Best Methods and Tools for Online Educators to Give Students Helpful and Meaningful Feedback

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Giving Feedback to Students that Stands Out

In last week’s post Tools-of-the-Trade to Make your Online Teaching Even Better I reviewed various tools that help online educators make a connection with students by using media other than text to deliver guidance and instructions to students in online classes.  In this post I focus on how educators teaching online [and face-to-face] can use ed-tech tools effectively to provide formative and summative feedback to their students. I’ve included several resources and examples of ed-tech tools in this post in a case study format featuring both online and face-to-face educators describing their methods. 

The Case for Formative Feedback
Formative feedback in some cases is more valuable to student learning than the final assessment. For instance, when a final grade comes later in the course session the student is not as receptive to feedback, and often focuses on the grade not the feedback. Formative input on the other hand allows instructors to promote deeper learning by prompting students to dig deeper and expand and clarify their argument or position while the student in engaged in the learning process. Instructors that foster depth of learning with this kind of real-time feedback, push their students to dig deeper and think more critically. Below is a selection of excellent and user-friendly ed-tech tools that allow educators to give this kind of input seamlessly.  

p_WwmiCgOn3TnVRGLGPYCLe-RLWAeo7P9uRrbplomGwj5ACN6j0fhwzfUEj03mFq1Kk=w78-h78Case study #1: Using Audio Feedback  A long-time online educator based in Austria outlines in a blog post Audio feedback and human touch her methods and rationale for using audio feedback for student assignments. She captures the essence of how students benefit by audio feedback in this paragraph:

“I feel that by using voice recording and screen casting tools, we can now provide more personal, more meaningful and more effective instruction in an acoustically and/or visually supported manner. Intonation and voice tone both help to convey feelings, which in turn really help to create tutor presence and build rapport (the human touch). Finally, since students can decide when, where and how often they listen/watch, an element of choice is added, a step towards promoting learner autonomy.” Veronica’s Teaching Online Blog

Tools to use for Audio Feedback:  Many LMS platforms have built-in audio tools, Canvas  does as does Desire2Learn. There are also several Apps available for Mac and Android systems that facilitate audio feedback, though Vocaroo seem to be the most highly rated audio app for its simplicity.  I like the audio record feature in Evernote. It allows you to record easily, and then email the voice recording in a note format in a snap.

Case Study #2 Feedback [formative and summative] via Screen Casts.
Screencasts allow an instructor to talk through a student’s work by recording audio comments on the student’s assignment displayed on the instructor’s screen. Below is an example of screen cast where an instructor provides formative feedback to a student on her essay using the free program for screencasts, Jing [screen casts are also used frequently for summative feedback on individual and group assignments].  With this method, the focus is on the students’ work which is featured on the screen—either a document file that has been downloaded onto the instructor’s computer and is opened, or any resource online—Google document, e-portfolio item, etc.  It is best not to sound too formal in screencasts—speaking naturally as you would to a student face-to-face feels more authentic to students.

The resource below is on the platform Screencast.com (associated with Jing, both are by the company TechSmith), and which is free as well. In this instance the professor made this available as a public file, though one can make it private for only those with the link able to view it [a unique link (URL) is created for each screen cast when uploaded to Screencast.com. This functionality is built into the Jing program].

The Center for Writing at the University of Michigan, provides an excellent resource in PDF format Giving Feedback on Student Writing. The screen cast below is drawn from this resource.

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Click the image to view a screen cast recording of an instructor giving formative feedback to a student on her essay.  Thanks to University of Michigan’s Writing Center for making this example available.

Case Study #3: Formative Feedback using Google Drive.  A literature professor teaching face-to-face classes at Santa Clara University uses Google Drive (the new term for Google Docs) with his students to provide feedback on the draft copy of students essays.  How it works: The student creates his or her essay in Google Drive, enables the sharing feature and includes the professor’s email address which sends the link to the prof.  The professor then makes comments, notes on each student’s draft document [Google drive provides excellent tools for providing comments in the side bar and/or making comments within the document itself] and the student is automatically notified of the comments made.  

If there are methods for giving student feedback that you would like to share with readers, please do so by posting a comment.  Other readers benefit greatly with the exchange and sharing of ideas. Thanks!

Other Resources:

Tools-of-the-Trade to Make your Online Teaching Even Better

In this ‘tools-of-the-trade’ post I review methods and tech tools that help online educators use voice and media-rich applications that deliver vivid descriptions and instructions that support and enhance learning. 

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Tools-of-the-Trade for Online Instructors

Before I get into the details and strategies of using a variety of tools and applications to communicate beyond words on a page, I’ll admit that I have a love-hate relationship with technological applications of the ilk that I review here. I love them for what the results they produce; how students are motivated, feel more connected with the course, and how the quality of learning is enhanced. An example of this might be a video clip featuring an instructor giving a course overview, describing the syllabus and including welcome message which can reach students in a way words on the page cannot.  But I hate the barriers associated the technology—and there are many unique to educators. The learning curve is one thing, which I consider short-term pain for long-term gain, but then it’s battling with the non user-friendly applications, the steep learning curve, or using tools outside of the course management system.

