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June 18, 2008

E-Coaching Tip 59 (#1 Summer 2008)

"Are You Reading My Postings? Do you Know Who I am?" Simple Rules about Feedback in Online Learning

Feedback is simple, right? It just means letting students know how they are doing in a course. However, as research is showing, getting feedback right in an online course is one of the most important determinants in student satisfaction and retention which leads to overall good feelings about a course and about an institution.

How many types of feedback are there? (Lots!) When is feedback important? (Almost always!) Does feedback always have to address individual's work or can feedback address the work of groups? (Both types can be useful!)

This tip discusses the most basic of feedback -- that of the feedback from a faculty to a student. (Other types of feedback include peer feedback, feedback from students to faculty, automated feedback, rich feedback, etc. Research on feedback extends to the many types of interaction as well, including the use of audio email and audio chat. This tip focuses primarily on feedback channels from you to the learner.)

Feedback in Online Learning

Feedback is an element of any communication or dialogue. In fact, there is no real communication or dialogue without feedback, which generally closes or continues a train of thought. In online learning, the first type of feedback that generally comes to mind is that of feedback from the faculty to the students, particularly on written assignments or on discussion board postings. This is the most important feedback from a students' point of view. They want to know how you, the faculty member, "thinks" about the work that I as a learner is doing.

The most important rules about feedback from faculty to student are simple. Here are three ready reminders!

Provide feedback early

This means early in the course, including even prior to the formal launching of a course. The first two weeks of a course can be the most demanding on a faculty member. It is one of the best investments you can make to plan on spending time in the first two weeks getting to know your students and their own goals for learning. This is the time you launch a community of learning. You may ask, "How do I provide feedback to the students on in the first week if they have not handed in any assignment?"

In the first week, students will have introduced themselves and made statements about their expected learning goals and purposes for the course. This is a time to identify links and relationships that the students may not have included in their introductions and to help students see how their goals and purposes fit with the content and goals of the course. This simple act sends the message that their postings are not going into a black hole! These links can be shared environments, experiences or love of biking!

Provide feedback on assignments when it is expected.

If you do not tell students when to expect feedback on their assignments, they will expect it within minutes of hitting the "send" or "upload" button!

State your rule for feedback turnaround times clearly and provide regular reminders. State your general rule of thumb for providing feedback (generally 24 to 48 hours) and then state it again in the assignment deadline. This does mean planning assignment deadlines around your own teaching and life patterns. For large projects, the turnaround time might be longer; other times you may want to adjust given your schedule. If a week's postings close on Saturday, you will likely need to schedule time on Monday for review and feedback on those postings!

Online learners are particularly paranoid about the first cycle of assignments and feedback, because it is a benchmark for what will likely follow. Students will use the feedback from the first assignment as a marker for what you think about their ideas and how they express themselves. It often determines how much time and effort they put into subsequent assignments. Some of the questions learners often have include: How closely do you follow the assignment rubrics? Do you count timeliness? How much do you recognize or expect analysis, innovation or creativity? How much research do you expect? Do you notice grammar and spelling?

Rapid response to questions

For general discussion questions, it is important to answer questions promptly or have a system for questions being answered! An efficient use of the course site is to encourage an "online forum" where students can answer questions from other students and that you can monitor for questions that maybe you need to answer. And a cautionary note here. Avoid providing feedback in emails except for the personal feedback on assignments, as needed. The course site is the place for discussion and feedback on assignments in general. One faculty I know "channeled all communications into the discussion area to the point of replying to emails with a request to "post this in the discussion area."

Provide feedback that is personal and formative for learning

Providing feedback to learners can be very time-consuming. In an effort to provide feedback, but also to save time, systems with automated feedback, embedded feedback, are available. Some of these systems are proving to be excellent and effective, as in the example of using rich feedback in quizzes etc in large introductory biology classes. (Cooper, et al. 2007). However, using those systems work so long as students are aware of how they are designed and the purpose of the systems. These systems are essentially static resources such as books and websites made interactive by programmed interactions, without the expectation of personal feedback and a relationship with a live faculty member.

The best feedback is personal and formative for learning. Effective feedback assumes that the faculty is actually reading, or listening and then analyzing and reflecting on the work and ideas of the student. Personal feedback means that you the faculty member is getting to know the student -- as a person and as a mind -- and that you are helping to shape and challenge the learning of the student. This type of feedback creates long-lasting and satisfying links and connections! No wonder that feedback is an element of student satisfaction and loyalty!

I imagine that you have stories where feedback to a student has made "all the difference" in someone's life or learning. Please share any of your good stories with us as well!


This tip was inspired by the set of tips on retention created by Jim Wolford-Ulrich Associate Professor and Team Leader, Leadership Faculty School of Leadership and Professional Advancement. This is a concise and focused set of ideas for increasing student retention by actions you can take prior to the course start, in the early part of your course, and later in your course. Faculty Tips for Student Retention Student Retention.htm. Just sign into Blackboard http://blackboard.duq.edu/using your MultiPass credentials, then click on the 'SLPA Faculty Webinars' link located in the 'My Communities' area and go to Archives.

Here are the three tips for student retention by Dr. Wolford-Ulrich that were adapted for this tip.

  • Give feedback promptly on students' first written assignment, as well as all subsequent assignments.
  • Deploy one of the "Early Feedback to Instructor" surveys available in Blackboard (Surveys & TEQ > [edit view] > EarlyFBsurveyInstructions). Give students feedback on what they told you and how you will modify your teaching.
  • Continue to give feedback promptly on written assignments and student online participation. When possible, return papers with feedback or comments via e-mail.


Cooper, S. T. & Tyser, R. W. & Sandheinrich, M.B. (2007) The Benefits of Linking Assignments to Online Quizzes in 
Introductory Biology Courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. Vol. 3, No. 3, September 2007 http://jolt.merlot.org/vol3no3/cooper.pdf

E-Coaching Tip 43 (Summer 2007) Customizing and Personalizing Learning

"Are You Reading My Postings? Do you Know Who I am?" Simple Rules about Feedback in Online Learning



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Revised May 20 2013
Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2013