One of the most important learner-instructor interactions occurs when instructors leave feedback. Think of online students as plants. Plants need light and water to grow. Online students need communication and feedback on their assignments. They crave feedback, knowing not just their grade but also why they received the grade and what the instructor thought of their work. Even the ones who earn As need to receive qualitative feedback.
Our standards are that every student (even A students) should receive feedback on every assignment before the next assignment of the same type is due (meaning, feedback on a discussion post before the next is due, etc.). That turnaround time may seem daunting, but remember, it’s less natural for students to check in with an online instructor than it would be in a face-to-face course, where they may hang back after class one day to touch base on an assignment. Almost nothing feels more isolating to an online student than simply getting a grade without any explanation as to why, and you can imagine how confusing it would feel to a student to have to complete future assignments with no idea of how they performed on the previous ones. Ideally students would even receive qualitative feedback on auto-graded multiple choice exams, even if that feedback was directed to the whole class as an announcement clarifying common wrong answers.
It is important to give students their feedback when they were expecting it, in a timely fashion (remember, feedback on the early assignments is the most important and highly anticipated). Luckily, the LMS offers some time savers to help with this task.
- Rubrics: Rubrics are a great way to let students know why they got the grade they did, and you can easily modify it to include personal messages as appropriate. Now that student with great ideas but horrible grammar will know that you’re on to her and how she can step up her game on the next assignment to get that A. Talk to your instructional designer to learn more about rubrics.
- Audio/video feedback: Not a fast typist but have 30 papers to grade? Use the audio feedback tool. We have instructors who swear by this. Even a quick “Nice job! I loved the point you made in the third paragraph. Watch your spelling for the next paper,” may be quicker to say than to type.
- Announcements: This can be a great tool to leave group feedback. You might drop an announcement that clarifies some points on the exam that many students missed (leaving out the students’ names of course). Or, you might leave a quick, “nice job on the discussion assignment, gang! Here are some ‘best of’ quotes.” (Hint: keep a Word document open for swift copy and pasting as you read through the discussions to collect these quotes).
- Quiz statistics: our LMS offers some very useful quiz analytics, both for the class as a whole and for individual students. Did many students miss one particular question (and you know the question was written correctly)? They might benefit from an explanation in an announcement. Did many students miss many questions on the same topic? Perhaps they need a refresher on the entire topic.
- Praise is ever so important in written communication.
- Write feedback like it’s an email. Here are a few tips for personalizing your feedback:
- Use the student’s first name
- Sign your name
- Keep a spreadsheet/”cheat sheet” with students’ names, majors, interests, etc. for reference while grading. This can be helpful in connecting the assignment with their goals/life.
- Plan for announcements containing general class feedback on assignments. If you know you have the same general feedback each term on an assignment, you may consider recycling that announcement every term–just review it for accuracy each time the course is run.
- Meaningful feedback should improve students’ performance by explaining what they did wrong and what they can do to improve. A numeric score or letter grade alone is not sufficient.
- For problem-based feedback, instead of telling a student that he or she got the problem wrong, explain how to analyze problems and determine how to solve the problem.
- When grading student writing, consider the following:
- Limit feedback to improve student learning – focus on providing just three big ideas that require action.
- Students need feedback on their ideas more than on their writing (except, of course, if you are teaching a course on writing). Focus the feedback on the subject matter you’re teaching. Use the opportunity to interest the student further in your field by sharing your expertise.
- Start a dialog with students. Ask the student to reply to a question by email or on the next assignment.
- Don’t make comments in the form of questions because this may create more confusion for students in the online environment, where we don’t generally have real-time question and answer dialogue. If you want to tell the student that he or she missed something or you want them to revise and re-submit, say it directly.
- If you are requiring an action from a student, for example, to answer a question or resubmit, email the student directly. A student may miss such a request in the feedback posted on the LMS.