Here we are at the end of Autumn 2020, a very different teaching semester to what we had all planned. In my previous blog post, I shared my experience with the move to remote teaching and learning. In this post, I’d like to share my experiences on a more specific topic: providing useful feedback to students in the online environment.  As a tutor, I have less influence on formal feedback in the sense of when it happens, or assessment design. Where I have more influence is in regard to how I craft formal feedback and my delivery of informal and immediate feedback, particularly through the tutorial classes I teach.

How do I think about feedback as a tutor?

In my experience, informal and immediate feedback is equally as important as formal feedback, and I think tutorials provide a good opportunity for this, particularly after class or during break-out group work.  

The earlier in the semester, the better – this ensures that feedback is timely and that students can apply it and learn, or improve from it. Feedback that students can apply to improve their assessments both formally (via UTS Review commentary with examples of how to improve for the next stage of the assessment) and informally (for example in a class Q&A following an assessed group video pitch) is well received.

I think creating a space where students can feel comfortable to seek feedback, or further clarity on feedback, is valuable. For example, when wandering around the classroom or at the end of class. I also think opening up channels for students to seek feedback outside of class is important.  

In my experience, students also benefit from being able to give each other feedback. This gives them the chance to apply their knowledge and receive immediate, informal feedback from their peers, so that they can learn from each other too.

In terms of formal feedback, I try to deliver feedback so that can be taken as an opportunity for improvement. I find that linking feedback to industry expectations helps. For example, when giving feedback to a video pitch, I relate back to how pitches should or would be conducted in industry by a marketing professional. In my experience, aligning feedback to industry expectations, or the ‘real world’, really seems to engage students.

How have I adapted this to the online learning environment?

Whilst there is less opportunity for immediate, informal face-to-face feedback, I have found that the online teaching and learning environment has perhaps opened up more informal channels for students to seek feedback, at any point. Whilst more admin for academics, I do think this is a positive thing.

For example, I had not used Microsoft Teams in Higher Education before, and I think it has opened up a whole other space for students to seek feedback, but also for me to give informal feedback. I am seeing students send more direct messages in the chat function of MS Teams than I was asked questions in the face-to-face teaching environment. Often they are quick questions I can quickly answer – immediate and informal feedback enabled by the online learning environment.

I am seeing students giving each other feedback on the MS Teams channel too, for example, a student posting asking how to best define a concept, to which students responded with suggestions. The use of ‘thumbs up’ and other emojis seems to be another style of informal feedback in MS Teams, and I see students using it more and more. It’s nice to see students supporting each other and giving each other informal feedback through this new channel.

Whilst not the same as face-to-face conversations, I do think that the Zoom Breakout Rooms are a great place for informal feedback. Before we break off into groups, I set the scene that I will be popping in and can answer any questions – so that students start to feel comfortable with this process and know that they can seek feedback during that time too, if they don’t want to ask in the main class. These smaller groups are a great place to drop in and give informal and immediate feedback to questions asked by students.

In terms of students seeking feedback outside of class, I Invite students and provide a space for feedback clarification after class on the Zoom. I also always end the class with the suggestion that students can email me or message me directly in MS Teams, or pop a message in our class team – to keep reiterating and reminding them that that informal channel for feedback is always open.

How do I now think about feedback in the online environment?

Whilst the ability to give immediate, informal face-to-face feedback has been lost in the online environment, I do think most forms of feedback have remained, just in a different style now that it is online. I’ve also seen that other channels of feedback have opened up, and in my experience students can and are still receiving immediate and informal feedback, along with peer feedback. The type of feedback that they can implement throughout the semester remains, alongside formal feedback.

How has your experience with feedback changed in the online environment? Join us at the upcoming First and Further Year Forum, where we will be sharing good practice in designing feedback processes, and creating a culture of feedback. I’d also love to hear about your experience giving feedback in the online environment – let us know in the comments box below.

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