Sustainable feedback

Sustainable feedback involves dialogic processes which support and inform the student on the current task, whilst also developing the ability to self-regulate performance on future tasks (Carless et al., 2011). Sustainable feedback places the main onus not on the tutor to deliver feedback but the student to self-regulate their work. Building on these aspects, sustainable feedback is defined as dialogic activities by which students generate and use feedback from peers, themselves or others as part of an ongoing process of developing capacities as autonomous self-regulating learners (Carless, 2013).

On the basis of interviews with 10 teachers from different disciplines who had won awards for teaching excellence, we infer that sustainable feedback encompasses the following three elements (Carless et al., 2011):

  • Involving students in dialogues about learning which raise their awareness of quality performance;
  • Facilitating feedback processes through which students are stimulated to develop capacities in monitoring and evaluating their own learning;
  • Enhancing student capacities for ongoing lifelong learning by supporting student development of skills for goal-setting and planning their learning.

A fourth facilitating strand of sustainable feedback relates to assessment task design and suggests a further element:

  • Assessment task design to encourage sustainable feedback needs to facilitate engagement over time in which feedback from varied sources is generated, processed and used to enhance performance on multiple stages of assignments.

The development of sustainable feedback requires higher levels of staff and student feedback literacy than are currently widespread. If universities are committed to tackling the challenge of developing effective feedback processes, they need to devote resources to enhancing feedback literacy across the institution.

Key reading:
Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., & Lam, J. (2011). Developing sustainable feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36 (4) 395-407.

Other reference
Carless, D. (2013). Sustainable feedback and the development of student self-evaluative capacities. In S. Merry, M. Price, D. Carless & M. Taras (Eds.), Reconceptualising Feedback in Higher Education: Developing Dialogue with Students (p.113-122). London: Routledge.