Since I started at St Andrews in September, I have not had a single piece of feedback related to work that was being marked returned on the day originally written on MMS. Sometimes it can be inconsequential – feedback for an essay that was due before the break that came a week late.
Sometimes, however, it was crucial feedback on an essay plan that was needed before beginning an important essay. Someone in my course received feedback on an essay plan nearly four weeks late, receiving it five days before said essay’s deadline, which had to be extended three days because of the delay in the feedback. I’m not saying that the University needs to be perfect, but currently there is a serious asymmetry between students and staff around the consequences of turning in, or returning, work late. If a student turns in work late, they receive a penalty of one mark per day, depending on the department, unless they can provide a reason the University deems appropriate. They can be very understanding in this regard – if we message them with problems, they may grant us leniency – but if they don’t find our reasons satisfactory, they may impose a penalty on us.
I’m not suggesting we can ever have a totally equal system, all that I’m suggesting is that we work to address, partly at least, this asymmetry. At the moment, our primary form of recourse is the one box on our module evaluations at the end of the term that asks if feedback was provided in a timely manner.
This is unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, I did my course evaluations before most of my feedback was even due, so I couldn’t accurately answer the question of whether feedback had actually been returned on time. Second, even if we do respond that feedback was late, we have no idea what the actual consequence of that is, or if there even is any.
My suggestion is simple: lecturers should be held to similar standards that we are when it comes to punctuality. One of the lecturers that gave us feedback late sent us an email before it was due explaining it would be late and giving a timeline of when we could expect feedback, and that made a huge difference. One of the worst things about the consistently late feedback is that we are so often left in the dark about when it is going to come. If staff simply sent us an email before our feedback deadline with three things: an apology, a reason why it was late and a timeline of when we can expect our feedback, it wouldn’t make up for everything, but it would go a long way.
The timeline is the most important part because it would allow us to more accurately plan when we are going to work on what essay. If we have no idea when feedback is coming, it becomes very difficult to know what to prioritise, and what feedback we ultimately have time to wait for. Additionally, a new time frame provides some extra accountability to the staff. If they miss the initial deadline, but don’t set a new deadline, then they can take as long as they want to get back to us. If they set a new deadline then they are now accountable to that new deadline.
Giving an apology and a reason for the lateness is less practical than a new timeline, but it does create an environment of fairness, mutual respect and reciprocal commitment between students and staff. This is because it means that we as students would at least receive an acknowledgement that we are being kept waiting. Getting nothing but silence when something is late is frustrating because it sends the message that we can be ignored with impunity, which is antithetical to creating a respectful relationship between students and staff.
I, and many others I feel, would wish that the University seriously considers implementing these suggestions, or something similar, as a means to improve the relationship between staff and students. After all, saying sorry for being late can make all the difference.