Yet despite the drawbacks, it’s worthwhile to persevere. The benefits are great for students and instructors. For educators, saving time is a big one. An example—a short video featuring the instructor describing details and expectations of an upcoming assignment, and posting it to the course site to augment written instructions goes a long way. An experienced online educator I’ve worked with uses this method extensively. It’s significantly reduced the number of email questions from students, and the quality of student work is also higher.

I’ve selected three different methods for online instructors to engage with their students and tools that I think are most reliable, easy to use, and best suited for educators. In this tools-of-the-trade post I focus on only one method, Delivering Guidance and Instructions, and in the next post, Giving Feedback to Students and Engaging in Synchronous Discussion.

  1. Delivering guidance and instructions to learners about assignments, course content, projects OR informational content such as course messages or updates using video, audio or screen cast (capture of audio and still images, screen shots, or moving actions on a computer screen)
  2. Giving feedback to students individually using audio or text tools [next post]
  3. Engaging in synchronous discussion with one or more students using tools facilitating such—online chat, voice or video contact [next post]

My aim is to help readers save time—reduce the learning curve and minimize the aggravation associated with tech-tools.  I have used most of the tools below using a Macbook Pro and share my insights about each, though I indicate which ones I’ve not worked with. Before getting into the tools here are few items of note:

  • Screen cast: video recording (usually used to deliver instructions or explanation) of the computer screen, capturing the movements of the user (instructor) accompanied by audio narration
  • When creating a video clip or screen cast there are several places where the digital file can be stored for students to access: 1) the Course Management system, 2) YouTube, 3) Google Drive, or 4) screencast.com [specific to screen casts]

Deliver Guidance and/or Instruction
Description/Purpose: A short video, audio clip or screen cast recording communicating instructions about an assignment, how to participate in an aspect of the online class, a review of the syllabus, answers to a case study or discussion question, etc. Brings life to a course by explaining a difficult concept or complex instructions. Videos clips, audio clips or screen casts featuring the instructor can be powerful.

Example below of an instructor delivering a screen cast for her students describing how to participate in class discussions. The setting on this file is public, however instructors can select the private option, allowing only students with the link to view an uploaded video.

Screen Casts:  I created a screen cast recently and tried four programs on my MacBook Pro, QuickTIme, Jing, Camtasia and SnagIt (though there are others), though I found Camtasia had too many features (too complicated) and QuickTime though straightforward, the pause feature didn’t work consistently for me,  [I like to pause during recording to collect my thoughts, otherwise I have to start over]. If you are confident that you can record straight through without needing to pause, this program is for you.

Jing  [for Mac and Windows] by Tech Smith is by far the easiest to use, with the shortest learning curve. Jing is a free software program available for Mac or PC that you can download from Tech Smith’s site. Once a screen cast is recorded and saved, it automatically is uploaded to screencast.com, a server that hosts the file for free. Though there is a limit on file space (you can buy additional space for a reasonable fee). The screen cast can be made private so only the students with the link can view it, which can be shared via the course management site or email.  Another bonus is TechSmith’s excellent video tutorials, and help desk support available via email.  The drawback with Jing is that you are limited to sharing on screencast.com.

SnagIt  [for Mac and Windows] is the paid version of Jing, which I am using the trial of, and I will buy— it’s worth it for my needs at $49.99. It offers more features, including the file format which is mp4, a versatile file format that condenses the size of a file without losing quality, allowing it be uploaded to different platforms, (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook) and play on a variety of devices.

Recording a Video Clip:
One option is recording a video or audio clip within the institution’s course management system (CMS). Though not all LMSs’ have the capability, and of those that do, I can only share the instructions found from links on the web.  If your  CMS offers  the capability of recording a short video seamlessly, this is the way to go.

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Quicktime screen casts, videos or audio recordings can be uploaded to the applications listed here

Quick Time for Mac (the application that comes installed with Mac laptops and desktops). It’s very easy to record, has a low learning curve and many share options.  The only drawback is the pause feature, which is tricky as sometimes I miss clicking it and then I have to start recording again. To pause, click the option button on the keyboard, and click the corresponding pause button on the menu bar. Resume by clicking the record button again. When the circle button to when finish. The sharing button in the menu bar reveals several options, which is one of the best features of this particular program.

Options for PC users,  Capture Video with Windows Movie Maker, mediacollege.com

Create a Channel on YouTube: If you plan to post your videos to YouTube, you will need to create a channel [a specific page reserved for your videos only], and need a Google email account  to do so. It will take approximately 30 minutes to set up.  Once you create a channel you can upload videos. Settings allow you to create public or private, videos [where only students with the link can view the video]. Don’t worry about the filming process, most webcams on laptops with the built-in audio produce high quality videos, as do smart phone devices. Also learners are forgiving of the quality—sounding natural is the key, so a flawless performance is not necessary.

Conclusion: As I mentioned in the opening, the toughest part to using tech tools is the initial process—the downloading of the software, the learning curve, etc. But once you get over this hurdle, the process becomes seamless. In the tools-of-the-trade post I cover tools to facilitate synchronous communication between student and instructor, and tools for providing meaningful feedback.

Further Reading: