Helping students learn through guidance and support.
The importance of feedback
Instructional feedback is a response, usually from a mentor, used to guide student learning. Feedback can take several forms including verbal, nonverbal, written and digital.
Feedback gives students direction and answers three questions (Hattie & Timperley, 2007):
- Where am I going?
Reaffirm desired learning outcomes.
- How am I going?
Highlight learner’s progress and areas of improvement in relation to desired outcomes.
- Where to next?
Advise learner on how to make progress towards desired learning outcomes.
Benefits of effective feedback
When students are in the beginning stages of learning new concepts and skills, they may not yet have the ability to self-evaluate their performance. This makes expert feedback very important to help improve their understanding. While students may eventually discover solutions, guidance is often more effective and more motivating for learners (Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006).
Learning is more efficient and successful when students understand:
- the correctness of their conceptions.
- the quality of their performances.
- the extent to which they are meeting learning objectives.
Educational research has shown that for students to learn teachers must engage their previous understanding, support the development of a conceptual framework of ideas (i.e., students lack authentic learning if they collect unconnected facts) and support metacognition for students to monitor their own learning (Bransford et al., 2000).
When students receive effective feedback, they can:
- reflect on their understanding.
- clarify mistakes or misconceptions.
- monitor their progress.
- review missed content.
- stay motivated.
Feedback also has many benefits for instructors, including:
- building and fostering positive relationships.
- guiding students in modifying their learning strategies.
- allowing students to become self-directed and self-reflective learners.
Faculty are often concerned with finding the time to give effective feedback. It is important to consider the act of providing feedback as an investment in creating more self-regulated learners. As students improve at reflecting on their own learning, they become better at self-evaluating and require less guidance. However, the quality of feedback is important when the desired goal is for students to strengthen their self-regulation skills.
Challenges can occur if poor feedback is given. For example, if feedback is:
- given only to the whole class, instead of individually
- not used because it is unconstructive, unclear, or interpreted incorrectly
- mostly related to tasks and content knowledge when students are beyond novice learners
- only given to students, not also received from students
(Carless, 2006; Hattie, 2012; Nuthall, 2007)
These concerns highlight the importance of needing to learn how to effectively provide feedback and should not be interpreted as reasons to avoid giving feedback.
Strategies for providing effective feedback
Goals of feedback
Provide feedback that:
- reduces the gap between the students’ current performance and the learning goals
- is constructive, direct, positive and specific
- increases learning opportunities
- guides students on how to proceed, make progress or clarify misunderstandings
- encourages students to self-evaluate their learning
- evaluates observable learning: what students do, say, make or write
As instructors, it is necessary to communicate to your students why feedback is important. Consider sharing the following principles with your students:
- stress the importance of feedback for learning and achievement
- show how comments and grades go together to illustrate where and how to improve
- explain what to do with the feedback and how to apply it to future learning to help them meet the desired course learning outcomes
(Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Poulos & Mahony, 2008; and Van der Kleij, Feskens & Eggen, 2015)
Feedback can be either Performance-Oriented or Mastery-Oriented (Dweck, 2016).
Generally focused on:
- a specific score
- proving one's ability
- the product
- achievement (fixed mindset)
Generally focused on:
- overcoming challenge
- effort towards improvement and growth
- the process and learning
- growth (growth mindset)
While both types of feedback focus on student outcomes, mastery-oriented feedback helps students improve, focusing on how to better understand a concept or develop a skill. Students will benefit more when feedback is mastery-oriented.
Levels of focus
It is important that instructors are clear with students about the level of feedback that they are providing. This ensures that feedback has the intended effect and makes students aware that there may be other levels of feedback from which they may benefit, depending on the task.
Task or product
- Most common type of feedback
- Can be specific to student or group, or general to class performance
- Works best when learning is focused on information
- Leads to knowledge acquisition
- Helpful for novice learners
- Builds a strong foundation
- How well was the task performed?
- Is the information correct or incorrect, and to what degree?
- Are goals being met?
- Create assessments that provide feedback for both the correct and incorrect answers
- Give groups feedback for both the group and each member
- Give written feedback in addition to a grade
- Based on the process used to complete a task
- Used when students are developing or employing strategies
- Reduces cognitive load
- Offers alternative thinking
- Enhances deeper learning
- Improves task confidence and efficacy
- What strategies are needed to perform this task?
- Can alternative strategies be used?
- What progress is being made toward the goals?
- Incorporate error detection strategies and error correction strategies
- Include cues (e.g., graphic organizers) to help students process successfully
- Consider additional strategies that enhance and deepen student learning (e.g., critical thinking questions)
- Based on self-monitoring with instructor prompting
- Self-evaluation where the focuses are practice, effort and growth
- Opportunities for self-reflection
- Increased self-monitoring skills and confidence
- Supports a willingness to invest effort
- Why am I doing this task a particular way?
- What knowledge base do I need to apply to my performance?
- Where do I go next?
- What can I do to improve?
