4. TLT Ideas for Giving Prompt, Better Feedback to Students

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Table of Contents for "Seven Principles Collection of TLT Ideas"

The fourth principle is 'giving prompt feedback' about their ability and work, at the start of a program, as it goes on, and as it is ending. In what ways has technology been used in your courses or at your institution that, directly or directly, improves feedback to students?   We invite you to submit your own ideas and practices to add to this site.  Submit your description to Steve Ehrmann.

Closely Related Topics: Active Learning (e.g., Laboratory Experiments); Faculty-Student Contact

Speeding and Enriching the Homework Cycle

  • If the professor gets back to students in a prompt manner with feedback, this makes all the difference to a student. I find it much easier to give prompt feedback on-line than with paperwork in the classroom at the end of the semester!

  • By having the students use email to send me their assignments, I can provide quick feedback and reteaching if necessary.

  • Using the editing function in Microsoft Word to make comments on student papers. Typing is easier and faster than writing for me, and much more legible. There is also plenty of room for extensive comments. If I find myself saying the same thing to several students I take the time to write a thorough and coherent comment and then copy it from a document on my desktop to the student's paper. ÖI spell and grammar check the papers, before and after I make comments. This may bring up problems that the student did not take the time to correct and I can also make sure that my comments are spelled correctly. It is also much easier for the student to make revisions directly in the document right where they find the comments. I also send web addresses of useful sites to students.

  • Using software that shows as soon a student has attempted & completed an activity, that allows the teacher to give written personalised feedback and that allows the student to look at other other students responses for selected activities. [Monash University, Australia]

  • In the new material we are developing, we are planning on implementing 2 types of feedback: one is an automated feedback that will provide general information students should have considered in their response to a particular question. The other type of feedback will be more specific and will be provided by the staff member in charge of the student group, or may be provided by another student in a peer review in case study work.

Assessment and Large Courses

  • Feedback is always an issue and there are concerns about workload issues for teaching staff in providing prompt responses to student queries.  Recently, in one unit, the unit coordinator was taking all queries relating to the unit subject matter, technical issues with software, assessment enquiries and the rest! On a review of the unit, feedback was best broken down in to FAQ areas, discussion topics and email for specific purposes. Responsibility for these different areas was then delegated to particular staff members and this arrangement then communicated to students. The workload may be the same, but it is spread more evenly and realistically over many people rather than one!

Feedback Built into the Homework Itself

  • After each homework problem, students are told if it is correct and if it is wrong they are told the correct answer. They can then work another similar problem.

  • I teach math - all homework problems are on computer and use randomly generated numbers. Students can rework problems but get a different set of numbers each time. They also get immediate feedback on whether their answer is correct.

  • Hint boxes, prompts and carefully worded questions are used as prompt feedback.

  • Richard Rogers, Prof of Resource Economics at U Mass Amherst, reported in a talk at Amherst College about using Online Web-based Learning (OWL).  Students do their own projects on topics of their choice, collect data, submit it on line along with their statistical analysis, and the computer automatically checks the answers (mean, standard deviation, range, etc.)

Faculty Feedback During Discussion

  • Students "converse" on line about topics, suggesting sources, approaches, etc., and they also conduct surveys and ask for help in other ways. I can insert my own comments or create a discussion item that will address an issue I see developing in the class. For example, in one class, student responses to an article by Stephen Jay Gould stressed the importance of avoiding arrogance as one performs research. I was able to take that idea and rephrase it so that students could reflect on their own biases as researchers and write about what they saw in their work that reflected their biases and whether they were prepared to counteract them--and how. The results were candid, subtle, and seemed to enrich the written products.

  • The Personal Response System allows polling large classes and permits immediate feedback. Once students see what others have answered, they are, in my experience, more likely to participate in discussion, to ask question and to venture answers.  Editorís Note: This kind of polling, sometimes with Personal Response Systems, has gotten good results. If youír e interested in learning more, this article describes examples of  polling during class meetings over the past 30 years.

Using Technology to Encourage Student Feedback to Other Students During Class Meetings
  • The use of technology, such as digital projectors, for student presentations does improve the students' presentations; I find students and others now give feedback - often positive - to the student. It's no longer just the instructor giving feedback.

Faculty Feedback About the Discussion, Given Later On

  • Giving feedback weekly to students regarding their participation in class; using a checklist format.

