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Feedback hacks

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

February 25, 2021

Chemistry lab in session with participants distanced and wearing masks.Feedback is a powerful tool for student learning. Feedback completes the learning cycle where we teach, access, explain the results of assessment and then reteach or move on and access again. Yorke (author of a chapter in “Failing Students in Higher Education”) emphasizes that “Feedback can improve a student’s confidence, self-awareness and enthusiasm for learning. Effective feedback during the first year in university can aid the transition to higher education and may support student retention” (Yorke, 2002). However, the impact of feedback can be positive or negative depending on the type, delivery and timing of the feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

Now that many of our courses are online, providing meaningful feedback is a little more complicated. Canvas options and settings related to feedback can be confusing. Students can choose the types of notifications they receive or choose to not get notifications at all. This is why some get notifications when we grade their work in Canvas and others do not. Some students check the comments we write to them individually, and others do not. How can we support our students’ learning without overwhelming them with too much information or too many comments?

According to Belin (co-author of “Teaching from a Research Knowledge Base: A Development and Renewal Process”), feedback should be:

  • Actionable: Instead of providing vague feedback (e.g., “This needs work” or “Nice job!”), tell the students exactly what they did well or what they need to improve for future assignments.
  • Personal: It is common for students to feel isolated in an online class. Use the student’s name when giving feedback and refer to specific examples from their work.
  • Timely: Waiting too long to provide feedback impacts student motivation. When feedback is provided in a timely manner, it lets students know you are actively involved and that you care.

Take a SIP of this: Feedback Hacks

Cater feedback to students’ needs and your own

It is demoralizing for faculty members to write lots of meaningful feedback and then find out that students are not reading it. Think about your purpose for feedback and how to get students to read it.

Poll students at the beginning of the semester to ask when and how they read feedback best. Something like this (and offer only questions that you are willing to do):

  • Do you prefer personal comments on each assignment?
  • Do you prefer a group email to the class with specific guidance for what the class did well or could do differently?
  • Do you prefer video feedback?
  • Do you prefer feedback only in the form of a grade?
  • Is there another way you prefer to get feedback on your work? Please share.

Different ways to give online feedback

  • Give feedback about homework during synchronous classes. Find the most common struggle and success and talk about that during class.
  • In math classes, there is an activity called “My favorite no,” which highlights a common student mistake. This can be adapted for other content areas.
  • For synchronous and asynchronous classes, create short weekly Yuja videos that highlight what you notice people doing well in class and what you would like the class to work on. These can be used to give feedback about homework, too.
  • Create a weekly announcement that highlights what you notice people doing well in class and what you would like the class to work on.
  • Put individual feedback in the comment box, with a follow-up email encouraging students to check for comments.

Some other thoughts about giving feedback:

  • Post an announcement in the learning-management system when you have graded an assignment, reminding students to check for comments. Perhaps provide a link or even a video for how to check for comments. Even if students have turned off their notifications, they will still see the announcement when they log in to the course.
  • Use the digital environment and LMS tools to your advantage: Take time to set up a rubric, or if not in the LMS, keep a pool of comments linked to scoring criteria and copy-and-paste specific comments into the LMS feedback.
  • Learn to write multiple-choice (or other discrete-answer) questions that assess higher-order concepts and use the LMS’ automatic-scoring feature (for more on this, see SIP 13.4 “Writing Good Multiple-choice Questions”
  • Set up a scoring-and-feedback schedule. For example, if asking for weekly participation in an online discussion forum, don’t feel you must provide qualitative feedback every week. Tell students they will receive qualitative feedback X number of times or on predetermined dates and simply provide a score (quantitative feedback) on the other weeks. Then, set up the schedule so you provide qualitative feedback for only one class in any given week. However, it is important to continue to participate in the discussions every week to maintain your online presence and supervise discussions.

Still thirsty? Feedback hacks

Visit the Well at for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom.

Topics: Academics, Best practices, SIP, Strong Instructional Practice

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