- Provide student opportunities to share and reflect on their learning (e.g., journals, exit tickets)
- Encourage students to ask clarifying questions or utilize additional resources (e.g., study sessions, TA, office hours)
- Build self-regulation strategies into each lesson (e.g., self-monitoring through questioning)
(Hattie & Timperley, 2007)
The types of feedback, their specific goals and levels of focus apply to all delivery modes and learning environments. There are additional feedback types you can consider if you are teaching an online course.
Incorporating feedback in online learning
The following examples are ways to incorporate feedback into online learning.
Digital notes or comments added to essays and other assignments to help students revise
Voice recording that gives verbal, direct and specific feedback to students’ work
Polls or journals to help the instructor to assess student learning
Discussion board in which students review one another’s work
Online scoring guide to help students assess their learning
Self-assessment in which students review their individual work
Blog, portfolio or project that helps the instructor assess student learning
Video recording that gives verbal, direct and specific feedback to students’ work
Many educational technology tools help faculty provide feedback more efficiently, particularly in a hybrid and online course.
Audio and video feedback
Audio and video recordings allow students to listen and/or watch their instructor give feedback. Having additional cues and context can help students avoid misinterpreting the feedback. These formats of feedback can be created using Panopto and integrated alongside the annotation tool in UB Learns.
Discussion boards are a great way to provide students with both peer and faculty feedback. Keeping a regular presence throughout online classes supports student learning.
When using learning management systems such as UB Learns, instructors can create rubrics in their course and attach them directly to assignments. Once the rubric is added to an assignment it becomes interactive allowing grading to be done efficiently and given to students promptly.
The UB Learns help site contains information on interactive rubrics, such as how to create them, how to associate them with gradable content and how to share them with your students.
Assess progress during learning to adjust and improve instruction while gathering evidence about students’ level of understanding. In UB Learns, you can provide student feedback using tools such as quizzes, polls and journals.
With the Blackboard annotate tool in UB Learns it is possible to give feedback and annotate student work directly. For example, add digital notes and/or comments to students’ essays and assignments to help them revise their work.
UB Learns can automatically grade students’ multiple-choice quizzes or comprehension questions. It also offers a variety of question types such as fill-in-the-blank, matching and ordering.
Peer feedback and self-assessment
Having students give feedback to themselves and their peers can help alleviate the amount of time it takes the instructor to give feedback. It also allows students the chance to think critically about the quality of work being evaluated. This has both benefits and drawbacks if not done carefully:
- Reduces uncertainty and builds error analysis skills
- Practices higher order thinking skills such as evaluation, critique and justification
- Can increase dependence
- Negative feedback has the potential to cause anxiety or shame if not communicated with care
- Feedback may be incorrect
- Studies showed that instruction and prompting helps provide effective feedback
- Provide criteria for feedback and/or assignments
- Give opportunities to practice these skills, monitor and coach as needed
Summative assessments help you evaluate the levels of students’ achievement after the completion of learning activities. Two digital tools you can use to summatively assess students are:
Applying feedback to your course
After reviewing the activities and assessments in your course, complete the following items:
- Step 1: Identify an activity or assessment in which you can integrate feedback. Determine what type of feedback will best support your students in obtaining the task’s objectives and/or learning outcome.
- Steps 2: Incorporate the feedback into the activity or assessment. For example, create a checklist with guiding questions to help students with a writing assignment or add feedback to a multiple-choice quiz.
Strategies to help students succeed in learning by incorporating effective feedback methods.
Grant Wiggins’ answers this question: What is true feedback—and how can it improve learning?
Tips to guide the choices that affect the effectiveness of feedback - Timing, amount, mode audience, and content.
Learn how your students can help you improve your instruction and course design.
Strategies to integrate into your course to help you redesign with your students in mind.
Bill Gates highlights the need for American teachers to receive real feedback on their teaching that goes beyond a label of “satisfactory” to improve their teaching practice.
Blog post presenting research, methods, and tips for providing audio-recorded feedback to students in online classes to increase engagement with students and improve learning outcomes.
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- Carless, D. (2006). Differing perceptions in the feedback process. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 219–233.
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- Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.
- Esambe, E., Mosito, C., Pather, S. (2016). First-year students’ essay writing practices: Formative feedback and interim literacies. Reading & Writing 7(1).
- Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: an integrated approach to designing college courses (Revised and updated edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003024477
- Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112.
- Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75–86. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep4102_1
- Miller, D. L., Sawatzky, J. V., Chernomas, W. (2018). Clinical faculty development initiative: Providing student feedback. Journal of Professional Nursing.
- Nuthall, G. (2007). The hidden lives of learners. Nzcer Press.
- Poulos, A., & Mahony, M. J. (2008). Effectiveness of feedback: The students’ perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(2), 143-154.
- Van der Kleij, F. M., Feskens, R. C., & Eggen, T. J. (2015). Effects of feedback in a computer-based learning environment on students’ learning outcomes: A meta-analysis. Review of educational research, 85(4), 475-511.
- Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1) 10-16.