The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

3.1 Delivering quick feedback in modules with large student cohorts

Some possible methods that could be used to provide prompt feedback include:

Providing feedback after reading a sample of the assignments

Instead of reading all the assignments before providing any feedback, the lecturer could read through a sample of the assignments and report back on some of the common weaknesses as soon as possible. The weaknesses could be communicated to the students in a number of ways:

  • verbally in class time – maybe at the beginning of the next lecture. (This will be more effective the closer the lecture is to the hand-in date for the coursework.)
  • written form – i.e. via a written announcement on the VLE.

As previously discussed, imperfect feedback received quickly can often be more effective than detailed feedback provided much later.

Providing feedback before reading the assignments!

Ideally the hand-in date and time for the coursework should be at the start of a lecture. If the work has to be handed in to a central point then the hand-in date could be set on the same day as the lecture. If possible, the hand-in time should be set an hour before the lecture begins. Without the time constraint there is a danger that a number of students might miss the lecture because they are busy completing the coursework! At the start of class the students should be provided with a coloured sheet with some numbered points that have been previously prepared. These numbered points should include a brief explanation of the likely mistakes you anticipate the students will have made on their assignments and/or some of the key features or characteristics of a good answer. With only limited teaching experience, lecturers can soon predict the sort of mistakes the students will make. You could provide examples of useful diagrams or mathematics you would expect to see in an excellent answer. Typically about 15 numbered points have been included when this approach has been used on a level one microeconomics module. Some examples are shown below:

  1. The essay has no introduction! Instead it launches straight into the main body of the answer.
  2. Relevant diagrams have been included but not explained. Diagrams should form a central part of the explanation and application of relevant microeconomic theory to the question.
  3. Relevant diagrams have been included with some explanation but these were not developed in enough detail or applied to the question.
  4. General explanation of elasticity is included but not applied to the question, i.e. implications of inelastic demand and supply for the size of price changes in response to changes in demand/supply.
  5. A diagram should have been included to illustrate the impact of a per unit subsidy – see the textbook page 95.
  6. A diagram has been included to illustrate the impact of a per unit subsidy but the impact on producer/consumer surplus and economic efficiency has not been illustrated or explained in enough detail – see the textbook page 110.
  7. The essay does not have a conclusion and comes to an abrupt end. A conclusion should pull together the key ideas/arguments from the main body of the essay.
  8. Poor English – you should seek help and support from the Centre for Academic Writing.

Do not simply start the lecture by explaining each point on the sheet. Instead, let the students read through the list for five minutes and anticipate that the room will go very quiet as they realise the sort of issues they should have included and the mistakes they have made! After five minutes of quiet reading time, explain some of the points on the handout to the students. The amount of time and number of points you want to explain is up to the individual but it is probably best not to spend more than 10–15 minutes on this activity. When you take the work away and mark it you can include statements such as ‘please see the following points on the handout: 3, 7, and 8’ rather than having to write out the same comment over and over again on the assignment. The written comments that you do make can be more personalised to each piece of work.

One potential issue with this method of feedback is how you deal with students who hand in work late with an agreed extension. For this reason, when used in the microeconomics module the session had to be delayed for one week as a couple of students had an agreed extension. However when surveyed at the end of the academic year, 85% of the economics students still found this to be the most effective piece of feedback that they had received.