves comments related to the submissions identifying elements done well or poorly, and a justification for the assigned score (Reimann et al., 2019). When feedback is written from this perspective, students are passive recipients of information that may or may not be of any value beyond that specific assignment.

Rethinking feedback from a student-centered position takes on a “what’s next” feeling where the focus rests firmly on the future and empowers students to take action. This future focus moves away from feedback and provides a more contemporary approach: feedforward to help students enhance ability, improve performance, and inform learning strategies (Carless, 2019).

Because the feedforward process emphasizes the students’ ability to find value in faculty comments and be able to use them to make improvements, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Comments should be clear and direct
  • Assessment strategies should be varied
  • Assignments should be scaffolded
  • Comments should be frequent and timely
Screenshot of the feedback section in Canvas highlighting the video icon.

A key challenge in reevaluating grading practices to help students achieve mastery of learning outcomes is ensuring that students recognize the value of what is being shared back through the gradebook and revisit it the next time it’s applicable. Let’s face it, how many of our students are conditioned to simply ignore anything that’s written in the gradebook? One possible alternative to written feedback that students perceive as personalized and engaging is audio feedback (Parkes & Fletcher, 2018).

Canvas makes it quick and easy to leave audio or video messages for students directly from Speedgrader. Underneath the comment box, there are three icon options. The middle option allows for recording directly into the gradebook using the built-in webcam and/or microphone of a computer, laptop or mobile device. The best part of this feature is that students can do the same thing! They have the same functionality to record comments and send them right back! The grading process no longer needs to be a static, one-way transmission of information (feedback) but can transform into a feedforward collaboration where students are empowered to take an active role in utilizing comments to improve subsequent work. Everyone deserves the kind of feedforward they can return to time and again to help them continue to improve on subsequent assignments and succeed in their future classes.


Carless, D. (2019). Feedback loops and the longer-term: Towards feedback spirals. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 44(5), 705-714.

Carless, D. & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: Enabling update of feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 43(8), 1315-1325.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analysis relating to achievement. London: Routledge. ISBN: 97080415476188

Parkes, M. & Fletcher, P., R. (2018). A longitudinal, quantitative study of student attitudes towards audio feedback assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 42(7), 1046-1053.

Reimann, N., Sadler, I., & Sambell, K. (2019). What’s in a word? Practices associated with ‘feedforward’ in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 44(8), 1279, 2190.

Jenn Pedersen, PhD

Jennifer Pedersen

Executive Director, CTL

Certified QM Peer Reviewer
Online Pedagogy Peer-Reviewer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *