A recent contribution (21st March 2021) to the Times Higher Education online resources by Professor David Nicol of the University of Glasgow, well known for his work on assessment and feedback, sets out the steps for creating opportunities for students to improve learning by comparing the work they are producing to a range of sources of information, other than lecturer feedback such as a video or a journal article, and providing a framework to make these forms of learning explicit.  In his recent research he has demonstrated the potential for this process of self-feedback to lead to improved learning and higher marks.

Using this approach students will engage in a task, compare their work to other sources, and then importantly, make explicit what they have learnt from this.

In this way formal and informal feedback processes are connected,  as are formative and summative tasks,  leading to improved understanding and higher marks.

Here is an example provided by Nicol in the context of online learning, using online breakout groups.

Often, students working on a group project present to the class. Using the self-feedback approach students make note of how their work can be improved in the light of the other presentations. These are discussed in their groups and their presentation reports updated with these new insights. Using self-feedback in conjunction with group dialogue provides a further dimension of feedback.

In his own words, Nicol (2013) explains  that ‘there is a big difference between telling students to go and look at an article or an online resource and asking them to make a deliberate comparison and to make the outputs explicit. Reframing feedback as a comparison process engages and positions students as agents of their own learning. Evidence shows grade increases without any teacher input as comments. It is practical and easy to implement as comparisons are already happening everywhere, it is just about harnessing them. It simply requires a shift in mindset.”


The full research is written up in Nicol’s (2020) paper The power of internal feedback: exploiting natural comparison processes published in the journal Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.

He has also produced a youTube video on this approach  – search for David Nicol or for the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, where he is a Research Professor.

You can access the THE Campus resources by registering with your university email address.


Anne Quinney, Principal Lecturer , FLIE.

Leave a Reply

Your details
  • (Your email address will not be published in your comment)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>