I am a teaching assistant in an undergraduate bioinformatics course. A few weeks ago the students in the course handed in the final assignment (which is worth 80% of the final grade), which we (me and the other members of the course staff) are currently in the process of grading.

The lecturer in charge of the course wants to give the students only their final grades for this assignment without any feedback on why points were taken off. Her justification for this is that she do not want students to pass the feedback to the next class that will take this course and thus avoid copying of answers. While she did not say so explicitly, my impression from some things she did say is that by avoiding a more detailed feedback she hopes to discourage student from appealing their grades. My university's regulations state that a student can appeal any grade, but in the appeal form the student must specify exactly which question/part of the assignment they appeal and why do they think that points were taken off unfairly, so no feedback - no appeal and thus no extra work for the course staff.

I am rather uncomfortable with this attitude for several reasons:

  1. From a didactic point of view I think that merely giving a student their final grade without any indication what was his/her errors is wrong is it does not allow them to improve.

  2. Not giving feedback will not prevent students from passing their work to the next class. It will just mean that the errors of student from this class will propagate to the next class.

On the other hand, I am uncomfortable from insisting on this issue from several reasons:

  1. This is my first year as a TA, whereas the lecturer has been giving this course for many years, so it is possible that her judgement is better then mine, even though it seems wrong to me.

  2. It is unlikely that I will teach this course again (I intend to graduate and move to another university later this year). Thus, even if I do manage to persuade the lecturer to give a more detailed feedback, I will not be around to face the consequences she is afraid of whereas she will, so insisting on this may be a bit unfair to her.

  3. The other TAs in the course do not seem to share my opinion (they did not voice any strong opinion of this matter).

  4. I do not want to start a confrontation with the lecturer, as I might need a reference from her in the future.

There is still a window of a few weeks until we are supposed to give the grades, so theoretically I can reopen this discussion.

Basically, I have two questions:

  1. Given all of the above, should I attempt to persuade the lecturer to allow more detailed feedback?
  2. If I should, how can I persuade her?


Some additional information that seem relevant is light of the comments and answers:

  1. As per the lecturer's instruction we keep a detailed record of the grading of the assignment (this also includes that lecturer, with respect to the parts of the assignment that she grades herself). So detailed feedback is available. Thus we can rule out the possibility of laziness or unwillingness to waste time on detailed grading.

  2. Assessment and feedback during the course Many of the classes in the course included practice sessions during which the students were supposed to complete on assignment. These assignment were not handed in or graded, but were meant solely for the students' learning. During these sessions the students were able to consult the course staff if they did not understand or were unsure about a certain question. In addition there were two midterm assignments, each worth 10% percent of the final grade (I would mention that at my institution it is quite normal that the final exam/assignment makes 80% or even more of the final grade, but is not normal not to give feedback on it).
    For the first of these midterms we did not give students individual feedback, only the final grade. We did mention in class some frequent errors and issues in the assignments. Formally students were allowed to approach us for more detailed feedback but as far as I know few if any did that. For the second midterm assignment we give detailed feedback.
    The in the grading policy between difference between the two midterm assignments is that the first assignment was submitted only electronically via the course website and in the second assignment the student were also required to hand in a hard copy of the assignment. The lecturer refused to allow feedback on the electronic submission because this would be easier to pass to the next class. Initially she wanted to require hard copy submission of the first assignment too (presumably to allow detailed feedback). When I asked prior to the issuing of the assignment to the students why an electronic submission is not enough she changes it an electronic submission only. I did not realise at the time that this would deprive students from feedback. She only informed us about that after the assignments were handed in and we were about to start grading.

  • 6
    Have you talked to your advisor or someone else in the department you trust about this? They can likely help you navigate local politics. Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:26
  • 17
    I know a few professors who don't write down detailed feedback in their initial assessments of final projects; instead, they just assign a letter grade, and keep a private rough record of their impression of the assignment. This is for two reasons: (1) The most time-consuming part of grading assignments is actually providing the detailed feedback; reading over an assignment and getting a sense of its quality is pretty quick. And the end of the semester can be quite busy. (2) Many students never read feedback comments on assignments during the term, let alone after the end of the term. ... Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 17:42
  • 11
    ... If a student does request their final assignment be returned after they receive their final grade, the professor will then go back to their "private rough record" and fill in the detailed feedback after the fact. This whole technique seems a little odd to me, but some of my colleagues swear by it in order to maintain their sanity at the end of the semester. Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 17:45
  • 5
    As a programmer, I can't help but think of the compilers/parsers/etc. that give really, really bad error messages and make my life miserable trying to find the real problem... You can waste literally hours on a single error sometimes.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 0:21
  • 4
    Speaking as a former university instructor who had to grade things, have you considered this person is just lazy and doesn't want to take the time to do proper grading? That was always the most tedious part of my job, but it's also one of the most important for student growth to have good feedback, so I did it. Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 22:13

5 Answers 5


No, you should not confront the lecturer again ("reopen") over this issue. That would not be an efficient use of your time.

You've talked to the course instructor. She has explained to you her justification. Presumably she's observed both cases of giving and not giving feedback for the final in the past (you have not). You do not have the power to compel her. You don't have other allies on the grading staff. You are ending your engagement there in the immediate future. You will not deal with this issue again. Move on.

Keep this in your list of "things I think I could improve on when I become a lecturer" for the future. Hopefully this will be a memorable case to experiment with later on your own. And you'll get to observe another institution's practices for comparison in the meantime. You may well be right, but you triply don't have the time to redirect this in your current position.

