3. Instructor-Student Interaction

Recommendation 3.4: Providing feedback
Provide students with specific, timely, and constructive feedback to help them keep track of their progress and improve.

Synopsis from Self-Review

Students may feel disoriented or anxious about their progress without regular classroom interaction. So it is important to build in regular and timely feedback opportunities to help them appreciate their own strengths and learning gaps. Reflecting on feedback and guiding their learning for future assignments.

How to Put Into Practice

Instructor feedback provides ongoing guidance for students’ work in a course. If students hear feedback regularly and within a reasonable time after their submissions, they get reinforcement for what to keep doing and criteria for what to update and improve. 

Both the content and quantity of your feedback can make a significant difference in how likely students are to react to it constructively. While many of us would like to explain every single error we find in a given submission, targeting one or two key areas for improvement helps students take in the feedback 

When deciding where to focus, consider your learning outcomes for this particular assignment: is it more important for students to master granular elements of a particular skill (for instance, proper grammar and punctuation in a writing assignment) or are broader concepts like organization and theme more important? Consult the Writing Center resource on “Global vs Local concerns” to further explore this distinction. While the concept is described for use with writing assignments, the ideas apply broadly. In many cases, we want our students to focus on the global or higher-order elements of a task—at least at first—so prioritizing feedback on these elements may be best. 

Effective practices for giving feedback

  • Highlight areas in which the students have succeeded as well as areas that require further development. We often assume that students only need feedback on what they’re doing poorly, but many succeed without realizing why. Positive feedback helps students understand what they’re doing well so they can keep doing it.
  • Connect your feedback to stated expectations for the assignment, such as in the prompt or rubric.
  • Feedback is often prescriptive (“change this”), evaluative (“this is good” / “this is wrong”), or inquisitive (“how could you synthesize these two ideas?”). Consider the uses of each and deploy intentionally.
  • The Writing Across the Curriculum program at UW-Madison offers another, similar breakdown of feedback: facilitative (prompting the writer to critically engage with the text or topic); directive (explaining what the writer should do or not do and why); and editorial (labeling or correcting grammatical errors).
  • Make your feedback accessible by using clear, specific, explanatory language. Provide a standardized key to any shorthand language or symbols you use.
  • Set clear expectations for when and where students will receive feedback. Specify this timeframe in the syllabus and/or course orientation module.  For example:
    • If you contact me, I will reply to your message within 24 hours.
    • I will post feedback on assignments within 7 days after the submission deadline.
  • Set a timeframe that gives you enough flexibility while giving students time to apply the feedback to other assignments.
  • Help students process the feedback. Give them opportunities to ask clarifying questions. Ask them to reflect on what they learned and how they plan to apply learning to future work.

Ways to provide feedback

  • Use a mix of full class and individual feedback to help you underline key areas of strength and improvement.
  • Record audio responses to student submissions. For some instructors, this is an effective way of giving individual or group feedback, allowing them to speak informally, thereby saving time. For more, see Creating Instructor Response Videos.
  • Use low-stakes formative assessments (e.g., quizzes or other classroom assessment techniques adapted to online) to identify common issues and provide meaningful feedback.
  • If using Canvas Quizzes, include automatic feedback explaining why answers are correct or incorrect. To do this, click the three dots below each possible response to enter explanatory text.

Additional Resources

Background Information

What is this?

Much of your interaction with learners occurs through regular and timely feedback on assessments and activities. This is especially true in online and hybrid courses.

Why is this important?

Meaningful communication feedback is key to learning, but can be difficult to deliver in any learning environment. In online settings, students may be less clear on what is expected of them. Providing your students with early, brief, and regular explanatory feedback can help reduce their uncertainty, prevent wasted effort, and encourage them to develop.

Where is this?

Announcements (email, audio, video, text) can provide aggregate feedback. Office hours, Assignment feedback (e.g. with Canvas Rubrics and comments), the Canvas Gradebook and other communication tools, such as polling, breakout groups/share out, etc. are all ways of giving feedback.

Success Factor 3: Instructor-Student Interaction

The course is designed to include regular and substantive interaction and communication between student and instructor. Regardless of modality, a fully-realized educational experience provides students with ample opportunity to ask questions, receive answers, and obtain feedback and guidance from instructors.

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