grading and feedback
Whole class feedback … you know, when the teacher returns a set of papers or exams and talks to the entire class about its performance, or the debriefing part of an activity where the teacher comments on how students completed the task. I don’t believe I have ever seen anything written about this feedback mechanism, even though I think most of us use it pretty regularly. Is it a good way to provide feedback? Do students pay any attention to feedback delivered in this way? When is whole class feedback most effective? After an exam? During group projects? Is it better to provide the feedback verbally or post it online? Should students be involved in this discussion of how well the class did or didn’t do?
As an instructor new to the online environment, I carefully reviewed the syllabus and the requirements for the course discussions and assignments and incorporated the following ideas from Myers-Wylie, Mangieri & Hardy: a “what you need to know” document that includes policies about late work, formatting, source citations, grading and feedback, and the dangers of plagiarism; a separate “assignments at a glance” calendar that details due dates and submission instructions; a “frequently asked questions” thread in the discussion forum; detailed scoring rubrics for each assignment, and example assignments. As is typical in the online environment, my course was equipped with areas for announcements and discussions and a grade book with a place to post comments for individual students. I used all these formats to communicate with students about course requirements and provide detailed feedback.
I’ve always said no, effort shouldn’t count. When students pleaded, “but I worked so hard,” or “I studied so long,” I would respond with the clichéd quip about people with brain tumors not wanting surgeons who try hard. Besides if students try hard, if they do their assignments, come to class, take notes, ask questions, and study on more nights than the one before the exam, that effort will pay off. They will learn the material, and their grades will reflect that learning.
There’s an excellent article on grading in a recent issue of Cell Biology Education-Life Sciences Education. It offers a brief history of grading (it hasn’t been around for all that long), and then looks to the literature for answers to four key questions.
I have a confession to make. I was wrong. You see, I once thought that teaching was lecturing, and I thought that because that is how my graduate mentors taught me to teach.
But I was wrong. Studies have shown that lecturing has little to do with teaching. A University of Maryland study found that right after a physics lecture, almost none of the students could answer the question: “What was the lecture you just heard about?” Another physics professor simply asked students about the material that he had presented only 15 minutes earlier, and he found that only ten percent showed any sign of remembering it (Freedman, 2012).
Feedback is more than post-assignment commentary. When employed correctly, feedback can impact students on a variety of levels. It helps direct what they should do with their time, how they should feel about their efforts, whether their motivation level is appropriate, whether they are meeting expectations, and more.
Because feedback serves so many purposes in the online classroom, it is important for instructors to consider how feedback is provided, when it is offered, how it is focused or targeted, and what is considered in the feedback.
There are many ways to provide feedback to students in an online course. When selecting the type and frequency of feedback, consider what the students want and how they will benefit from it without creating an unreasonable amount of work for yourself. In an interview with Online Classroom, Rosemary Cleveland, professor of education, and Kim Kenward, instructional designer at Grand Valley State University, offered the following advice on how to manage feedback in the online learning environment:
How much time do we put into the design of the assessment plans in our online courses? Is most of that time focused upon summative graded assignments that factor into the course grade? Or, do they also include opportunity for practice and informal feedback?
Here’s the conclusion of a small but intriguing study. Its findings reveal “only limited support for the idea that students actually do respond to feedback and make changes in a subsequent piece of assessable work consistent with the intentions that underlay the provided feedback.” (p. 577)
When you are a math teacher you are often faced with the dilemma of whether to assign partial credit to a problem that is incorrect, but that demonstrates some knowledge of the topic. Should I give half-credit? Three points out of five? My answer has typically been to give no credit…at first. However, taking a page from my colleagues in the English department (and grad school), I do allow for revisions, which ends up being a much better solution.