the importance of providing feedback on students' written work. There is a plethora of research on the value of feedback for impacting student learning, motivation, and engagement in the online classroom. There are just as many empirically driven “best practices” to guide faculty inclusion of feedback. But knowing
what I should do and actually doing
it are two separate issues.
Despite the ever-growing body of evidence that unequivocally supports the need for clear, detailed, timely feedback in response to students' work, the practical demands of the online classroom leave me struggling to translate pedagogical knowledge into practice. Let's face it: there is a LOT of written work in an online classroom. From threaded discussions to homework assignments to formal papers, the text-driven nature of the asynchronous learning environment produces a mountain of student artifacts that demand my individualized attention. At any given time, I may have 20 to 40 students (depending on the number of courses I am teaching), and there is, invariably, only one of me. As such, the challenge is not in knowing how to provide effective feedback; it is in finding the time to do it.
My quest for instructional efficiency has led to the development of a number of realistic, practical strategies for providing high-quality, individualized feedback in less time. Underlying these strategies is the ability to streamline repetitive feedback tasks. Like most faculty, I find my students make a relatively consistent range of errors (whether in relation to general writing strategies, citation style, or conceptual misunderstandings). Rather than invest my time in responding individually to these issues, I can regain time through the repurposing of common feedback comments, incorporation of one-to-many feedback approaches, and integration of “feedforward” strategies.
For example, one of the common challenges for students learning to write in the social sciences is mastering APA style. While the writing and citation style may or may not be the focus of the assignment, best practices dictate that I should provide feedback on students' writing in addition to the conceptual objectives integral to the assignment. The first few times I come across APA style errors, I find it relatively easy and painless to utilize the comment feature of Microsoft Word to provide elaborative, detailed feedback that not only highlights the errors but also provides a correct example and directs students toward appropriate resources. By the 19th
time I come across these same APA style errors, not only has my feedback been reduced to a cursory (and not remotely helpful) “improper APA style” comment, but I also have invested considerable time in the feedback process without having an equivalent return in potential student learning.
Through the repurposing of feedback, I can save these types of common feedback comments to reuse when appropriate on other student work. The efficiency value of repurposing feedback lies not only in the ability to quickly and easily insert these saved feedback comments into students' work but also in the investment of time required to create the initial feedback comment. Because the feedback statement is likely to be used repeatedly, it justifies the additional time investment required to create elaborative feedback that includes examples, links to additional resources, and other relevant information.
While on a basic level repurposed feedback could simply be saved and copied/pasted into a document as appropriate, there are a number of programs (i.e., PhraseExpress, TypeItIn, Presto, etc.) that automate this process and allow for the insertion of saved custom feedback comments in response to programmed hot keys. Similarly, I simply utilize the autocorrect feature of Microsoft Word to create a custom feedback library that can insert saved comments into Word documents to replace preprogrammed text as I type. The result is the ability to provide extensive, elaborative feedback across an entire class of student papers in a minimal amount of time, without sacrificing quality.
In addition to creating my own custom feedback library, I also maintain a list of the most common conceptual, technical, and mechanical strengths and errors that emerge from the students' work on a particular assignment. At the completion of all individual grading, I create a reflective overview of generalized feedback in relation to the specific assignment and post this feedback to the entire class. In this manner, I can provide an informal social comparison that allows students to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of their work in relation to their classmates', and I am able to ensure that all students have access to essential instructional resources. To maximize efficiency from semester to semester, I maintain this document as a “living resource” that continues to change, grow, and adapt in relation to the students' work and available outside resources.
Beyond providing summative feedback to correct errors that have already occurred in submitted assignments, I monitor the themes that emerge as challenge areas to create feedforward resources to minimize errors from happening in the first place. As described by Goldsmith (2002), rather than focusing on past mistakes, feedforward information provides individuals with resources, strategies, and ideas to help them be successful before they begin a task. As such, prior to each assignment, I post a feedforward announcement that provides extra information, guidance, and resource links to help students avoid common errors and to produce higher-quality artifacts. The result is student assignments that simply require less individualized, corrective feedback and, therefore, less time to grade.
Detailed, elaborative feedback is an essential component of effective learning in the online classroom. The inclusion of efficient feedback strategies helps bridge the gap between knowledge and behavior in relation to online instructional practices. By streamlining the feedback process through the repurposing of feedback, incorporation of one-to-many approaches, and integration of feedforward strategies, I am able to provide high-quality feedback in an efficient manner that frees instructional time to be invested in other aspects of teaching.
Goldsmith, M. (2002). “Try feedforward instead of feedback.” Leader to Leader.
Retrieved from www.marshallgoldsmithlibrary.com/cim/articles_display.php?aid=110
B. Jean Mandernach is the director of the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching at Grand Canyon University and a member of
Online Classroom's editorial advisory board. On July 24 she will lead the online seminar “Efficient and Effective Feedback in the Online Classroom.” For information, see http://www.magnapubs.com/catalog/efficient-and-effective-feedback-in-the-online-classroom/.