Providing Effective Feedback to Students in Online Courses

Clear and constructive feedback can propel a student’s growth, providing opportunities for reflection while sharpening critical thinking skills. Feedback can also help motivate students to persevere with difficult material, take creative risks, or explore new angles and perspectives, creating a springboard for learning. Not only is instructor feedback helpful — “for many students,” it’s becoming “the new grading system,” according to education news website Education Dive. Unfortunately, providing students with insightful feedback is often easier said than done — especially in virtual classrooms, which pose new and unique challenges to effective teacher-student communication. 

As coronavirus-related school closures drive more students to attend class remotely, it’s important for educators to understand how to give efficient and effective feedback in the online classroom. To help you reach that goal, we’ve compiled five tips for providing better online feedback to students, highlighting some potential challenges — and the strategies you can use to overcome them.  

What Are the Potential Challenges of Giving Feedback Online?

In conventional classroom settings, teachers and students can interact easily, having discussions in real time without any risk of “technical issues.” This creates countless opportunities for educators to provide incisive feedback — opportunities which may seem harder to find in a virtual teaching space. 

Fortunately, there are effective tips and strategies for providing quality feedback online. However, before we discuss these strategies, it’s helpful to identify the potential challenges that may arise. Examples of obstacles and challenges that educators can face when providing virtual feedback include: 

  • Encouraging students to provide peer feedback. Not all feedback needs to come from the instructor. In fact, students can benefit more from hearing a range of commentary, including feedback from their peers. However, the virtual format of online courses may cause students to hold back their opinions, often for one of the following reasons:
    • Students who have never met may feel awkward about interacting online. 
    • There might not be an obvious or reliable way for students to send public or private messages. 

We’ll discuss how to address these challenges in the following section. First, let’s examine two other challenges: 

  • Ensuring that feedback is personalized. Depending on what sort of learning management system (LMS) you’re using, it may be challenging to direct personalized feedback toward individual students, rather than sharing comments publicly — at least, until you familiarize yourself with all of the technological options and resources that are available to you. That’s just one of the many reasons why it’s so important for educators to both master and teach technological literacy, as we recently explored in our article on educational technology for remote students.
  • Ensuring that feedback is timely. Teaching can place enormous demands on educators’ time. In many cases, workloads are heavy, yet resources are limited — factors that can make it difficult to provide students with timely feedback. 

5 Tips on Providing Effective Feedback in Online Courses 

Now that you recognize some of the major obstacles to providing quality feedback in online classes, it will be easier for you to avoid the pitfalls — and to choose productive strategies instead. By following the tips below, you can provide better feedback to your remote students, turning challenges into opportunities for learning. 

Tip #1: Share Audio or Video

Even when composed with care, written feedback can be unclear in its tone, intent, or meaning, leading to needless (and time-consuming) miscommunications. Avoid confusion by sharing audio or video recordings, or by streaming live, which not only makes it easier to present your feedback clearly, but also saves you time on writing. Statistics also suggest that video may be more engaging than text, which means students may have an easier time retaining video feedback. Zoom, Jing, and Vocaroo are just a few examples of the tools you can use to stream video, record audio, or use screen capturing — a great technique for personalizing your feedback.

Tip #2: Educate Yourself on EdTech

Keeping abreast of educational technology, or “EdTech,” will help you remain up-to-date on the latest developments, tips, and trends affecting online educators. For example, you can attend virtual education conferences, read edtech blogs and forums, discuss remote teaching resources with your peers, and follow Twitter accounts or hashtags related to edtech topics, such as #K12, #education, #edtech, or #MicrosoftTeams. 

At minimum, you should thoroughly familiarize yourself with the features, shortcuts, abilities, and limitations of any app, website, or LMS that your students are required to use. Doing this will allow you to deliver timely and targeted feedback to the intended recipient or recipients, while also ensuring that you’re prepared for any technical issues that might occur.

Tip #3: Encourage Student Interaction

Many students benefit from receiving peer feedback, debating one another, and working together in groups. Try using apps or educational websites that encourage students to collaborate and interact, which will help stimulate discussion (and hopefully, alleviate feelings of isolation among socially distanced students). TeachThought recommends FlipGrid, Padlet, and VideoAnt as some of the best digital collaboration tools for students, along with popular essentials like Zoom, Skype, Google Drive, Slack, Trello, and Kahoot. You can also offer students virtual rewards and incentives in exchange for sharing meaningful peer feedback. 

Tip #4: Communicate Clearly 

The purpose of providing feedback is to help the recipient grow academically. You will have better luck achieving this goal if you communicate your feedback clearly, which is one of the reasons we recommend streaming or pre-recording audio or video. Written feedback can also be beneficial for students, but may be less clear or engaging in comparison. This is especially true for subjects like math, physics, biology, or chemistry, where instructors may wish to visually reference complex models, formulas, or diagrams. 

Tip #5: Offer Actionable Insights

“Actionable” feedback is simply feedback that can be acted upon. Actionable feedback provides greater value to students than generic feedback, such as “Nice work!” that does not lead to any reflection or analysis. However, it can be motivational to include a few positive words of encouragement after offering an actionable suggestion. As an alternative to making a suggestion, you can also try asking an open-ended question, which may help the student brainstorm new ideas. 

Thoughtful feedback is one of the most powerful and versatile teaching tools an educator possesses. It can offer encouragement, spark new ideas, and challenge students to realize their potential. However, in order for students to reap these benefits, it’s crucial for teachers to deliver feedback strategically, being mindful of the challenges posed by distance learning. We hope that the pointers we’ve offered in this article will help to prepare K-12 educators for the academic year ahead, which is sure to demand new and innovative approaches to education. 

Apply to Our Accredited Education Program to Earn Your Teaching Degree or Certificate 

COVID-19 has radically reshaped the education landscape, shifting “traditional” learning models toward online and virtual alternatives. As a teacher or teaching assistant, you need to be prepared. 

Challenge yourself to think outside the box and become a more innovative teacher by enrolling in one of National University’s fast-paced education programs, such as the Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education (BAECE). Available online and in person through the Sanford College of Education, our 50+ NCATE-accredited teacher education programs prepare undergraduatesgraduate students, and transfer students for the real-world challenges confronting K-12 teachers and administrators, from planning online curricula and mastering technological skills, to communicating with family members and keeping students motivated. 

Discover what an education degree or teaching certificate can do for your career. Contact our admissions office to learn more about applying to National University, or request information about our accredited education programs. 

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