Online environments can be a boon for instructors who wish to increase the amount and quality of feedback provided to students in class. Online courses give students private portal access to their own progress reports on a real-time basis, making it possible to answer the perennial “where do I stand” question. In general, feedback moves from being an after-the-fact instance to becoming concurrent (even preventative) and continuous. Such feedback can be provided synchronously or asynchronously. It can be high-stakes or developmental, quantitative or qualitative, and instructor or peer-based. All of this is available in face-to-face classes, but the online environment expands and streamlines access both in terms of time (online is available 24/7) and audiences (feedback can be obtained and aggregated from students as well as instructors). Instructors can provide synchronous, face-to-face feedback through online conferencing or they can rely on electronic tools, such as the commenting tools in word-processing software, the use of screencasting (14), and other online tools such as Turnitin.
Self-paced, multiple-choice questions can be pre-programmed and graded instantly, making feedback available to students immediately upon completion of the activity, and most learning management systems allow you to create instant feedback based on the specific, incorrect choices student make. Students can also provide feedback to each other, both anonymously and identifiably, through tools such as discussion forums, polls, questionnaires, glossaries, blogs, wikis, etc.
To clarify grading, post a rubric (15) for students beforehand. Also, save prior sample student work and your comments—on both strengths and suggestions—and post it (removing anything that identifies the student). That way, students can see what your grading criteria actually look like when work is done well and when it is done poorly. Clarifying grading expectations can be particularly important for nontraditional assignments, like blog posts (16), infographics (17), and digital stories (18), which are sometimes more common in online learning environments.
When responding to problem solutions or writing, use track changes and comments in word processing software (19) to provide not just suggestions but sample improvements. Save time by limiting such changes to a paragraph. Then ask the student to make related revisions throughout the rest and to return both versions to you for comparison before final grading. To provide critical feedback on individual student work, use private email as recommended in a guide to teaching and learning online (20).
Because tone tells all, it may be important in online learning environments to try audio or video feedback (21) to convey respect and encouragement. Some have found that students are more likely to attend to and learn from instructor feedback when it is provided is audio or video form (22). For errors of written form, note that students can revise many of their own mistakes. One scholar quit correcting errors and simply marked an X in the margin next to lines containing errors. Students ended up correcting an astonishing 60% of their own errors (23). Electronically, highlighting an entire line may yield a similar effect.