In this post I describe why instructor feedback in an online course is essential for students that have yet to master a specific skill set and knowledge, and why MOOCs won’t cut it.
In a world of MOOC news within higher education, what is getting lost are the other modes of online learning that include closed online classes, offered for-credit at colleges and universities. These courses rely on cognitive or constructive pedagogy, with determined learning objectives and are delivered 100% online to small classes of thirty or fewer students. In this model, the instructor can support and interact with students, provide feedback, and encourage critical thinking. This type of personalized instruction can’t be provided in a massive open online course [MOOC], which leads me to suggest that the MOOC model [as it stands now] is not the right modality for most lower-level college courses required for a college degree.
What is Instructor Feedback?
I want to clarify before going further what instructor feedback means in the context of online learning classes. Instructor feedback is constructive and specific information that is provided by the instructor to the student on his or her course work [artifacts or other] and/or class contributions in relation to the course objectives and expectations. Feedback can be provided in a variety of mediums including, written, recorded voice, chat, video or other. In my next post I’ll address how to give effective feedback to students using various methods.
College Students Need Feedback
College students benefit greatly from instructor feedback, including when it’s provided in a small online learning community where interaction exists between students and instructor and students and students. In a Massive Open Online Course, [or even a F2F class of 100+ students] it’s impossible to provide the required learning conditions for this type of interaction. It worries me that colleges and universities appear to be moving towards the MOOC model for delivering some or all courses (as in the case of SUNY or California’s public higher education institutions); courses that don’t provide for a student-to-instructor ratio that supports personalized learning. The MOOC model cannot provide the type of learning experiences needed for freshman or junior college students that is required for courses that include writing composition, communications, literature analysis, and other humanities courses. One could even argue that this is the case for some courses in math and sciences. Though I am an advocate of MOOCs, since they provide an excellent learning experience in numerous circumstances, the model which relies on the premise of massive, is not an effective one for every learner in every learning situation.
Why MOOCs Won’t Work for College Students
I am not suggesting that college students can never learn in a MOOC setting, but I do suggest that certain courses not only require a low student-to-instructor ratio, and that colleges need to provide students with the skills in how-to-learn in a networked environment where learning is pulled and not pushed. I’ll use my 18-year old daughter, a high school senior here as an example. She will be a college freshman this September, and though she is a good student, with several Advanced Placement courses under her belt, she in no way would be able to learn successfully in a MOOC in her freshman year. Not that she can’t learn, or won’t be able to at some point, but she is a product of the public school system where students are told what to do, when to do it, how to do it. Furthermore, high school students are not prompted to think outside the box, to create a networked learning environment, or to be a self-directed learner. My daughter is an expert test taker, she says she has figured out the system, can produce what the teachers are looking for, and thus can get good grades. She is similar to many high school students. How can we expect these students to be successful in a massive course with little guidance let alone feedback?
Four Reasons why Students Need Instructor Feedback and Peer Support
Below are four reasons that support the position that college students need instructor feedback in small, closed, online classes. I should mention that I concede that small (under forty students) face-to-face classes can accomplish all but point #3, though this point is an essential component for students working within a digital world and can only be accomplished in an online class.
- Prompt feedback allows students to assess existing knowledge, reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to learn, and receive suggestions for improvement [Chickering and Gamson, 1997]. The principles in the classic article Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, still apply today; the tools and methods may change but the principles should not.
- Students want feedback from instructors. Research suggests that students want feedback, and personalized feedback that includes suggestions for improvement, with explanations (Getzlaf et al, 2009). In an online course, detailed and specific feedback on assignments or class contributions through discussion forums, live chats etc., is even more critical given the medium.
- Students require guidance in how-to-learn in an open and online environment; instructor feedback and peer interaction in closed online courses can develop digital communication skills, including how to seek information, create personal learning environments and collaborate virtually with peers.
- Over 60% of newly admitted college students in the US are not ready for college level work. They lack the basic writing and math skills required for the college courses they are enrolled in (SREB, 2010). For this reason alone, college students need instructor guidance and support in completing lower level college classes, and in some cases remedial classes. Instructors can also guide students to find open resources, and provide support and encouragement to students who might be discouraged or frustrated.
Bottom line – the MOOC model cannot provide the level of feedback and support needed for many college students. Instructors skilled in online teaching for small classes can provide constructive feedback to students, create a learning community that promotes interaction, and most importantly, teaches students how-to-learn in an online environment. I’ll be watching closely what happens within higher education with regards to MOOCs, and hope that administrators consider carefully a strategy that supports student development in the first and second year of college. In my next post, I’ll provide practical how-to instruction on tools and methods for giving meaningful feedback to students in an online class.
- Effective Instructor Feedback: Perceptions of Online Graduate Students, (July, 2009), Getzlaf et al, The Journal of Educators Online, V 6, no 2
- Collaborative Learning in Closed Online Classes vs. MOOCs, Online Learning Insights
- Meaningful Feedback in the Online Learning Environment (2012), by jalinskens67
- Student Interactions in Online Discussion Forum: Empirical Research from ‘Media Richness Theory’ Perspective, (2010), Balaji & Chakrabarti, Journal of Interactive Online Learning, v 9, issue 10
- Beyond the Rhetoric: Improving College Readiness Through Coherent State Policy, (2010), Special Report by The National Center Public Policy and Higher Education and The Southern Regional Education Board