Feedback Strategies for Online Courses

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:

Be timely with feedback.
“If you don’t start off at the beginning giving them feedback that has meaning for them, the quality of their work slips. If you give them good, strong feedback at the beginning that’s very personal, constructive, and helpful, the quality of their work [will be better] for the whole semester. If they know that somebody really cares about what they’re doing and [makes] that personal connection, they will work to that expectation. If they don’t think the instructor is spending time with their work and simply says, ‘Oh, you did a great job’ but doesn’t make anything personal, they figure, ‘Oh well, the instructor skimmed the information,’” Cleveland said.

Start with a positive message. Thank the student and say something positive about his or her work before discussing areas that need to be improved. A positive message provides encouragement and makes students feel “that they really are part of the learning community … and that the class can take on personal meaning for them,” Cleveland said.

In addition, Cleveland said that it’s important to include examples from students’ work so they know that you have read it.
Scaffold assignments. Assigning tasks that are relatively easy in the beginning and get progressively difficult provides students with opportunities for success, which builds confidence.

Help students see the connection between the course and their lives. One way to do this is to use the private journal feature found in many learning management systems. “It’s a good complement to the discussion board,” Cleveland said. “It allows students to make personal connections in their own lives in terms of what they’re reading about in the course. … The private journal is that almost one-on-one communication between the online student and the instructor.”

Use rubrics.
Rubrics provide criteria for students to see how their work compares with expectations and helps them focus their work. Students can help create rubrics.

Consider various formats. Most instructors (and students) are comfortable with feedback provided in text formats—whether it’s through the track changes function of Word, an email message, or measuring an assignment against a detailed rubric—but there are other options. Audio feedback can provide opportunities for nuanced feedback. It also can create a sense of instructor presence and a personal connection between student and instructor.

In a survey of their students, approximately 70 percent liked having audio feedback because they could hear the instructor’s voice, which makes the message more personal, “almost like a conversation,” Cleveland said.

“Overall, we’re seeing a trend at our university for more oral feedback. Our students are craving it. They’re asking their instructors to use the Grade Center [within Blackboard] to provide more detailed feedback,” Kenward said.

Audio feedback offers benefits to instructors as well. For example, a student teacher who used audio feedback said, “Voice feedback reduces the amount of time that it takes to respond to the students [because] most faculty, like myself, can talk faster than they can type.”

Here’s another student comment: “I think that adding a voice file to my graded comments was worthwhile. It adds a personal feel to the online course, and it’s good to receive audio feedback, which contains many elements that are lacking in written feedback.”

Excerpted from Selecting Feedback Techniques. Online Classroom, 13.1 (2013): 1,2. © Magna Publications. All Rights Reserved.