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Students Appreciate Feedback

It's a student's responsibility to get assignments in on time. In return, it's your responsibility as the instructor to provide prompt, useful feedback.

Plan for Feedback. A process for quick response and appropriate feedback should be planned into the course. This lets students know that you are concerned about their progress and pleased to get their assignments on time. This communication may be through email, fax, snail mail, phone, or posted on a web page.

Explore Feedback Options. There are many ways to provide students with feedback. If students are posting their projects on web pages, you could remote open a student's web page and provide feedback right on their page. You could even highlight ideas in red or green text. Some instructors like to post general feedback for the class to see. For example, you might indicate that Susan has cool clip art on her page that everyone should check out or that David's article review contains some important points that everyone should read.

If students are emailing you attachments, consider using the functions of the specific software. For example, you can add comments and notes in Microsoft Office products. With word processing, think about using a specific color within a student's text that they can read and delete. Adobe Acrobat provides many options. Consider creating worksheets and other print documents in PDF files. Students can type on the "worksheet" and you can provide them with comments using the forms options. Students would need Adobe Reader and the teacher would need Adobe Acrobat software.

Use Online Practice. You can't always be there to provide students with immediate feedback. Sometimes you can find existing tutorials and practice environments online. You can even build your own practice activities. When evaluating existing materials be sure that they relate to your outcomes and provide quality questions and helpful feedback. Evaluate the Biology tutorials.

Provide Email Feedback. There are at least three common options for communicating with students through email about their progress. One approach is to respond to student input and inquiry as soon as it is possible and practical. This option applies the time management strategy of dealing with paper immediately rather than letting it stack up. In other words, when an email assignment arrives, grade it on the fly, reply immediately, record the grade, and delete the message. You only have to deal with the message once and it's gone. Some instructors find this difficult because they need to get in a particular frame of mind to "grade." Others find it difficult to mix tasks. In other words, personal, professional, work, play, and class email is all mixed together. It may be hard to move from reading a forwarded joke to grading a student project.

Another approach is to set a particular time each day or week to respond to all accumulated student input and inquiries. For example, you might find that Sunday night is a good time to quietly go through and respond to all student assignments. The problem with this approach is that it lacks timeliness. A student may have to wait for six days for a response to a simple question. Instead of one day, you may choose three days such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 9AM. If students are aware of your "virtual" hours, they can plan for feedback during these times.

A third option is to use a separate e-mail account or folder for student assignments. This way you can grade projects as they come in, but they aren't mixed in with other mail.

You must decide which approach best meets the needs of your students and yourself during each term. The important thing is to set a standard for each class, communicate it to the students early, and follow through during the course. This way, the students will have realistic expectations regarding feedback.

Get Help. You don't have to evaluate every little piece of student work. Make students responsible for some of their own assessment and use peer assessment. For some "real world" types of projects an outside evaluators might be best. Use resources such as Expert Central to locate outside experts. Or, try "real world" environment for practice and feedback. In other words, ask students to conduct experiments, do surveys, and submit an editorial to the paper.

Vary Assessment Tools. Explore a vary of assessment options including quiz, exam, checklist, scoring guide, rubric, and portfolio formats. Use resources such as 4teachers to create rubrics with a time saving template. Evaluate a scoring guide.

Adapted from Virtual Sandcastles: Teaching and Learning at a Distance by Annette Lamb and William L. Smith.

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