Archived case study

Feedforward feedback on first assessment to improve attrition



In a nutshell Feedforward is a simple project whereby the new students are offered an opportunity to submit a 500 word draft of their first assessment for feedback. Students are given a structured timeline of when to submit their draft so they can receive practical written feedback on how to improve their work. They are asked to assess their own draft prior to submitting to the tutor using a checklist which prompts them to action. They receive a projected mark to give students information on how to close the gap between their actual and their required (or desired) performance. Encouraging students to make the connection between assessment, feedback and learning is at the heart of this project. It aims to proactively manage student transition from level 3 to 4.

This project keeps to a tight time frame to ensure that the students engage with their first assessment from the first week of starting the programme. It is designed to promote learning as students are given a deadline to complete a section of their assignment; carry out a self-evaluation via the draft check list and also get written feedback from the tutor on their writing. The time schedule is required in order to allow the students’ time to reflect on their own and the tutor’s comments and act upon suggestions prior to their submission date. An example of timeline of when to submit their draft in order to receive written feedback on how to improve their work and a projected mark is illustrated. This project also ensures that student submit their draft via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Moodle which provides students with a practice opportunity of learning how to submit their work electronically prior to their actual submission date.

What prompted innovation?

The main decision to start this project started when we were alerted to the attrition rate at Glyndŵr University being the highest in Wales. We began to think about implementing measures that would improve student retention and success and looked for advice and guidance to the Higher Education Academy’s (HEA’s) “What Works? In student retention and success project.” It is recognised that Glyndŵr University Projects promoting student success needed to be aimed at the entire student population. Feedforward was designed to help all students to feel more confident about the transition from one level of study to another, in order to keep students focussed on gaining academic skills so they could become good evidence based nurses.

What makes innovation different?

In many ways the idea is very simple. It evolved from asking a group of first year students what support they would like to help them to stay on the course. They said they wanted feedback on a draft of work so they had a better chance of knowing how to be successful on their first assessment. A positive element of this intervention the students also become engaged in assessing their own work through the draft checklist. This promotes more self-directed learning. The tight time line prevents too much procrastination before they begin writing at level 4 and the projected mark gives them a benchmark so they can see that if they engage with tutor feedback their marks can improve. Because Feedforward happens so early in the programme any students who require student support are signposted to support services before they start to fail. This enables students to view accessing support (such as study skills tutors) as a proactive rather than remedial resource.

Changes in practice

The students’ feedback on this project has been extremely positive (see student comments in the next section). They begin to see that engagement helps their development (and marks) they have become proactive themselves in asking for Feedforward to enable them to understand the transition between levels. Colleagues have begun to take on this mantle and there is Feedforward at various stages throughout pre-registration and between level 6 and level 7 work too.


I think the most impressive commendation about this intervention comes from the students comments about Feedforward:

“I found that the feedback emphasised the good and not so good parts of the work so that adjustments to the work are made with confidence.”
“I would highly recommend the feedforward exercise I don’t think that I would have passed first time without using it. It was a great way to see what standard our work needed to be at, and how we could achieve that standard.”
“How to set my references out and how to write in the correct manner, and it also put me at ease that I wasn’t doing it wrong.”
“Yes I learned from it. The feedback I had I took into account and improved my assignment.”
“To reference properly and effectively”
“It was very useful to get an appreciation of how our work would be marked, especially as it was our first assignment”
“By submitting a draft the feedback helped me to go into more depth with my assignment”
“That I hadn’t read around the subject enough and needed to work on referencing”
“How to structure paragraphs”
“Enabled me to improve the standard of the rest of my work”
“I learned to take more time in planning”
“I thought it was a good idea as it was our first assignment we didn’t really have an idea of how it was to be completed-form-content etc. So a draft gave me a little more indication of what you were asking of me”

There were also a number of students from another cohort who recommended me for the Excellence in Teaching Award at Glyndŵr University for this work. They said:

“Very supportive and she makes lectures fun!!”
“Gave the whole class the confidence needed to believe in ourselves. Very supportive, honest & very, very helpful.”
“Being a pretty stressful course Peggy has used her humour and warmth to make all new first year students at ease and valued in regards to her subject area and the nursing course in general. Peggy has used her knowledge in Study skills to provide further information and support to all students regardless of ability which is something that should be commended.”
“In fact not one of the September 2012 cohort has dropped out (39/39) which in itself is an indication to how hard the nursing lecturers have worked in making new students valued. This is especially important when you think about the general age range and sex of the make-up of the course, with half the class being mothers over the age of 25, who have the added stresses of home life to contend with as well as course work, placement and class time.”
“Peggy has taught our first module, caring and communication. She has taken 35 strangers and introduced them to the scary world of university. She has made lectures fun, interesting and thought provoking. She has challenged us to think outside the box and continue with additional research. She is caring and compassionate about her profession and teaching role and that shows in every lecture. Most importantly she gives her time and attention to any student that needs it.”
“Peggy has made my first weeks in university a pleasure & provided a relaxed environment. Her teaching methods are fun but also insightful. Can’t wait to have Peggy again. I also know the cohort all feel the same about Peggy. Thank you”
“Peggy not only makes all her students feel supported, cared for on an individual basis, she also engages with each and every student in such a positive way. She makes all her teaching sessions interactive and fun! She is a real asset not only to Glyndŵr University but also to nursing as a whole.”
“She is always there to listen, support and offer advice and guidance. She makes you feel that she cares and will try her best to help you. With her module she taught in year one “feedforward” it was so valuable to have the chance to write a sample part of the essay and get valuable critical feedback and hints and tips e.g. with my learning difficulties to seek assistance from study support and how to plan the structure better.”


The findings from this project have been disseminated internally and externally through Glyndŵr University’s Teaching and Learning seminars and at a number of external events such as UCLAN’s sharing Practice conference, A QAA event and an HEA conference. It has also been published in a number of HEA resources.


  • Glyndŵr Teaching Symposium (March 2012) Improving assessment with Feedforward to encourage early engagement
  • Access to HE Annual Conference 2012 QAA: Aston University Virtuous Circles collaborative working between Further Education and Higher Education
  • HE Academy: York University What Works? Student Retention and Success “Feedforward a project to encourage students to engage with feedback from day one”
  • HE Academy Seminar Glyndŵr (July 2011)
  • Sustaining and developing effective student feedback strategies for first year students in Higher Education


  • Murphy P. (2013) The use of Feedforward to support success and retention of students in higher education in Clark, R. Andrews, J. Thomas, L. and Aggarwal, R. (2013) (eds) Compendium of effective practice in higher education: Volume 2 Higher Education Academy, York.
  • Murphy P. (2011) Nursing Programme, Glyndŵr University- Written feed forward in Thomas, L. and Jamieson-Ball, C. (eds.) (2011) Engaging students to improve student retention and success in higher education in Wales Higher Education Academy.
  • Murphy, P. (2011) Written feed forward scheme/programme included in Fitzgibbon, K. (ed.) (2011) ‘First year student experience Wales: A practice guide’ and First Year Experience Wales project group members Higher Education Academy.