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How Can Technology Help You Give Your Students Great Feedback?

Grading and giving feedback to your students is crucial to their learning process. Giving timely, useful feedback can make all the difference for students. Along with all the other demands of teaching and faculty duties, how can you give this important, but not necessarily expeditious, facet of instruction its due?

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an advice guide about how to use technology to improve feedback to students. We encourage you to read the full article by Holly Fiock and Heather Garcia, but we also wanted to pull out some valuable ideas and highlight the tools suggested in the article that you already have access to at Northwestern University.

How many of these feedback techniques do you use with your students?

  •  Rubrics
  • Annotations or comments in documents
  • Audio file of your voice giving feedback
  • Video file of you giving feedback
  • Peer review


Maximizing Feedback Tools in Canvas

If you currently are using only one or two of these methods, why not try another to see how your students respond? All of these techniques can be accomplished through current Canvas tools. The Canvas Guides listed below will help you get started:

If you’re already giving feedback via annotated comments, why bother changing? Delivering feedback to students within two to 15 workdays of a learning topic or assessment helps ensure that it is relevant and integrated into the learning process. After that point, students move on to other topics. Trying a new technique may help you get feedback to your students during that important learning window. A new technique may also be a welcome change of pace for you during heavy grading periods.


How can using audio or video comments save you time and create better feedback?

  • It gives you the ability to personalize your message. Starting the comment with the student’s name makes it clear you are addressing their work specifically.
  • You can easily convey nuance on a difficult topic, just as you would during in-person office hours.
  • You can demonstrate a process or workflow more vividly.
  • Written text can sometimes be difficult to interpret, but through your expression or intonation, you can diminish opportunities for miscommunication.
  • The process of creating this type of feedback can help you feel more connected to students, and when they receive it, they may feel more connected to you outside of the classroom.

Try this!

Audio files may be your best bet for providing quick but substantive feedback. Record your voice directly in Canvas in short (under 5-minute) clips that are attached to each assignment. When students go to view their feedback, they can play back the file in Canvas.

(Consider your students’ needs; remember that some students require written feedback. Let students know that you are providing audio feedback for an assignment, but a student can request that comment be text if needed. Audio files should not be the only way that you provide feedback to students throughout the course.)


What makes good feedback? 

To start, feedback is not the same as criticism. Criticism is a separate, and valuable, technique often needed for academic work. But criticism focuses on judgement and faultfinding, whereas feedback is evaluative and corrective. Criticism is often viewed as being more rigorous, but giving feedback instead of criticism doesn’t mean that standards of excellence need to be relaxed. Instead, feedback that tells students where they failed and how to do better contributes to more excellent work.

Feedback generally falls into the categories of formative or summative. Formative feedback should be provided during the learning process. Summative feedback helps to evaluate the learning that occurred by the end of a lesson or unit. Feedback should be frequent, specific, balanced, and timely.


Try this!

Peer review can be especially useful for scaffolded assignments. Ask students to review early drafts of a project for each other before submitting later versions to you. Learn how to use the peer review feature in Canvas. You can create rubrics for the students to use or allow them to create their own. This way they are not only helping you with the burden of grading but also learning skills that will help them assess their own work throughout the course.


 Before You Begin

  1. Remember that technology can’t solve every problem. Platforms like Canvas support your instructional work but may not do everything exactly as you’d like. Don’t get discouraged when the technology isn’t perfect.
  2. Creating good audio and video feedback takes a little practice. Avoid long feedback audio or videos clips. Additionally, video and audio feedback doesn’t have to be perfect, but give it a few practice runs if you’re new to recording yourself.
  3. There can be too much information packed into a video or extended comment. Give focused feedback with a clear connection to the student’s work to get the most out of the energy you’re putting into your feedback.
  4. Have a plan for your technology adoption. Look at your syllabus and decide which assignment or exam will make the most sense for testing out new feedback strategies. Try one or two new techniques a quarter and slowly build your technology feedback toolkit.


Be sure to check out the full article on The Chronicle’s website for more details on strategies for giving better feedback. Have you tried any of their recommendations? If you’ve had success or failure with changing your feedback style with technology, we’d love to hear about it.

Throughout the academic year, the Teaching & Learning Technologies team is available to help you test out new instructional techniques. Request a consultation with one of our team members or check out new tools and resources to support instruction.