Research School Network: Getting Feedback Right in the Online Classroom What can draw down from the research on online learning at higher education in regards to feedback to support distance teaching

Getting Feedback Right in the Online Classroom

What can draw down from the research on online learning at higher education in regards to feedback to support distance teaching

by Durrington Research School
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The importance of feedback in the online classroom

Feedback is recognised as a vital part of effective teaching, with the benefits of providing prompt and substantive feedback well supported by years of research. While in the face-to-face classroom feedback can occur almost naturally and in many forms the online classroom can appear to severely restrict the avenues and opportunities for teachers to provide feedback.

There is, perhaps understandably, a shortage of research regarding online instruction in the primary and high school setting due to the rarity with which this occurs. Therefore much of the research we can base our thinking on is from higher education setting such as universities, and subsequently any findings need to be considered in this context.

Weiss (2000) notes that a common concern among educators is the loss of personal contact between themselves and their students. She argues that teaching is infinitely more complex than just delivering a commodity, and that many of the advanced skills required for effective teaching (including feedback) require a high amount of teacher-student interaction. The removal of audio and visual cues, as well as the classroom environment results in a perceived loss of humanity which can lead to an antiseptic and boring learning environment”, which for many students can feel lonely” (King and Doefert, 1996). One way to restore a degree of humanity into the online classroom is through the provision of feedback.

The importance of feedback in the online classroom goes beyond just restoring a sense of humanity and normality. Hacker and Niederhauser (2000) identify 5 principles for the enhancement of online instruction including the use of examples to ground learning, encouraging active learners, using collaborative problem solving, using motivation and giving appropriate feedback. While Leibold and Schwarz (2015) argue that online feedback is a vial intervention as it is an opportunity to develop the instructor-learner relationship, improve academic performance and enhance learning.

In a study of 30 graduate and undergraduate instructors at a US university Lewis and Abdul-Hamid (2006) found that the most effective online practitioners maintained a presence within the classroom through providing quick and high quality feedback on student work. While the common theme amongst the most effective instructors was the speed and quality of the feedback they provided, the format in which they provided it was more varied, from individual/​small group feedback to the use of the public forum in the online classroom. What was common was the admission from the majority that providing feedback in the online classroom can be a lengthy and challenging process. As the majority of feedback given in the online classroom is, by nature, written the time investment is usually much higher than in the face to face setting.

Strategies for giving effective but non-time consuming feedback in the online classroom

1. Group vs Personalised feedback:

When considering how we can give feedback in the online setting without creating an unsustainable work load, there are several avenues that we can take. Firstly it may be wise to consider the balance between individual and whole-class feedback. Whole-class feedback can be highly effective and much less time consuming than individual comments. In a study of graduate students participating in an online course, Gallien & Oomen-Early (2008) compared the effectiveness of group feedback vs personalised feedback. Students receiving group feedback, were given a document, once the instructor had read all assignments, which outlined common misconceptions, strong answers and suggestions for improvements. The results indicated that the students receiving personalised feedback did perform better academically and felt more satisfied with the course, but did not feel any more connected to their instructor than those receiving group feedback. While these results may seem to suggest that we should avoid group feedback, it must be remembered that these findings come from a higher education context where student numbers per instructor are much lower meaning individual feedback for all is more achievable. Furthermore the group feedback still created positive outcomes, and took nearly half the time that personalised feedback took to create.

Feedback hours

Using the online classroom discussion board or stream is great for distributing whole class feedback. This may take the form of highlighting common mistakes or deconstructing strong answers given by students so that others have a worked example to model their thinking. By asking students to post answers to the class stream enables the teacher to give quicker feedback than if the work is submitted by email etc., although it is important that the correct culture is fostered in the classroom for this to happen. Some research has also advocated the use of feedback comment banks for common mistakes to again help save time.

2. Corrective Feedback:

While students should be challenged to think and expand their thinking through epistemic feedback, the core knowledge for their subject/​topic forms the essential building blocks of students learning. Quick and immediate feedback can be given for this through the setting of online quizzes (i.e. google forms) that can give automated feedback. This often works best with multiple choice quizzes, and while potentially time consuming to initially set up can save time in the future. These can also be reused again and again as you wish. One professor in the study of Lewis and Abdul-Hamid gave out answers/​worked examples to students only after they had completed the work and he had quickly viewed it to make a judgement of the effort put in. If they deemed the effort acceptable students were given the answers and asked to mark their own work, before attempting similar problems to any that they had got wrong.

3. Scheduling Feedback:

While in the face to face setting feedback can often occur spontaneously though verbal comments etc., research does seem to suggest that creating a feedback schedule or frequency so that students know when to expect feedback is beneficial. This may be at the start of the following lesson and can take the form of whole class feedback. This can also be combined with other time saving techniques such as using video recordings (i.e. loom videos) or voice recordings which reduce the need for writing large amounts of feedback that can be shared with the class before moving onto the new content.

4. Clear expectations and requirements:

Of the 30 instructors interviewed in the work of Lewis and Abdul-Hamid a common response was that a large part of providing online feedback was to clearly express requirements and expectations prior to submission of the assignment. This has multiple benefits. Firstly it allows students to self-regulate their learning and progress, motivating them to take responsibility for their own learning and reducing the amount of queries teachers are likely to receive. Secondly following completion a clear set of requirements will allow for much quicker and concise feedback, for example you had to include X, however this is missing or done very briefly – reconsider this aspect”.

Written by Ben Crockett, Head of Geography and Research School Associate, Durrington High School

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