Types Of Feedback That Help You Boost Student Engagement
Steve Jobs once said “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better”. Educators strive to do the same thing by providing learners with meaningful feedback that extends and develops their thinking. However, in an online course, feedback does more than just push learners’ thinking; it also plays a critical role in shaping how students engage with course content, the instructor, and their classmates.
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Our List Of 9 Types Of Feedback: The Background
This past fall, as part of a collaborative class project for EDUC 612 (Educational Web Design) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, we developed and facilitated an open online course for educators. A total of 480 educators from around the world signed up to participate in the course (Designing Digital Media for Teaching and Learning). All of the course learning activities and interactions took place in the course Google+ Community, which had more than 875 posts by the end of the 4-week course. In collaboration with our classmates, we provided at least two feedback replies for every post in the community.
Upon analyzing the Google+ Community data from weeks three and four, we found that participants responded to the facilitator’s feedback in 58% of the posts. Additionally, about 34% of the posts had more than one participant engaged in the conversation. It is clear from the data that our feedback helped students engage with the course and with one another. We also found that, among all other factors, feedback was essential to the success of the course.
Mid-way through the course, as a class, we spent time conducting a content analysis of the posts, feedback, and replies in order to identify which types of feedback were most effective in soliciting responses from participants. What resulted was a list of 9 types of feedback that helped us give more effective feedback, which we detail below.
9 Effective Types Of Feedback
Appreciation is the key to opening the “feedback door.” Thanking students for submitting their work acknowledges and validates their time spent learning something new. Appreciation comments do not have to be drawn out to have a positive impact. They can be as simple as “thank you for sharing this awesome (idea/question/thought) with us.“ Receiving a positive, appreciative comment at the outset, students are more likely to feel respected and engage with any additional feedback you provide.
Sayback involves restating what learners said. This shows learners that you read their posts and lets them know that they are on the right track. Often, the best way to start a sayback comment is with an “I agree” or some other appreciative statement. For example, “I agree [participant name] that this video applies all of Mayer's principles. I thought they were going to fall short in the redundancy principle and the voice would read the thought bubble at the end... I waited for it... no voice! They nailed it! Good find.”
- Links to resources.
Sharing a link to a resource extends learning beyond the course content and introduces learners to new information, ideas, perspectives, and digital tools. For example, one of our course facilitators introduced a participant to a new creative commons resource by writing the following: “There is a big push for a universal visual language to help connect people around the world speaking different languages. I get a lot of mileage from the icons being created for The Noun Project in my work,” and the participant replied, “Thanks for the resource, +[facilitator] I'll make sure to check it out.”
Asking a question is a good way to engage learners in conversations about their work. While answering questions, learners often reflect on the process of their work, which brings their comprehension into a deeper level. Questions can serve many purposes when providing feedback. They can be used to clarify the learners’ thinking (e.g., “What did you mean by…”), to make the learning process more transparent (e.g., “Why did you...”), to inspire students to think about their work in a different way (e.g., “Have you considered looking at the topic from this perspective?”), to expand the learner's’ knowledge or skills (e.g., “Have you considered exploring...”), and to encourage learners to make changes to their work (e.g., “Have you thought about trying…”).
- Providing next steps.
Providing next steps is a way to let learners know what else they can do to improve their work and, looking ahead, to acquire greater knowledge and hone their skills. For example, one of our course facilitators wrote, “I also suggest you add some sound effects to grab the attention of the listener,” to help a participant figure out how to improve her video project.
- Providing guidance.
Providing guidance is a way to scaffold student learning. This can be done by offering a suggestion, sharing advice, or providing insights that encourage students to reach just beyond what they think they are capable of doing. When providing guidance, it’s best to start with “I” (e.g., “I suggest”). Starting with “you” (e.g., “You should”) often tends to make learners feel defensive and they are less likely to respond. Here is an example from one of our course facilitators: "If you do decide to make this into a poster for a pointing reminder, I would suggest using less text. You could go over the steps in greater detail to introduce it, but for the poster, I would use short bullet points in a larger font so it could be used as a reference from afar."
- Sharing personal experiences.
Nothing links students and facilitators like shared experiences. It says “Hey...I’ve been there!” to the student and helps foster a relationship of mutual respect. Besides increasing the sense of connection, sharing personal experiences makes the feedback feel more authentic and meaningful. Students want to learn from real world experiences. For example, one facilitator commented, “It would be awesome to see students work in groups with a Google Document and all team members adding and editing together. We facilitators actually do this often when collaborating on this course design and maintenance. It's really effective!”
- Facilitators connecting learners.
Connecting learners encourages social learning, which enriches the course community and the learning process. Connecting participants can be done many different ways, depending on the tools you have available. In our course Google+ Community, we used Plus mentions to directly involve learners in conversations (e.g., “+Mr. T is supporting his district with a Chromebook rollout - you might want to connect with him for ideas/advice”).
- Providing encouragement.
Sometimes learners just need a few positive words of encouragement (e.g., “You can do it!”) that show them you are invested in and support their learning. Providing encouragement often rekindles learners’ enthusiasm for an assignment or project and motivates them to keep improving their work. For example, one of our course facilitators provided words of encouragement by saying, “Keep on going, we’re rooting for you!” and the participant responded with, “I did decide to create a pre-assignment survey using a Google template. Thanks for the encouragement!”
These 9 types of feedback can be, and in many cases should be, mixed and matched and, thus, used in a variety of ways to boost student engagement. For example, you might start with an appreciative comment, suggest a resource, and then ask a question to push the learner’s thinking. Or, you could open with a personal experience and then connect participants, encouraging them to help one another think about the content in different ways.
One of the most challenging aspects of facilitating an online course is figuring out which unique combination of feedback types can enhance each student’s learning process and motivate the student to engage with the class. We encourage you to test out one or more of these feedback types for an upcoming assignment to see which ones work best for your students and your course. You never know what will ignite that spark!