#52: Effective Feedback in Your Online Teaching
This content originally appeared on APUEdge.com.
Feedback is an important part of online learning. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies about how to provide effective feedback to students. Learn how to garner feedback based on students’ work, tips on giving effective feedback to help students, and why feedback is a critical part of the learning process for both students as well as teachers.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
It is hard to believe it’s been an entire year since we started this podcast, and thank you for being on this journey with me. It’s exciting to finish with episode 52 today, and we’re looking forward to the coming year with plenty of guests, new topics, and a lot of help and support for you as an online educator. I hope you’ll keep with us for the journey, and again, thank you for joining us today and over the past year.
What is Feedback?
Today, we’re going to talk about effective feedback in your online teaching. What is feedback? Well, feedback is the process of taking the invitation to respond. Student’s assignments are a response to what we’re teaching. This gives us some feedback about what they can do with what they learned, and whether they learned anything from us. And our comments to them throughout the discussions can challenge them, prompt them, and help them think in new ways.
Grading online assignments is not just about marking a score, giving a letter grade to your students. It’s one thing for you as the educator to recognize what is A level work and what is not, and how to rate or rank your students on the work they’ve given you.
But it’s something else altogether to tell your students what they did well, where they needed to do something differently, and how they can improve. This effective feedback helps them successfully meet their course objectives, as well as knowing if you have taught them accordingly.
Feedback Can Help Students Improve and Reduce Complaints
With this second type of grading, your feedback is something that helps students improve. It helps them stay motivated and your feedback can even help students perform better on their next assignment. So, why should you care about the quality of grading feedback that you provide?
First, there is the practical reason that when students receive a score or a grade with no feedback to help them, they don’t understand the basis for that grade, they complain. Student complaints can raise your anxiety and stress levels and student complaints take more time to address. They also impact your job satisfaction as an educator, and they are preventable much of the time.
You can prevent student complaints most of the time by communicating well with your students about their work. After all, no one likes to be given some kind of score or rating without the idea of how to fix it or improve, especially if they took the time and really put their best effort into that project or that assignment.
Second, the quality of your grading represents part of your teaching. As an educator, you’re more than just a person who tells other people about the subject matter you teach. Although, sometimes we have this idea that a teacher stands in front of the room and lectures about a subject matter and eager students are sitting there taking notes, drinking it all in. There’s much more to effective teaching than just this idea of lecturing in a one-way direction.
Teaching and learning work together, it’s a two-way street. Whatever your teaching methods are, students provide you with an essay, an assignment, or other items and they help you know what they’re learning, and your feedback is part of that exchange. It’s where you keep teaching and it keeps the conversation going back and forth.
And third, feedback in your grading provides you and your students the ability to adjust on this learning journey together. Your students learn about where they are related to the objectives they need to achieve in your class. And you, as the instructor, learn what you need to do to alter your approach so that your teaching is much more effective.
And as you provide feedback, you can see some feedback to you about your teaching approach and your students’ work. This is really one of the most important parts of revealing your students’ work, and one that we often overlook when we’re teaching online.
Ways to Get Feedback from Your Students’ Assignments
When you’re evaluating students’ online assignments, how can you get this feedback about your teaching? Well, you can review students’ work to identify the ideas you taught and see where they appear. For example, are your students able to comfortably use any of the special vocabulary that goes with your subject? And, do they communicate about the ideas with some clarity? Second, in the work they have submitted, do most of your students seem to be learning what you’re teaching?
Based on your teaching methods and your subject matter, you can look for even more evidence of learning in your students’ work, and you can directly connect their work with the course objectives to determine where they stand in relation to where they should be by the end of the class.
Robin Jackson, who wrote, “Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching,” said, “It’s one thing to collect feedback about your students’ progress, but if you simply collect the feedback and never use it to adjust your instruction, then you’re collecting it in vain. The data you receive will give you feedback about the effectiveness of your own instruction.”
It’s important to remember that feedback is information about how we’re doing in our efforts to reach a goal. If we’re teaching other people, we’re putting effort into the goal of educating them. I’ll give you an example of this whole idea in action. When I was a freshman in high school, my chemistry teacher, Bruce Fowler, returned the results of our assignments at the end of a learning unit.
He spoke to us pretty candidly and told us we all failed that assignment. And he realized that he wasn’t really teaching it well, it wasn’t possible for every single person to fail if he had taught it effectively. So, he scrapped his plans for the coming week and he retaught all of that material in a totally different way, and then he reassessed us.
He expressed a lot of care for us as human beings, and he focused on his own continuous improvement in teaching throughout the year. It was pretty obvious, this was a man who focused on feedback for both of us. He gave us the feedback to help us know where we were as learners in our own performance, and he used our performance to give himself feedback about his teaching. Now, this chemistry class was many years ago and obviously not an online class, but we can use the same principle in our online teaching, even if the course is standardized and designed by someone else.
Adapting Your Teaching Based on Feedback
I’ll give you some examples of how this might be done. As a faculty director, observing the teaching of many online educators, I’ve noticed that some instructors adapt after evaluating students’ work by creating videos to address the entire class. And in this whole class feedback, a few of the instructors I’ve seen have mentioned some of the bigger errors students have made in their assignments. Then they give their students additional explanations, guidance, and teaching on those areas to help them adjust so they can move forward for the next unit or topic.
I’ve also noticed some other faculty members have done the same thing in a course announcement, and still, others have added resources and documents with tips, additional information, and reteaching. Whatever the format, you can give your students guidance and feedback to help them understand what they all seem to miss or what a great majority of them seem to miss. And this is a great way to use your students’ work as feedback in your own teaching, and then respond in ways that help your students keep moving forward.
Ways to Give Effective Feedback
What kind of feedback do students need in your grading and your comments? A well-known education writer, Grant Wiggins, shared seven keys to effective feedback. And these keys are:
- That it is goal referenced
- It’s tangible and transparent
- It is user-friendly
For online teaching specifically, I’m going to focus on four of these areas today, which are even more important and I’ll share some special ideas with you.
First, let’s talk about goal-referenced feedback. Goal referenced feedback means that it’s tied to the course objectives. We have some kind of clear goal to be achieved in what students are learning, and when they complete the assignment, it’s tied to this goal. Then the feedback comments we give them about their work while we’re grading it, should also relate to the goal.
For example, if students are supposed to write an argument paper, our feedback might remind them that the argument paper needs to cover how well they take a position and effectively support it with evidence and commentary. And then we’re going to give feedback about the degree to which they did this and how they could do it even more effectively.
Actionable feedback means that it’s concrete, specific, and useful. Wiggins said that effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful. It provides actionable information, thus “Good job,” and “You did that wrong,” and “B+.” These are not really feedback at all.
We can easily imagine that the learners are asking themselves in response to these comments, “What specifically could I do more or less of next time, based on this information? I have no idea.” They don’t know what was good or wrong about what they did. This includes feedback about what they specifically did right and what they did well. This feedback is objective, rather than your opinion or your judgment of them.
User-friendly means that feedback can be easily understood by the person who’s receiving it. It’s not highly technical or confusing and it is focused. Wiggins tells us an example that’s really good at illustrating this: “Describing a baseball swing to a six-year-old in terms of torque and other physics concepts, will not likely yield a better hitter. Too much feedback is also counterproductive. Better to help the performer concentrate on only one or two key elements of the performance, than to create this huge buzz of information coming at them from all sides and at too high of a level.”
Lastly, timely feedback. Timely feedback means fast feedback. The sooner our students get the feedback from us about their work, the more they can adjust and improve. If there’s another assignment coming up and students are busy preparing for that, they can’t really do this effectively without getting feedback from the previous assignment. And even more difficult, if several weeks pass before their feedback is received. By that time, they have moved on.
Giving helpful feedback can really take time on your part and it might be a large part of what you do when teaching online, but it’s also still part of teaching, not just support for the grade. So, to keep teaching in a way that helps your students the most, giving timely feedback is essential.
Make Sure Students Receive Feedback
Now, how can you help your students see this feedback and actually stay connected in this cycle of teaching and learning? After getting some feedback about your teaching, through your review of students’ assignments, and then giving them feedback about what they demonstrated in those assignments, the process completely fails if students cannot see the feedback you gave them. And online, it’s entirely possible students will miss your feedback completely.
To help you make your feedback have an impact, we’ll close today’s podcast with some practical tips about making sure your students can find it and how they can keep moving forward because they’ve received this feedback.
Tell Students to Expect Feedback on their Work
First, before the assignment starts, before it’s even launched, give your students help to prepare to complete this assignment successfully. This help might include guidance about what to expect, what to include in their work, and then how to submit the assignment.
I suggest also stating exactly how this assignment relates to the course objectives and how it relates to the real world so students can have more context and more buy-in. You might provide this guidance in a course announcement or in an email to the class. Either way, you want to ensure that everyone receives it.
Announce When Feedback is Available and How to Find it
Second, when you’ve evaluated students’ assignments, send out an announcement to let them know your feedback is available to them. You can include screenshots of where they will find this feedback in your online classroom and what it looks like. If your feedback is outside the platform, like maybe it’s in Turnitin GradeMark viewer, you might even need to include a short video showing them what to click on to get to the viewer. And when they get there, what to click on to make the feedback visible.
Be Receptive to Requests for Feedback
Never assume that students know where to find this feedback. And throughout this whole process, third, always be open to students who reach out, asking for more feedback. As Errol Craig Sull wrote in his faculty focus article on the subject, even if the student’s primary reason for asking is to receive a good final grade in the course, this gives you an opportunity to teach a bit more. So, be sure to respond to the student in a timely manner by email, audio message, or phone.
Sull reminds us that when students ask for clarification or more feedback, it’s not about you or whether your feedback is good enough. It’s about the students being interested in improving their work. If we keep this in mind, we’re going to be able to have the space to respond enthusiastically and not take it personally.
So, there you have it. What is good feedback? What should it include and how do you take this to improve yourself and your teaching, as well as how do you ensure your students find all of this feedback so they can use it and keep learning.
I hope that as you move forward in your online teaching this week, you’ll think about feedback in all of these ways and use one of these strategies to improve your practice. Thank you, again, for being with me for the past 52 episodes, this first year of the Online Teaching Lounge. Come back again for the coming year when we’ll have guests and new topics that will help you continue working and teaching online and achieving balance in your work and life. Best wishes in the coming week and the exciting year ahead.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.