Feedback is well understood to be a critical component of learning. Usually when I ask someone about the role of feedback in a subject, or about their experiences of feedback as a student, the conversation turns to written or verbal feedback in relation to assessment.

However, from a learning design perspective, this kind of assessment feedback is likely coming too late for the student. While an assessment may be situated early in a subject, so the feedback will hopefully assist the student with the next, an emotional toll has already been taken by a student who did not achieve as well as they hoped or expected.

Anecdotally, from my own experiences and those of friends who have studied, these early failures can lead to a depletion of confidence, erosion of good will towards the teaching staff. It may also damage any sense of belonging the student may have developed for their learning situation.


A range of approaches situated before the assessment could be used to mitigate this experience of early failure including formative tasks or early draft workshops. In this blog, I’ll focus on possibilities for students to self-assess their work by examining and comparing their own work with the aid of well-defined evaluative criteria.

There are two reasons why I think this particular focus is worthwhile:

  • The ability for a student to self-assess is a key component of Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) and SRL processes are associated with students who do well in their studies (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011).
  • The effort involved in enabling and supporting self-assessment are highly efficient. The development and presentation of information and materials as described below should be largely useful session to session with little modification, and the learning processes undertaken are largely asynchronous.

Supporting self-assessment

The following strategies should assist students to understand a task and evaluate their own work in progress.

Assessment description

This may seem a little obvious but all too often the necessary information for an assessment is not situated somewhere it can be easily found, or presented in a way that supports students to understand the task and its key components. Ideally the assessment page in the Canvas subject site would have all necessary information including a clear description of the task, rather than a collection of PDFs with little context given, or rubrics that can only be accessed from the subject outline. If a student’s cognitive load is taken up with just finding the necessary components of an assessment this impacts on their ability to understand the assessment correctly.

Many assessments use PDFs to describe the undertaking, in some cases where cases examples or other long form information needs to be presented this may be necessary. However the key information about an assessment should not require a PDF download each time the student wants to check it. The use of PDFs also creates a risk that any corrections made to an assessment description would not be reflected in a document that the student has already downloaded and is referring to.


Providing examples of what a great version of an assessment might look like can help a student to have a clear understanding of what it might look like, and what aspects of the assessment to particularly direct their efforts. A marked-up and less optimal example would also enable teaching staff to illustrate common errors.


A simple checklist noting the necessary components of an assessment and common errors to check against gives students a very accessible and easily understood way of checking their own work.

Encourage student to access assistance

The HELPS program offers students one on one assistance to prepare for assignments and get feedback on their writing. HELPS have found that students are much more likely to make use of their support if a teaching staff has recommended the service to them. Linking to HELPS from the subject site, or the assessment page and mentioning HELPS in class may assist students to take that step.


A well-designed rubric should be of as much assistance to students as it is to teaching staff marking an assignment. Unfortunately a poorly designed rubric accomplishes the opposite. Some teachers will take the time to work through an assessment rubric in class so that students are clear on how the task is marked and therefore what they should focus upon.

More feedback resources

Take a look at our recently published collection of resources on feedback for student learning. Included are pages focusing on self-assessment, peer feedback and challenges to effective feedback, with more to come.

  • Thanks Alexander – we definitely unpack rubrics etc at HELPS and it does help when staff refer students directly to us.

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