General Rules for Effective Feedback in the Digital Envrionment

While teachers have good intentions of molding and improving students through feedback messages, if the exchange isn’t clear to the student they “hear” something that you didn’t intend to say.

If someone tells me that I need to go to the gym, the real message that I hear is, “You’re fat!”.  We must ensure that our messaging about student performance and progress increases their growth mindset and avoids negative self-labelling.  Otherwise, we risk students hearing, “You’re stupid!” when we provide feedback about their work.

As teachers, we want to give feedback that improves student outcomes while also building student self-efficacy. We need to deliver action-oriented messages so students know exactly where they need to focus their learning to be successful.  We also must express gratitude for the student’s effort and point out the progress that students have made.

Students need and deserve prompt turnaround for feedback on their performance. If students wait too long for feedback, their efforts become disconnected with the task and they become disengaged. When finally given, feedback will be less valuable to them as they try to “go back” and improve their work to match the teacher’s standard.  

In the face-to-face environment, feedback often happens in real time and students receive corrections or adjustments right away. Feedback still needs to be prompt in the digital environment. This is true for both independent and dependent feedback.

Timeliness can change the feeling of our dependent feedback messages. For example, if both parties respond to an email immediately, it starts to feel more like text messaging. While an immediate response isn’t necessary, delayed feedback is less effective. If a teacher is unable to provide feedback promptly, then they are probably relying on too much dependent feedback. 

Don’t think “less is more”, think “timing is everything.”

While most feedback messages should be directed towards the student, there is power when messages also involve other stakeholders. Learning is a team effort. One simple way to accomplish this goal is to “copy” families on dependent feedback messages. The teacher can also assume a coaching role for the parents and families of their students.

The digital learning environment has increased the need for parents to engage in learning activities with their children. Some of the frustration we see from parents comes from a lack of experience in this role.  Teachers who include stakeholders on feedback messages empower them to be more successful partners.  A quick video or email  directing parents to resources that they can use to help their child, will go a long ways to strengthen their efforts at home.

Feedback should flow in both directions. While many tools provide feedback about student learning and progress, teachers should be intentional in seeking feedback about student mindset and their satisfaction with your course. It is important that students enjoy your class and feel that you care about them.

Ask students questions about the amount of time they spend on coursework.  What technical frustrations are they facing?  Which learning strategies did they enjoy?   Did they feel that your last activity together was beneficial?  

Questioning students about your efforts will help you design a more student-friendly course, while also building a stronger student-teacher relationship.

Many teachers find that the tools of the online classroom increase the quality of feedback that they send and receive from students. Traditional learning environments tend to rely on synchronous communication, most of which is delivered in a group setting. The digital learning environment provides for more individualized feedback that is communicated asycnchronously. These personal interactions increase the teacher-student connection.

Embrace the opportunity to communicate individually with students.  Infuse your messages with your personality and positivity.  You will receive feedback messages in the same tone that you send them.  The teachers who are impersonal when providing feedback miss an opportunity to connect to students. The teachers that attend to the emotional needs of the students by “feeding forward” will be able to strengthen the teacher-student relationship, which will lead to increased student learning.