Online courses are growing.
As they grow, students are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with feedback in their online classes. “Learners have reported that inadequate feedback from teachers is less than satisfactory in an online course (Soon, Sook, Jung, & Im, 2000). These factors create the need for well-crafted online feedback in the written, audio, video, or in the live synchronous web-based conference format” (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015).
Other researchers cite similar data. In one study, more than two-thirds of students polled stated poor feedback from instructors “as one of their most vexing issues (Sull, 2008)” (Jones & Blankenship, 2014) .
To be more specific, students felt that timeliness was missing in online feedback. “The 2013 National Online Learners Priorities Report presents responses over a three year period of 114,138 students from 110 institutions to The Noel-Levitz Priorities Survey for Online Learners. Nearly 73,000 of the responses were from primarily online undergraduate students who identified timely feedback from faculty about their progress as one of the top challenges to online education (Noel-Levitz, 2013)” (Jones & Blankenship, 2014) .
Problems with feedback in online courses
The issue with online feedback timing is failed attempts to meet student expectations. “The Net Generation learners prefer and even expect immediate feedback (Groome, 2011)” (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015).
Strategy 1: Set clear expectations about the method, amount and timeliness of feedback in your course syllabus.
To help prepare your students for online feedback, set clear expectations with students early. “One way to clarify student expectations is to include additional information in the course syllabus about when and how feedback will be provided” (Jones & Blankenship, 2014) .
Strategy 2: Learn to give effective feedback within the limitations of online courses (i.e., without the benefits of body language, tone and expression which are inherent in a face-to-face course).
To start improving online feedback, you should understand that giving online feedback is a different skill than face-to-face feedback. “Giving effective online feedback is an important skill for educators to develop because it guides the learner’s development. Since feedback is important to the learning process, the art of giving effective online feedback is a critical skill for an educator. Teacher skills for giving online feedback to learners varies from giving feedback in face-to-face courses because non-verbal communications (tone of voice, facial expressions) are absent in written online feedback” (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015).
Strategy 3: Consider what types of technology you are using to give feedback in online courses. Select tools that students will find familiar.
Due to distance, online courses use technology to deliver feedback to students. “In technology-assisted instruction, similar to classroom settings, formative feedback comprises information—a message, display, and so on—presented to the learner following the learner’s input (or upon request, if applicable), with the purpose of shaping the perception, cognition or action of the learner (e.g., Moreno, 2004; Schimmel, 1983; Wager & Wager, 1985). The main goal of formative feedback—whether delivered by a teacher or computer, in the classroom or elsewhere—is to enhance learning and/or performance, engendering the formation of accurate, targeted conceptualizations and skills” (Shute, 2007).
Understanding which tech tool to adopt can be a little intimidating.
From a student perspective, researchers who studied online learner perception of instructor feedback found that “the two most helpful types of feedback [are] the numerical grade and a grading rubric with comments at the end of the assignment. Ninety-three percent of students reported they read the feedback” (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015). So when considering a tool, keep in mind that what students find most helpful is the simple stuff.
You can evaluate feedback technology with a few other criteria. Effective tech “(a) enables instructors to provide good quality feedback so as to support the development of students’ self regulation; (b) helps teachers produce and deliver feedback in a consistent manner; and (c) facilitates replicability so the system can be used by more than one teacher” (García-Yeste, 2013).
Strategy 4: Use video when appropriate to add the “human touch,” deliver more clear communication, and strengthen the relationship between teachers and students.
Video technology for online courses
One growing piece of tech used in online courses is video feedback. With the increased availability of cameras, instructors can record themselves and their feedback for students. It’s an effective way to bridge the gap between student and instructor, allowing both parties to interact a little more. In fact, “[one student] felt like he actually received more ‘one-on-one and face-to-face’ feedback then he would have received in a ‘regular classroom’” (Borup, West, Thomas & Graham, 2014).
Video feedback has that unique power to create connection between online learners and instructors. Researchers who studied the effects of video feedback on social presence “found that participants generally viewed video feedback to be more effective at establishing instructor social presence because instructors could better speak with emotions, talk in a conversational manner, and create a sense of closeness with students” (Borup, West, Thomas & Graham, 2014).
The same study suggested that video feedback was effective in creating instructor-student relations because “it added a ‘human touch’ that let students know that they ‘were talking with a real person’ and not receiving a ‘computer generated response’” (Borup, West, Thomas & Graham, 2014).
That “human touch” and increased social presence helped students feel “a sense of closeness with their instructor” (Borup, West, Thomas & Graham, 2014).
Those benefits of video feedback add to increasing student confidence. “[One student] also explained that the authenticity of video feedback helped her to increase her confidence in her abilities because she could better see that the instructor “felt like [she] was competent in what [she] was doing.” The ability of students to see their instructors’ demeanor and hear their tone of voice was also helpful in avoiding misconceptions” (Borup, West, Thomas & Graham, 2014).
Instructors felt similarly regarding video feedback’s ability to convey their emotions, stating “that the visual and vocal cues in video allowed students to recognize the authenticity of their emotions” (Borup, West, Thomas & Graham, 2014).
Online feedback in the form of video or synchronized feedback saves you time and can help develop your skills as an instructor (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015).
“Feedback is an important intervention for the online educator because it is an opportunity to develop the instructor-learner relationship, improve academic performance, and enhance learning” (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015).
Strategy 5: Use multiple feedback types to create a “feedback rich” environment.
To reap all those benefits of online learning, establishing an effective feedback strategy is key. First, create multiple avenues of feedback for students: “promote learner self-reflection, use peer review, vary feedback so it fits the assignment, user group feedback, teacher feedback, and automated feedback” (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015).
Remember that online feedback should build upon itself over the course of the semester. “An online instructor needs to not only consider the design and descriptive elements to provide for their courses but also must afford opportunities that will provide assignments feedback that build on one another until the objectives for the course are achieved. So feedback takes on a wider variety of dimensions with online instruction than with face-to-face instruction” (Jones & Blankenship, 2014) .
As mentioned earlier, rubrics can be a fundamental part of your online feedback strategy. “In a descriptive exploratory, two phase study, Bonnel and Boehm (2011) studied best practices for giving feedback to online learners.
Common themes emerged: 1) maximize technology, 2) use rubrics, templates, and automated responses, 3) have a system, and 4) create a feedback-rich environment” (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015).
Five themes that you should cultivate to improve online feedback are “student involvement and individualization (feedback being a mutual process involving both student and instructor); positively constructive (providing constructive guidance that builds confidence); gentle guidance (offering explicit expectations and ongoing coaching); timeliness (mutually established and met timelines); and future orientation (applicable to future situations) (Getzlaf, et al., 2009)” (Jones & Blankenship, 2014).
To learn even more about giving feedback, read our Ultimate Guide to Feedback for Educators.
If you’re looking for even more awesome content right in your inbox, subscribe to our communication newsletter, Drop the Mic.