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?
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:
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)
In the online class environment, students enjoy many advantages, such as increased scheduling flexibility, ability to balance work and school, classroom portability, and convenience. But there are potential shortcomings as well, including the lack of student-instructor interaction and a student not understanding the instructor’s expectations. A key mechanism to convey expectations while increasing student-instructor communication is relevant, timely, constructive, and balanced instructor feedback.
We often wonder what we can do to help students engage with the material so they can learn it at a deeper level. Students don’t make that an easy task. They arrive in class having not read the material or having not thought about it in meaningful ways, and that keeps them from being engaged in class. Several years ago, I read George Kuh’s article “What Student Engagement Data Tell Us about College Readiness,” in which he writes, “Students who talk about substantive matters with faculty and peers are challenged to perform at high levels, and receive frequent feedback on their performance typically get better grades, are more satisfied with college, and are more likely to persist” (Peer Review, January 1, 2007, p. 4; italics mine). Here are three ways I try to provide feedback that engages students and not overwhelm myself with grading tasks in the process.
Sometimes feedback leads to better performance, but not all the time and not as often as teachers would like, given the time and effort they devote to providing students feedback. It’s easy to blame students who seem interested only in the grade—do they even read the feedback? Most report that they do, but even those who pay attention to it don’t seem able to act on it—they make the same errors in subsequent assignments. Why is that?
Feedback is often given to students after the fact. After they completed their assignments, and after they turned in their exams. Likewise, faculty receive feedback from students in much the same fashion. After a paper is late because they didn’t know how to submit it electronically, after they dug a grading hole that will be difficult to climb out of, or after the course has ended.
We appreciated reading Dr. Weimer’s article “Getting students to act on our feedback” (March 5, 2012). The solution proposed of asking students to identify three ways to improve their assignment based on instructor feedback is a great idea. We would like to offer a further solution that addresses students’ incorporating instructor feedback.
I’m still pondering why students don’t make better use of the feedback we provide on papers, projects, presentations, even the whole class feedback we offer after we’ve graded a set of exams. Yes, we do see improvement as we look back across a course, but we also see a lot of the same errors repeated throughout the course.