Feedback as a Dialogue 

Discussion bubbles with thumbs up and thumbs down and scribbles in them

I would like to take you on a bit of a journey – back to mid-December when we were on winter break. Maybe you were curled up by the fire, reading a good book, and perhaps considering how you were going to integrate feedback, change up your courses, and add some jazz, flavor, and maybe a little bit of spice to your courses. 

I did a lot of reflecting on how I could incorporate feedback in a way such that it worked more as a dialogue rather than a one-way street. I really wanted to be able to engage in a conversation with my students rather than just provide them with feedback and move on to the next thing. 

To provide you with a little bit of context, I think it’s important to rewind the story all the way back to when I first entered the field of education. As a bit of a too-long-didn’t-read (TLDR), I worked as a K-12 educator, an instructional developer, and a post-secondary instructor. How have my various experiences influenced my teaching philosophy, and which principles do I rely on to inform my interactions and collaboration with learners? My primary goal is to promote accessibility and implement universal design for learning (UDL), offering diverse avenues for learners to interact with and obtain content. Additionally, I strive to cultivate learner independence through tailored learning experiences and encourage collaborative settings along with effective communication.

Now that we’ve got all of that settled, let’s travel forward in time to the winter of 2022. As I was reading my book of the time – probably something to do with post-secondary education, teaching and learning, pedagogy, curriculum – I was reflecting on my practice and how that relates to providing students with feedback. Three overarching ideas emerged:

  1. Designing a space that allowed for personalized assignments and experiences
  2. Focusing on the process as well as feedback (rather than the end product)
  3. Creating a warm, welcoming learning environment

The evaluation structure in the courses I typically teach is very much scaffolded, where each assignment builds on the previous piece. For example, creating an outline that eventually leads to some type of media, such as an essay or a podcast. I focused on creating personalized assignments as well as experiences by using a few different tools that invited learners to share their goals for the course. So, from the start of the course, I was aware of what learners were interested in, what they were passionate about, and how they envisioned the course. I also wanted to ensure that I discussed personal experiences in relation to course content. 

For example, reading articles where students could draw on what had they had experienced and share in small groups or with the class. I also provided choice with regard to assignment topics so that students can learn about things that are interesting to them. While that was often the case, I also provided a list of possible guiding topics in case students preferred more structure.  

As for process and feedback, I really wanted to encourage feedback as a process – as a dialogue – rather than me simply providing feedback and never going back to it. So, I facilitated peer-to-peer workshops. I also encouraged metacognitive activities where students had the opportunity to reflect on what they had done over the duration of the term, or from one assignment to the next assignment. I also engaged in student-teacher conferencing and solicited feedback through stop/start/continue surveys, and I met individually with groups or one-on-one with students. I was also sure to scaffold assignments and discuss their significance throughout the course, ensuring that students understood the relevance of their current work to future tasks.

As for the environment, I was purposeful with how I encouraged students to ask questions and have conversations. As an online instructor, I noted a few different ways students could ask questions or communicate throughout the course (e.g., online chat, discussion boards). Additionally, I shared my contact information with learners each class. I often tell students at the beginning of the course that they will get tired of me sharing my email with them; I emphasize that I am there to support them throughout the course. I also practice flexibility with regard to due dates, topic assignments, and how students engage with course content. Lastly, I communicated consistently. Classes were always structured the same way. Notifications were always provided in a consistent manner to ensure students felt they were supported and could access information in a meaningful way. 

I hope this piece provides you with inspiration, ideas, or thoughts about how you might get students to focus on feedback as a process, rather than focusing solely on final grades, percentages, or scores. As we continue to evolve as educators and continue to transform our teaching practices, I invite you to share how you engage with learners and feedback to facilitate a dialogue.  

Rachael A. Lewitzky holds a PhD in curriculum and pedagogy from the University of Toronto. She is a post-secondary educator and researcher, with experience teaching in K-12, university, and college settings. Her scholarship focuses on post-secondary education, online learning, math/stats education, and digital communication.