increased feedback = increased engagement = increased retention

The benefit of frequent and relevant feedback is that students are much more likely to be engaged in the assignment, topic, and course. The more we can engage the students, the greater the likelihood they will stick with it.

"Archery" CC-NC-SA by Alex Ragone on Flickr

“Archery” CC-NC-SA by Alex Ragone on Flickr
This student receives feedback in multiple ways as her instructor helps her correct her form – thereby improving her score – another important source of feedback

A number of years ago I participated in two back-to-back semester-long Faculty Learning Communities studying the topic of Learner Engagement. The findings of both these communities was the same: in order to increase learner engagement, provide more feedback. You might think this is a no-brainer but it is something we need to keep in mind especially as we design and deliver distance learning.

Distance learning as defined by the US Dept of Ed and the Higher Learning Commission means…

“to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously.”

This separation can sometimes be cause for concern for students who lack experience with distance learning formats. There can be a sense of disconnectedness for students unfamiliar with the technology or what is required to succeed in an online or blended course. By offering frequent and relevant feedback we may provide an increased sense of connectedness and perhaps help to alleviate some anxiety for the new-to-online student.

Effective feedback can come in many forms, including comments on an assignment submission, using the question feedback features for online quizzes, and online games are all about feedback. Group discussion and peer review of research papers / presentations are other effective methods of building feedback into your course by enlisting the help of your students.

Some quick wins include using old exams as practice quizzes.  Upload quizzes from past exams into the LMS assessment tool and edit the feedback section for each question.  Hint: the quizzes don’t have to be exhaustive – just representative of the material. A thirty question exam might be re-purposed for a databank of ten – three question sets. This method permits students to retake a short ten-question quiz several times, each time with a different set of questions.

Peer-review for class research projects or presentations can be a great way to provide more feedback. Provide students with clear criteria about what effective feedback looks like – maybe begin with a discussion about what feedback they have found helpful in their own learning. Have students offer suggested improvements in the early stages of their assignments – give additional points for pointing to helpful examples or resources.

Ask students to subscribe to discussion threads or other social media tools such as Twitter tags or Google+ Communities for the course. Don’t assume your students know how to manage SMS subscriptions, you may need to include a short tutorial… (e.g. Twitter: Receiving SMS notifications for Tweets and interactions) The majority of your students communicate by texting.  SMS notifications offer a familiar and effective means of engaging students in just in time class discussion.

The key to effective feedback is in the “regular and substantive interactions between the students and the instructor”. By seeking ways to build upon these interactions with frequent and effective feedback, students will experience greater confidence in where they stand and a better understanding of how to make it to the finish line.

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