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This conference paper was originally published as:

Northcote, M. T., Williams, A., Fitzsimmons, P., & Kilgour, P. W. (2014). Does the type of assessment feedback I give make a difference?: The impact of qualitative and quantitative assessment feedback [CD]. In L. Gómez Chova, A. López Martínez, & I. Candel Torres (Eds.), Proceedings of the 7th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (pp. 4531-4540). Retrieved from

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Feedback provided to postgraduate students about their assessment tasks influences the way in which they reflect on their learning and themselves personally. In particular, the nature of the feedback and the way in which its dissemination is sequenced and timed can further impact how students incorporate, or don't incorporate, assessment advice into their future learning, a process referred to by Duncan (2007) as "feed-forward". Despite the value placed on assessment feedback by academic teaching staff, it often has minimal impact on students' learning (Sadler, 2010).

Past research into the impact of qualitative and quantitative feedback on student learning established that quantitative feedback (for example, marks, grades, scores) impacts students' egos whereas qualitative feedback (for example, advice-giving comments) impacts students' understanding of the learning task (Butler, 1987, 1988; Butler & Nisan, 1986). The impact of assessment feedback continues to be investigated in higher education (The Higher Education Academy, 2012) but it remains a contentious issue (Boud & Molloy, 2013). Pulfrey, Darnon and Butera (2013) suggest that the practice of giving grades to students continues to be an area of disagreement among educators.

The research project, reported here, extends on previous research about the nature of assessment feedback and its impact on students' learning and students' self-perceptions. This study investigates students’ responses to assessment feedback (Bell, Miadenovic, & Price, 2013), but specifically focusing on postgraduate students enrolled in online courses. The study investigated how postgraduate students, in an online course, responded to the sequenced release of qualitative and quantitative assessment feedback using online assessment tools within the institution's Learning Management System (LMS). Students responded to a series of online prompts that elicited their comments about what they did and how they felt when they received, firstly, qualitative feedback and, secondly, quantitative feedback about their assessment tasks. To gather both holistic data and in-depth information about each case (Flick, 2004), a qualitative research approach was adopted in which students' responses to varied types of data were gathered. Data gathered from each student enabled the consideration of each participant as an individual case study. These data were then analysed through a process of constant comparison to determine how each type of feedback influenced the students' perceptions of their learning and of themselves.

The findings of the study revealed that students focused on themselves and their learning, depending on the feedback they were given about their assessment tasks. Furthermore, the type of feedback received tended to influence the nature and specificity of their responses to the feedback. Full details of the findings will be presented in the conference paper. The findings of this study have implications for the way in which: a) assessment tasks are designed; and b) assessment feedback is provided to students. Findings from this research may interest university lecturers, course designers and supervisors of postgraduate students who are looking to promote deeper engagement of their students with their assessment feedback.

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