  • 19
    +1. This is unfortunately not the time and place for the OP to pick a fight. "Keep your powder dry", as they say.
    – tonysdg
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:34
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    +1 for "Keep this in your list of "things I think I could improve on when I become a lecturer""
    – Zenon
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 17:08
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    +1 for an answer that says something correct but unpleasant to admit. It is difficult to stand by and do nothing in the face of injustice (and I do agree with OP's analysis of why the lecturer's behavior is wrong), but given the power dynamics at play here and OP's personal situation, I think accepting the lecturer's decision is the most sensible course of action.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:45
  • 6
    Could also talk to the dean and get the lecturer disciplined, no? as far as I understand, she's deliberately skirting the appeals process. Thats worth firing for, imo.
    – Magisch
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 7:29
  • 7
    -1, this is why injustices impregnate and pervive in the western educational system. "just move on".
    – CptEric
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 8:54

What the lecturer is doing is reprehensible, but there is nothing you can do about it.

A vast amount of educational research demonstrates that prompt feedback improves learning. The lecturer appears to be systematically avoiding giving any feedback, which is absurd.

Why would the professor do such a thing? You list her stated reason and one suspected reason. Neither of these is a valid reason for her to abdicate her responsibility to run the course in such a way that students receive feedback. Another quite likely reason is simply that she's lazy. The bare minimum she has to do in this course is show up to the lectures. Anything else added to the structure of the course will increase the amount of time she has to spend. If she assigns the students graded work, then even if she doesn't have to read the work herself, there is some nonzero amount of time she has to spend handling that, even if it just means entering scores into a spreadsheet or something.

Her justification for this is that she do not want students to pass the feedback to the next class that will take this course and thus avoid copying of answers.

There is a very simple solution to this problem, which is that she needs to stop reusing the same final project semester after semester. It sounds like she's too lazy to do that.

The reason this is an unwinnable fight for you is that when someone is this lazy about their job, it's because that's the kind of person they are, and they are strongly motivated to keep things the way they are. Offering sound ethical and educational arguments to the contrary will not work, because an unethical person will never agree with an argument when agreement would mean having to change their behavior.

  • 4
    As if the students didn't talk to each other. It is rather easy to know whose assignments were graded high last semester (being 80% of the grade), and then allow the freshmen to peruse that work. Not ethical, but students sometimes are not. Security by obscurity does not work on its own. Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 19:20
  • 2
    I wonder if this answer should be modified in light of the OP's edited, extra information (last paragraph) -- i.e., that feedback is given on earlier assignments; and that the final exam policy is standard throughout the institution. Is "What the lecturer is doing is reprehensible" still appropriate? Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 14:37

If there are any issues, they are between the instructor and the students. One would assume that if a student approached the instructor with questions about the grade, then she would be responsive to that request. If she is not, the student has the responsibility to pursue recourse.

The best you can do is to grade as quickly as possible, so that students will have the ability to ask questions soon.

  • 1
    Some people think you have a moral duty to do a job well if you are doing a job. Especially if the well being of others depends on you doing your job well.
    – Yakk
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 14:41

There was one professor at a college I attended who, knowing that grading is the least pleasant part of a professor's job, wrote a "quiz" program that automatically graded student assignments without him intervening. Students kept complaining about it in course reviews, and he kept tweaking it, sometimes in ways students found very strange. (At one time, his students could get zero credit for a good chunk of a working solution; at another time his students could get partial credit for what turned out to be very minimal.)

That "quiz" program was the reason he didn't get tenure, and that was the only time in academia that I have seen sheer delight on the part of a student who just heard that a professor was not extended tenure.

Others are, unfortunately, probably right in assessing the politics and saying that the problem is not one you could straighten out or should try. I'd love to give you some pixie dust that would give the necessary clout, but I can't.

Meanwhile, you have provided perhaps a lesson for the rest of us that a large portion of a professor's obligation to students is to answer the question, "How could I have done better?" Your own situation may be immovable, but you've given everyone else here a valuable "Heads up!"

  • 1
    +1 for the pixie dust part:). Also it is good to know that such a lesson is needed. As a student I always received feedback for my work so I thought this is elementary, which is probably part of the reason that I find the situation difficult. Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 16:02

You would not expect detailed feedback for a final exam so why for a final assessment?

This does not seem abnormal to me. Feedback is given through the course to help students improve, and then they are assessed on what they have learned during the final assessment. Were this assessment a final exam there would be no expectation of detailed feedback, so why expect it for a different form of assessment?

Feedback is not "free"; it hugely increases the amount of time that marking a piece of work takes. For a final assessment the chances that the feedback will simply be ignored by any student is substantially higher since there is no further assessment of that material, and the value of that feedback is also lower. It is not unreasonable to hold assessments without feedback to students.

  • 22
    Gee! I provide detailed feedback for all my exams! (Exams during the semester are returned with feedback. Final exams are not returned, but I mark them as though they would be, and invite students to come by to look over their final exams.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:22
  • 1
    I think that's very generous of you @BobBrown. Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:26
  • 19
    -1. Not giving detailed feedback is very different from not giving any feedback, which is what OP is describing, including not giving a breakdown of how points were assigned for different questions. The former is somewhat reasonable, whereas the latter sounds like unethical behavior on the part of the lecturer (especially given their apparent motivation of making grade appeals impossible). And yes, offering feedback is not "free", it is part of our jobs for which we are paid a salary.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:37
  • 2
    +1 To counter some downvotes; like Jack, I'm not that surprised by this policy on the final. See my comment to the main question above. Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 21:27
  • 13
    You don't expect feedback on 80% of your grade?
    – jpmc26
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 0:50

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