Students should be given feedback on all of their assignments

Part of the learning process is seeing, understanding, and correcting past mistakes

All assignments should be learning opportunities. Screencap: Maxwell Gawlick / The Peak

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

One of the big downsides in allowing things to fall into a routine is that we begin failing to see the forest for the trees. Take assignments and assessments in university, for example. When students and faculty get caught up in quickly completing work or assigning grades, the actual point of learning can start to get muddied. As a result, the focus of the work done in undergrad starts to shift toward completing individual tasks, rather than gaining skills, knowledge, or correcting errors. For students, this can mean that valuable feedback is either lost or disregarded in the rush to get the next task done.

As shocking as it may sound, students enroll in university classes to learn. A large part of this process is done under the guided direction of professors and other educators. And yet I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve received an assignment back with a simple letter grade and maybe a comment about a good performance scrawled at the very end. Unless that letter grade happens, by some miracle, to be an A+, these little head nods leave me feeling baffled as to what I may have done wrong, or how I can improve on whatever challenge comes next. 

And let me be clear that this is by no means a universal problem. Many of my professors have, in fact, gone above and beyond to provide detailed feedback on assignments. These much appreciated comments have not only indicated where my work may have fallen short, but have also given enough information that I am able to find the footing necessary to improve on future assignments. 

Nor is this wholly a faculty-sided issue. I’ve often seen students take back graded assignments or exams and shove them as deep down into the unholy recesses of backpacks as they can be crammed, without so much a glance at the comments.

Yet it is enough of a problem — amongst both faculty and students — to take note of it. In both of these situations, students are robbed of the necessary feedback to improve themselves and their work going forward. What should be well-earned lessons about a student’s strengths and weaknesses becomes an endless slog to churn out work at some acceptable graded level.

At no point in the semester is this deficiency in the system more prominent than at the very end. After submitting a final paper, project, lab, or exam, the best that most students can hope for is a percentage to appear in their Canvas log. Getting any kind of detailed feedback on a class final is almost unheard of — except amongst professors who truly do go the extra mile for their students.

And I understand that the end of semester is as much a chaotic time for professors as it is for students. Deadlines to post grades clash with the tsunami of panicked students either needing extensions or extra credit to avoid failing. But that doesn’t mean that feedback during this stressful period is any less relevant for student improvement.

Think of it this way: what is the point of a final (or any other assignment) if a student doesn’t have an opportunity to see how and why they made a mistake? It becomes merely a convenient tool of assessment for the benefit of the professor alone. It ostensibly punishes the perceived “laziness” of weak students, gives unnecessary praise to strong students, and does nothing for those in the middle. 

If that is the case, then it might be best to reconsider whether this mode of assessing student capabilities is really the most efficient and beneficial way for students to achieve what they came to university for in the first place: to learn.