Strategies for Providing Feedback in Online Courses
Students need much more support and feedback in the online environment than in a traditional course. This is because the potential threat that students feel alienated is quite high in the Virtual Classroom. Using effective feedback strategies will enable the instructor to identify and meet individual student needs as well as encourage students to participate and continue to participate at a high quality level. Here are strategies for providing feedback in the Virtual Classroom:
- Clearly communicate exactly how participants will be graded. This information should be available on the first day of the course and included with the syllabus. Students must know what to expect from the course and what you expect from them as the instructor. They are probably taking your course for credit, and grades are their primary concern, so the assignments, the weight each assignment carries, due dates, and an indication of evaluation criteria for the course as well as for each assignment is important to show up front.
- Arrange telephone office hours if you see that any of your students are having difficulty online. Set evening hours if most of your students work during the day.
- Be prepared to use a variety of delivery systems for feedback in case the technological system fails. Examples are one-on-one and conference calls, fax, electronic mail, video and computer conferencing. When feasible, consider personal visits as well (traditional office hours).
- Take note of students who don't participate during the first session, and contact them individually after class. They may have technological difficulties, and it is critical to get them resolved as soon as possible. If students are focusing on the medium of delivery, they cannot focus on the course content.
- Return graded assignments to students' personal mailboxes within 48 hours. Provide substantive critique, comment, and/or evaluation for work submitted by individual students or groups, referring to additional sources for supplementary information where appropriate. Feedback on grades must be PRIVATE communication.
- The feedback process continues the learning experience, adds depth and insight to the discussion already provided by the student, and affords the instructor an opportunity to reaffirm key concepts as well as provide closure to the week's discussion. This is a fundamental and vital part of the online instructor's role in the Virtual Classroom.
- Provide private, weekly updates to EACH participant on their grade status. A student must never be more than seven days away from current grade status – ever. For example, a short message praising a student on his/her contributions to the class discussions (or encouraging him/her to contribute more), a list of assignments received to date as well as those still outstanding, and a general overall course evaluation up to that point. This serves to keep the student on track, lets him/her know that their efforts have not gone unnoticed, and offers an opportunity to resubmit any misdirected assignments.
- Respond privately to personal messages within 24 hours of receipt.
- Thank students publicly for comments submitted to the Virtual Classroom showing insight or depth. This will serve to model the types of responses and critical thinking skills you expect from other participants as well as give positive reinforcement to the student who contributed the message.
- Appear in the Virtual Classroom no less than five times a week (ideally, and instructor should appear every day).
- Make comments that go beyond simple questioning or agreement in order to the model critical thinking you expect of your students. Make interpretive as well as descriptive comments.
- Integrate theory with observations and applications when appropriate.
- Know what you are looking for and involve yourself to help make it happen. Irrespective of the specific learning activity, the instructor should recognize quality work and intervene as the work is being developed to steer students in the right direction. When the instructor participates in a conference providing extensive critique, feedback, and encouragement, students cannot help but become more involved.
- Do not comment on every student posting. Much like in face-to-face class discussions let the conversation develop and give students a chance to participate before jumping in with in depth comments/feedback or analysis.
- Use your students' feedback regarding course content, relevancy, pace, delivery problems, and instructional concerns to improve your course for the next time you teach it. If possible, use this feedback as formative assessment and implement small changes to the course as you teach it. This will show your students that you are responding to their needs.