Giving students useful, timely feedback that they can use to improve their performance is a perennial issue, highlighted as an area for development year in year out by NSS responses across the sector. While the value of good feedback is widely accepted, issues remain about what makes “good” feedback and how staff can deliver it effectively and manageably (without working themselves into an early grave). It is somewhat inevitable then that staff here will be interested in whether the VLE and other e-learning tools can help.
Although the natural places to start with feedback through the VLE could be seen as the VLE’s GradeCentre or Turnitin, creative uses of the available toolset mean that a wide variety of tools can be used “to provide feedback”. So rather than just provide a list of tools and their features, I thought it might be more useful to look at the REAP project’s widely acknowledged principles of good feedback design and how they can be delivered through e-learning approaches.
Good feedback should…
Some academics are producing demonstration videos of techniques or exemplar work with narrated explanations. We are seeing this to help illustrate processes within Maths based modules (see illustration, right) as well as critiques of work, highlighting expected standards or why a particular piece of work received the mark it did.
The VLE’s Rubric (see below) tool can also be used to both make students aware of the marking criteria and to provide feedback to them. Staff can use the rubric to benchmark students against preconfigured criteria which can form the basis of their feedback or separate comments can also be provided against each criteria as well as for the assignment as a whole. The tool integrates with the VLE’s GradeCentre.
#2: Deliver high quality feedback that helps learners self-correct
While e-learning tools alone will not make any feedback inherently “high quality”, they can be effective at helping to reduce the distance between teacher and students and make feedback more personalised, useful and engaging.
Personal capture allows staff to quickly record a video of themselves working through a piece of student work, highlighting areas for development or what they should continue to do well. Students will receive a polished, personalised video which allows them to see and hear their feedback in the context of their work, rather than read something that is one step removed from it. Link to personal capture homepage.
#3 Provide opportunities to act on feedback
Giving students feedback that they can actually use to improve their performance often means providing more formative tasks and allowing them to respond to the feedback in preparation for subsequent, often summative activities.
Video feedback on student presentations is a clear example of how providing students with a video of their performance at a practice session can be used by them to recognise areas for development and work on these in advance of a subsequent, credit bearing performance. This approach has been used extensively in some departments with students reporting that they found the opportunity to watch themselves and reflect on their own performance extremely valuable. Videos can be delivered through the VLE through various means, such as embedding them in blogs to allow for further commentary or be sharing through Google drive which makes managing permissions to individual videos simple.
#4: Encourage interaction or dialogue
The premise that feedback will be more useful if it is the springboard for further discussion can be seen in a number of modules, leading to discussion between students and teachers at subsequent seminars or supervision meetings but also between peers who can share their work and peers can provide feedback against set criteria through the VLE. In addition to providing students with video feedback on their presentations (see above), students are asked to provide feedback to a fellow student through the comments section blog as well as reflect on their own performance, in both cases with reference to the marking criteria (also helping to deliver feedback principle #1).
John Bone from Economics and Related studies outlines his approach to encouraging peer feedback, which in turn encourages greater interaction and dialogue on pages 4-5 of a recent edition of the University’s FORUM magazine.
# 5: Develop self assessment and reflection
Blackboard’s quiz tools have long been used to provide students with practice tests and opportunities for self assessment. Not only will staff and students be able to see which questions they get right and wrong but tests can also be set up to provide rich feedback per question or even, in the case of certain question types such as Multiple Choice, bespoke feedback for each possible answer. In addition to this students can be directed to more advanced or practice materials depending on their performance on a given test.
One reoccurring comment regarding the VLE is its poor support for Maths notation and the quiz tools are no exception to this. While this is expected to improve following the summer upgrade when LaTeX notation will be integrated throughout, colleagues who are looking to develop online Maths tests may also be interesting in exploring NUMBAS, an online service for producing highly functional Maths questions and quizzes quickly and easily which can be delivered through the VLE.
Beyond providing opportunities for practice, the VLE can also support reflection through personal learning journals or blogs or students can monitor and record their performance through e-portfolios, which can be delivered through Google sites.
#6: Provide information that teachers can use to help shape their teaching
A number of approaches we have already discussed can help teachers to get feedback on their teaching; reflective blogs and journals will often highlight areas of concern or misunderstanding and results from quiz tools can be used by teachers to monitor student performance. Instructors will be able to get even more powerful data from tests following the summer upgrade when item analysis will be available to help identify poor questions which can then be addressed or marks adjusted.
Discussion boards are frequently used to allow staff to understand the areas that students are struggling with and they have been particularly useful in large cohorts where teacher to students communication can be difficult in face to face situations. While many academics will respond to queries as they come in on a discussion board (replacing e-mail correspondence) some will address issues raised in follow up or revision sessions.
#7: Encourage positive motivational beliefs and self esteem
I would hope that the majority of approaches discussed above would support this principle, whether it is through more personalised timely feedback or the opportunity to test their understanding and practice and develop their skills.