Providing Feedback

In 1987, Chickering and Gamson identified seven principles for good practice in teaching. One of those principles is that good practice gives prompt feedback. Chickering and Gamson summed up the importance of providing feedback to students by claiming that “Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses your learning.” Hattie and Jaeger (1998) found that positive feedback focused on an assignment has a positive effect on learners in terms of their attitude and achievement.

Strategies for Providing Feedback

Not all of the strategies listed below are appropriate for every course. Try implementing a couple of the strategies suggested in each feedback category in your course.

Strategy Details
Put a plan in place for grading and returning assignments in a timely manner. Students need timely feedback on assignments, especially if one assignment leads to another. Schedule time immediately after due dates to grade assignments and return them to students. One week or less is a reasonable time frame. Let students know in your syllabus the anticipated turnaround time.
List grading criteria for the course and for individual assignments. If you clearly state how students will be graded on assignments, they can compare their graded assignments, with your comments, to the assignment criteria you stated. In this way, assignment criteria can be used as feedback.
Arrange office hours or live class discussions. Schedule time when students can reach you live, either by phone or through web conferencing software, such as WebEx, Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, or Skype.Consider making your office hours public to anyone in the class who wants to attend. This allows students to know the questions of other students and get the answers.
Structure assignments so students provide feedback to each other. Try teaming students up in pairs and have them critique each other’s work, or have students working in groups submit their work to the entire class, which then comments on the work.This technique is especially useful when students are encouraged to submit multiple drafts of assignments or when there are multiple parts to an assignment which are submitted in stages.

Providing Feedback using Technology

Using technology can often make the feedback process for streamlined. Consider using one of the tools in Blackboard, or even just Microsoft Word, to provide feedback to your students.

Strategy Details
Use the Assignment Tool in Blackboard to grade and provide feedback on assignments. The Inline grading feature of the Assignments tool in Blackboard allows you annotate directly within the browser on files uploaded and converted for display in the inline viewer. You can assign a grade, use a rubric, provide feedback, and make notes for yourself.
Use Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat to insert comments into assignments that you return to students.

Microsoft Word has a commenting feature that allows you to enter comments into assignments that have been submitted in Microsoft Word. To add a comment, highlight the text you are commenting on, go to the Insert menu and select Comment. Save the file and upload the file as you are entering the grade in Blackboard.

The full version of Adobe Acrobat (not Acrobat Reader) has a commenting function that allows you to highlight text in PDF documents and type comments. Your students would either have to submit their assignments as PDF files or you would have to convert them to PDF files, which is easy to do if you have Adobe Acrobat. You can then save the files and return them to students who can view your comments using Acrobat Reader.

Use Turnitin via Blackboard to grade and provide feedback on assignments. In addition to checking for originality, Turnitin’s grading features allow you provide feedback in several ways - text comments, voice comments, drag-and-drop comments, and rubric-associated comments. Grades entered in Turnitin will sync automatically with the Blackboard grade center.
Use the Test Manager in Blackboard to develop tests and quizzes. Tests and quizzes developed using the Test tool can be set up to automatically be graded and provide both a final grade and predetermined feedback to students. This allows students to get immediate feedback on their performance without action from you, the instructor.
Use the Grade Center in Blackboard

The Grade Center allows you to keep track of all students' grades for all assignments in the class. Students can see all of their grades and they know at any given point where they stand in the class, provided you keep your gradebook up to date.

The Assignment and Test tools have grading mechanisms that automatically feed into the gradebook.
Make an effort to update your grade center frequently so students are kept current on their status in the class.

Providing Feedback to Online Students

Providing feedback to students in all class formats is important. In online classes, it can be a bit more challenging than in the classroom. You often end up exchanging multiple e-mails and playing phone tag with students. When it comes to providing feedback on assignments, it can be difficult to figure out the best way to provide individual comments to students and return their written work with meaningful feedback.

Providing quality feedback to online students is particularly important because online students do not benefit from a synchronous learning environment, so they have fewer methods of getting immediate feedback or asking you for clarification on assignments. Online students often feel a bit disconnected by the technology and are left wondering if you received their messages and assignments and how they are doing in the class. By providing quality feedback you help your online students learn. Quality feedback does not all have to be generated by you. Certainly you should provide substantive replies to questions and comments on assignments, but there are also ways you can automate feedback to students.

Providing quality feedback requires planning for feedback. The benefits of providing feedback are:

  • Students feel more connected to the class, making them feel more comfortable.
  • Students get a better sense of what content they have mastered and what areas they are weak in, allowing them to focus their efforts where they are the weakest.
  • Students feel more positive about the learning process because they feel as though someone is interested in their progress.

In addition to the strategies mentioned above, the following strategies can be especially helpful in an online environment.

Strategy Details
Set a schedule for responding to discussions

Set aside time each week for reading and responding to discussion postings. You do not have to respond to all postings, but making a few comments throughout the week lets students know that you are interested in the progress of their discussions. A few postings two to three times a week is usually adequate.

Acknowledging good threads in the online discussions helps students feel that they are on the right track with their thinking.

Acknowledge individuals with particularly good postings. Positive public acknowledgement makes students feel good about participating in the course.

If the discussions are not quite on the right track, provide feedback to the class by steering the discussion in a different direction. Suggest alternative ways of looking at the topic or ask follow-up questions to spawn thinking in a new direction.

Arrange office hours or live class discussions. Schedule time when students can reach you live, either by phone or through web conferencing software, such as WebEx, Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, or Skype.
Scan and return assignments with your written comments. If you normally write written comments on print copies of assignments for students in your campus-based classes, you can do the same for online students. Print out student assignments that are submitted to you and write your comments on them as normal. Then, scan the pages and save them as a PDF. You can upload the PDF as you are entering the grade in Blackboard.



Modified with permission from Providing Feedback in Your Distance Learning Course by Academic Technology Center - Worcester Polytechnic Institute.