Feedback from/to students in which students are anonymous

  • There is one thing that we use that I think addresses all 7 or 8 questions here, and that is our use of an Anonymous Feedback system. It's like a normal discussion group, but students don't have to identify themselves unless they wish to. Being anonymous encourages the weaker students to ask questions, without exposing themselves as potential 'dufusses'. (Of course, the only stupid question is the question that's never asked!) Being anonymous can also be very challenging to teachers, since students can and do abuse the normal social constraints. I've learned to thicken my skin since using the system, and have occasionally had to delete offensive postings, but I make a point of not ignoring the issues that provoke even the offensive postings. Even they have something to say about the teaching and learning process as it is taking place within your context! One thing I have noticed since using the system is that students are much more willing to interact. There will always be those who use email or regular discussion groups anyway, and there will always be those who do not use an anonymous system. But my perception is that anonymous systems encourage the boundary between participants and non-participants to be much closer to 100% participation. That has to be a Good Thing. [Monash University, Australia]

  • This 2 minute eClip from a faculty member at Towson University in Maryland (US) describes how she encourages student response by providing an option for anonymity on a discussion board, and why she finds it valuable. (Requires Real Player).

Feedback that Draws on What the Whole Class has Done or Said

  • After each lab exercise has been posted, I then post a summary response to what everyone said about the lab. I emphasize the points that students raised about the lab and its results and mention anything else that might help them understand and think about what happened during the exercise. I have always been conscientious about giving prompt feedback to students about their assignments, so Blackboard hasn't made much more than a day or two difference in that, nonetheless, it frees up class time for more interesting pursuits.

  • Following a class I taught on a Friday evening I went into my Blackboard course and created an announcement tying up the loose ends and providing direction for the next class meeting (won't meet for two weeks). To ensure that students were aware of the announcement I was able to send a blanket e-mail message indicating that there is a new announcement in Blackboard.

Feedback Can Take the Form of Altered Teaching

  • The WebCT postings also keep me more alert to their knowledge of concepts and issues that concern them. I can sometimes go into a class ready to address those matters or address them later as I see them. Editor's Note: some faculty design homework or online quizzes specifically to give them insights that they can use to design the next class meeting: insights about problems that at least some students may be having with the material, insights into potential disagreements and misconceptions that the faculty member could use to trigger a productive class discussion, etc.

  • As an adjunct [at Westminster College in Utah], I teach web design during May Term. My May Term web site has all of the information the students need to learn how to design basic web sites. I do give mini-lectures (15-20 minutes) on the major points, but the web site also gives that information. When the students have questions, they first go to the web site and read the appropriate page. If they still have questions or are having problems getting their pages to be what they want, they raise their hand and I spend 1:1 time with them. In fact, I spend most of the class room time in 1:1 with the students. The web site is http://people.westminstercollege.edu/faculty/aleigh/learnwebdesign/ 

Learning Contracts and Feedback

  • Students in my class create learning contracts individually and as groups, which are followed by a grading contract and discussion rating form. The learning contract is a great way for students to identify their own learning direction, set dates for objective completion, specify resources and strategies that they will be employing (as a group and individually) to learn the identified objective, the evidence that will be provided to show mastery of the stated objective (final product) and a space for authentication (verification of quality of project). Authentication provides a means for greater relevancy and impact in authentic settings. Students can have their final evidence verified by their administrators, other field experts, or the instructor. Student feedback and continual personal meta-cognition (thinking about learning) are encouraged by specific questions to prompt students to assess the current learning situation and group progress. Students then give feedback and updates to the instructor and "meta-cognitive" coach, so that other materials, experiences and improvements can constantly be made to the course.

  • I encourage students to become involved in the feedback process by specifying how they want feedback and who they want feedback from on their learning contract

Assessment Before and After

  • Databases are used to for pre-assessment and post-assessment testing


  • Editorís Note: See a definition of rubrics, examples, and some background materials, in the discussion of Principle 6: Higher Expectations. Rubrics donít necessarily speed feedback but they can make feedback clearer and help raise expectations for student performance. 

Electronic Portfolios

  • Editors Note: An online portfolio allows the student to store selected papers and projects and allows faculty and sometimes others to attach comments to those projects. Portfolios also sometimes have other capabilities, e.g., state educational goals or skills and then post the projects as illustrations of mastery or, or progress toward, those goals. For example, some portfolio systems allow the faculty to create goals for a course or a degree program and levels of achievement of that skill. The student can then post student work that is intended to illustrate achievement of the next step toward the goal.  The faculty can attach comments about whether they agree that the work does illustrate that level of achievement.  Some systems allow students to continue to develop portfolios as they move from course to course, toward graduation. Some systems allow the graduate permanent access to the portfolio, adding new work and using it to seek employment.

  • We have also used Blackboard for all of our majors as a tool to deliver the e-Portfolio all candidates are required to complete prior to their student teaching semester and during their student teaching semester. This has allowed the presentation of "consistent" and "constant" communication.

