Mike Robinson

Sheffield Hallam University

Rethinking feedback in Mathematics


22nd October 2018, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Howard House, 4th Floor Seminar Room

It is remarkably difficult to find studies specifically about feedback in university mathematics courses. Perhaps this reflects a view that, as mathematicians and educators, we already know how to give feedback: often this is primarily to identify errors in student work, provide a mark or grade, and perhaps supply model solutions. This worked for us, and we were successful as mathematics undergraduates, so surely this approach is correct?

The National Student Survey emphatically contradicts this cosy view, and whilst we might justifiably harbour reservations about the value of the NSS, there is further evidence suggesting that our typical practice is not always appropriate. Whilst studies into HE maths feedback are rare, there are plenty about feedback in maths at secondary level, and feedback at tertiary level (both specific to other disciplines, and more generic) which can provide us with a useful perspective.

For example, Sadler (1989) identifies three essentials to effective feedback: that students must gain a knowledge of what is required, they must compare their own performance with the required standard, and that they must do something which will (in part) close the gap between the two. Our default model of feedback can go some way towards satisfying the first two, but how effective is it at prompting students to act to close the gap?

This talk will consider what makes our feedback effective (or not), various means by which we might improve our feedback with examples from various institutions, and focus particularly on the issue of prompting appropriate further action by the students; in the process, it aims to prompt a lively debate on whether we should radically change our standard approach to marking student work.


Sadler, D.R. (1989) ’Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems’, Instructional Science, 18, pp119-144.

Robinson M, (2015) Providing Effective Feedback in Croft AC, Grove MJ, Kyle J and Lawson DA (eds) Transitions in Undergraduate Mathematics Education. Higher Education Academy.

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