The New Online Instructor’s Guide to Feedback Fundamentals: Part II

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This is the second part in a series of articles about giving feedback. The first time we focused on why good feedback is important and what defines good feedback. This time, we’ll focus on what you can do to improve the feedback you give and the elements your feedback should contain. See Part I here.

How to Improve Your Feedback and Dialogue with Students

Even if you’re already pretty great at giving feedback, there’s always room for improvement. And if you’re not, there’s no better time than now to start working on improving the interactions you have with your students online.

Since your students don’t get face-to-face time with you, the feedback you do give is critical to making them feel connected, understood, and engaged in the course, so it needs to be good.

The first thing to consider is what format or formats you’re going to use to give feedback to students. There are several options available all of which are either directly accessible within Blackboard or free to use on the web.

  • Audio Feedback: Audio feedback offers students a chance to hear the inflection and tone of your voice missing in comments are that written. This can help reduce misunderstandings, as we’ve all interpreted a well-intentioned comment as snooty, rude, or hurtful when it was written and devoid of inflection. Even better, it adds a personal touch to your comments and keeps them from feeling generic while being fairly easy to record, edit, and share.
  • Screen Cast: Screencasts aren’t just good for showing students how to do something in a lesson—they also work well for giving feedback. Using screencast software, you can go through a student’s assignment page by page and show them firsthand how some of the things they’re doing are or aren’t working. This can be less labor intensive than lengthy text-based feedback, but does require some planning and technological know-how.
  • Text-based: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, right? The traditional way of responding to student work, especially papers, through text still works well provided you offer quality feedback and tell students exactly where and how they are succeeding or failing to meet the goals of the assignment.
  • Video chat: Even if your students can’t meet in person the miracle of technology makes it possible to have a conversation face-to-face regardless. This kind of format can be helpful for students who need extra support, for projects where students have put in a large amount of work or effort, or just when you want to give feedback a very personal approach. This kind of interaction can be difficult to orchestrate and can be time-consuming, but it can offer the biggest benefits as there can be a quick back and forth between you and your students.

The Four Things Your Feedback Should Contain

To make your feedback comprehensive, it’s critical to address how your students are performing at four different levels. This isn’t arbitrary; it’s based on the research of Hattie and Timperley, who analyzed dozens of studies on feedback to figure out what factors make feedback the most effective with the goal of reducing the space between the student’s performance and the desired goal.

So what are these four key elements? Their model for feedback includes:

  • Feedback about the task. This addresses how well the student performed the task at hand or understood the concepts. They suggest that this is where instructors can include directions to improve the student’s work, directing the student’s focus to key information.
  • Feedback about the process. Process-focused feedback looks at the process students need to understand or perform the task. This part of feedback is less focused on getting the facts right, and more on how students complete their work. Instructors can do things like encouraging students to implement methods you’ve discussed in class, to edit certain elements, or other things that directly relate to the how of the project.
  • Feedback about self-regulation. How well is the student monitoring, directing and regulating his or her actions? This is where instructors can ask students to self-evaluate. For example, something like “You demonstrated your knowledge of the structure of a research paper on our last quiz. Check to see if you’re applying this to your first couple of paragraphs.”
  • Feedback about the learner. This is a personal evaluation of the learner. Hattie and Timperley stress that this aspect of the feedback process should almost always be positive and affirming—you don’t want to tear students down. They suggest feedback like “This was a very intelligent response, good work” or “You are a great student.”

What else could you possibly need to learn about feedback? There’s still more, we promise! The next part of the series will touch on how to make time to give great feedback and what you can do to analyze your feedback for quality.

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