Giving Feedback

So in my last post I talked about using rubrics for assessment, but along with providing students with your grading criteria (which will also help guide you as you grade assignments) and providing them with a grade, you also should provide your students with feedback on their assessments.  It sounds simple, but providing good feedback that will guide your students to improving their work as they move through your course can be challenging.

So, what is the goal in providing feedback to students?  To quote from the Providing Meaningful Feedback ( PDF file from the Distance Education Services (DES) website, students need feedback:

  • “To encourage them and build their confidence by letting them know what they’re doing well.
  • To support them in diagnosing their strengths and weaknesses.
  • To keep them on track so they meet the course goals and unit objectives.
  • To help them improve future performance. Feedback should be constructive and not subjective, specific and clear, and about something students can change for their future work.”

Since I don’t want to repeat everything that is in this document (just click on the link above to read more), I’m going to concentrate on talking about some specific ways instructors in various programs here at Continuing Studies have provided feedback to students.

Specific Feedback

First, the tried but true track changes and comments in a WORD document to provides specific, one-on-one feedback.  This is something most of you (if not all of you) have probably done, but in addition, consider asking students to respond to your embedded feedback if there is time.  Sometimes we think we are being clear when, in fact, students are confused and unsure about what we are trying to convey in our feedback – they may, in fact, get stuck on just one word, either missing the specific meaning of the word or the point of your feedback as a whole.  So, asking them to respond to your feedback is one way to check to make sure they are clear.

In addition to providing comments in WORD, you can also use the Comments box in Moodle’s Assignment tool to provide some more general feedback.  This is especially useful for assessments that are done off-line and not submitted (like discussion assignments).

Remember to provide specific feedback in a timely manner so that students can assimilate your feedback on one assignment in time to apply it to the next.  If you are struggling with completing feedback in a timely way, it might be time to look at the due dates for your assignments!

However you provide specific feedback for assessments, remember to be consistent with your rubric or grading criteria.  Feedback is not the grade, but the feedback and the grade should support each other.

General Feedback

Consider posting a forum message to all the students giving them general feedback on the assignment in question and some general tips on how to improve as they move forward in the course.  You might also want to record an audio message to convey this information as well – students do seem to appreciate hearing an instructor’s voice as it adds that “human” element to the online course.

Peer Feedback

Ask students to provide peer feedback to each other.  So, for example, consider pairing students up and having them give feedback on each other’s draft assignments.  The final submitted assignments will undoubtedly benefit from this.

Be aware, however, that you should provide students with guidelines around how to provide feedback, and also how to take it (or not take it).  These are not skills that come naturally, but are important skills to develop.

Ongoing Feedback

Find ways to provide feedback throughout the course (so, not just when students submit assignments).  One way to provide ongoing feedback is giving students opportunities to self assess, for example, using Moodle’s Quiz tool to provide an automatically assessed multiple choice “quiz” so students can see how they are doing.


Feedback can be more than concrete critiques of assessments or knowledge.  You can also give students feedback in the form of acknowledgment – so, for example simply acknowledging their postings in a discussion forum.  For some more tips on providing acknowledgement feedback, see Providing Feedback to your Distance Learning Course (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) at scroll to the bottom of the page)

What’s good for the goose…

And it works the other way as well.  Ask students to provide YOU with feedback – it could be you asking them at intervals how things are going, or asking them to tell you what they understand or don’t understand about the feedback you gave them!

For more tips on providing feedback to your students, check out the following websites:

What about providing feedback for discussions and assessing “participation”?  Well, we’ll talk more about that in the next couple of posts!

But before you go, feel free to leave a comment sharing how you provide feedback to students, or how you use feedback to support your students.  Or just ask a question!

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One Response to Giving Feedback

  1. Brian Vatne says:

    Good post here, I’ll be sure to use some of these resources. Just a question for you Emily – or anyone else reading – one interesting point in the post is about peer feedback. I hadn’t thought of using this in a course before. But it was noted that it would be very useful to provide some guidance on how to give feedback to another student. Does any one know of any brief sets of guidelines that might be useful as a resource for peer reviewers?

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