Informal Feedback from Faculty (see also "Principle 1. Faculty-Student Contact")

  • I use e-mail to keep in touch with students. It is particularly useful when they have questions and can put them into a message right away rather than having to seek me out or try to reach me by phone. E-mail allows me to make more thoughtful responses to their questions also. I'm not sure that e-mail provides more student-faculty contact for the residential students -- I think they often use e-mail instead of coming to see me personally! But for nontraditional students, e-mail definitely provides more contact. Also, using Blackboard, even with my traditional classes that meet 3 times a week, allows me to post announcements and give feedback even on "off" days, which does seem like increased contact. Bb saves time in class for more interaction also, since a lot of the course's "housekeeping" can be done on it.

  • I give the largest feedback in written form, on drafts and in response to written or oral presentations. I do, however, give feedback on drafts and brainstorms via email when students request it.

Feedback from Peers

  • Peer share-pairing is used in some classes. If students can explain to others, they understand concepts. Sometimes they are forced to clarify because their peers don't understand

Quick Quizzes to motivate students

  • To encourage students to read ahead of class, I started using "reading quizzes" at the start of class. These are easily answered, as long as the book has been opened. This took time away from class participation, so they were moved to be offered online. This also allows for more probing questions.

  • Each day I give an online quiz. This consists of four questions, based on the reading assignments for that day. We haven't discussed the material on the quizzes, but they were assigned to read about them.

  • I offer self-tests each week. However many students are very instrumental. They want to know what's going to be on the exam and what a self-test counts for. If it doesn't count, many won't do it...

  • ...the ability to create self-graded practice quizzes that give immediate individual feedback based on the student's answers.

Feedback from Simulations

  • Some laboratory experiments may be simulated on a computer. Groups of students conduct the experiment and then work together on the review and quiz questions at the end. As the students take the quiz the computer tells the students whether or not their answers are correct.

Visibility and Meaning for Grades

  • Class members can also click on a link to see how their grade compares with the grade distribution for the class.

  • I have begun using the online gradebook in Blackboard to post scores on tests and homework assignments and provide a running overall grade for the class.

  • In my classes, we take several tests throughout the semester. As the studentsí tests are graded, the scores are posted on a web record keeping program that allows them to view their score, along with all other scores. Then, using an online grade calculator that I post for them to download, they input their score to stay constantly updated on their grade in class.

  • Like other faculty, each part of the course -- quizzes, homework, project, and final exam -- have a different weight, for example classroom participation could be responsible for 20%of the final grade.  In my courses, students can see the spreadsheet representing their grades and they can set the weight for each section. If they'd like the quality of their classroom participation to be responsible for 30% of their final grade, they can set it to 30%.  I rate the participation (and everything else) but they have decided what the importance of that part of their work will be.

Surveys to help reshape the course as it unfolds

  • The Catalyst tools at the University of Washington allow rapid surveys of class, helping faculty adapt their material to student interests and needs.

  • We are in the process of placing more feedback opportunities on-line for students via eListen survey instruments much like this one.  Editorís Note: The surveys that gathered data for this library were created with Flashlight Online.  Many faculty use Flashlight Online to gather feedback during a course.

Helping Faculty See Patterns in Student Work Over Time

  • Saving assessment results to a database.

  • Attendance is tracked electronically.


  • From an advising stance there are times when a student clearly has a quick question that does not require an appointment. In these situations a student is able to send and e-mail message with the question. The college has done a great job of creating secure sites for accessing student information (e.g., student schedules, academic records) that facilitate the ability to respond quickly to advisee issues.

P.S. Faculty Need to Allocate Time for Assessment

  • Student assignments are all posted on line or sent to me as e-mail attachments. I always respond within 3 days--either personally, if there is criticism--or by posting for all to see if the work is outstanding and others will benefit from knowing why. I do not TELL students that a personal response means correction needed and a public one means outstanding. I don't think anyone has made that connection so the practice is not apparently singling out anyone.

  • Email and web-based courses obviously provide the ability to give prompt feedback about student work. The trick is for the faculty to realize the importance of feedback in the learning process and find the time to provide a rapid return time on papers, tests, etc.

  • Rather than taking class time to review the correct answers to exam questions, I have posted the exam with explanations on my web site. Although I feel the practice provides the student good feedback on what the expectations were for each question, the time involved in typing and posting this information makes it difficult.

  • Editorís Note:  Most faculty would spend many more hours teaching a course than they currently do, if they had the time. So itís a matter of deciding which faculty activities have the best payoff for learning. Students face the same question.

Please send your suggestions, especially your TLT ideas, to Steve Ehrmann (ehrmann @ tltgroup.org).

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