How to Provide Great Feedback to Students Online

Online testing and assessment, quality monitoring
Online feedback should be specific, actionable, and timely to help students advance.

There’s no doubt about it. More and more teachers and tutors are searching these days: 

How do I provide meaningful feedback in an online course?

How do you give students better feedback with technology?

What are some examples of good online feedback for students? 

At LessonWriter, we help thousands of teachers provide efficient, effective, and supportive online feedback to their students—without having to spend hours doing so. 

How? Let’s dive in.

Online Feedback and Grading is More Helpful Than Ever

Online classes are more popular than ever, even before COVID-19 health measures required distance learning throughout the globe. Before 2020, the number of students taking courses entirely online at high school and college levels is growing immensely.

According to the Babson Survey Research Group, almost one-third of all students in higher education are enrolled in at least one online class, and this number has been increasing steadily for the last 15 years. 

The National Education Policy Center reports that students taking online courses perform the same or slightly better than students taking the same courses in a traditional classroom setting. There is no drop-off in gained knowledge when switching to online classes.

In addition, some evidence suggests that students are more actively engaged with the online content than when sitting in a classroom.  

(For a great discussion of online learning and why it has such a negative connotation around it, head to Those Who Can’t Do’s podcast for their “Virtual Learning” Episode. Those Who Can’t Do is a podcast hosted by two L.A. based teachers discussing all things education!)

Why is it So Important to Provide Specific Feedback for Online Students?

But, online learning isn’t positive in a vacuum. In fact, a lot of it can put more strain on the teacher to provide the specific feedback students need when they aren’t receiving help in person. 

Good online feedback for students has a few elements: 

  • It’s immediate: Effective feedback is timely. This is in any case, not just academic learners. 
  • It’s specific: You don’t just say “great job,” but why it’s a great job! 
  • It’s actionable: If they can make some adjustments, how do they do that? 
  • It’s kind! You don’t need to hurt a student’s feelings to help guide their learning. Starting with something they did well, and then how to improve it, is always helpful. 

Sometimes, it’s tough to get these all in, especially when time-pressed teachers don’t have hours to spend providing thoughtful and effective feedback. We get it: you have dozens of students, and teaching online has a whole set of other challenges. 

Why Can it Be Hard to Give Good Feedback Online?

Assigning classes, work, and then grading this online work is a huge part of what LessonWriter focuses on for our users.

Having been on both sides of online instruction—as an instructor of online courses, and as an online graduate student—I’ve noticed there can be a lack of one-on-one communication and feedback between the online instructor and individual student. 

Teachers want to provide guidance to make sure the student knows what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. With online tests and quizzes, if the questions are multiple choice, it’s easy for a student to find the correct answer when reviewing their corrected work.

But for essay and short-response questions, just seeing that they answered incorrectly is not enough. The students need to know why. How can you make a connection with each of your online students?

Feedback allows for the teacher to do a bit of coaching, and for students to use this feedback in future assignments. Research indicates that feedback will promote better learning for all involved. Sending an email explaining a grade for each assignment to every online student, though, is extremely time consuming. 

How to Give Helpful Online Feedback to Students

  1. Be actionable and specific: Once they read the feedback, the students should know what step(s) they can take next to improve their writing, and where exactly in their piece they have to improve. However, this doesn’t mean you have to do a rewrite for them. Instead, guide them to what you’re looking for (feedback example below)! 
  2. Be timely: Providing feedback in a timely manner helps students continuously make improvements throughout your course. By sharing feedback when they’re still thinking about the assignment, they can build up the skills they need as they go through the year or semester. 
  3. Be focused: Is your feedback relevant to the prompt? Are you focusing on the most important items your student needs to work on? For example, are you giving feedback on their lack of thesis, or a word they misspelled? Prioritizing your feedback saves time on both ends. 

An example on great online feedback could use the following sequence:

  1. Restate the expectation from the prompt (“The prompt says… I was looking for… The question asks…” )
  2. Give a specific example from the student’s work (“You stated… In this part of your answer… Your argument was…”)
  3. Explain why this met or did not meet the expectation of the assignment. Did they do what the prompt was requesting?
  4. Elaborate!
    1. If this was something the student did well, how and why was it effective? (“This was a great example… Good job providing… You did well in…”) 
    2. If it was something the student needs to work on, provide actionable next steps or questions they can use to advance their writing or work. (“Instead, try… I would suggest… At this point, you can…”)

How to Make Online Feedback & Grading Easier for Teachers

An example of LessonWriter’s scoring options for a matching exercise.

But how do we do all this in our already-packed schedule?

  1. Google: Google Docs makes it easy these days to leave in-line comments or selected comments. This makes it simpler for students to see the exact point of the text you’re correcting, so you don’t have to rewrite a whole quote of theirs. 
  2. Make/find templates: Finding solid feedback examples can help you get started with your grading. Plus, following the guidelines we listed above makes it a lot easier to make your own templates, and reuse them where you see fit. Spending some time to do this can save lots of time later (and sharing it with other teachers is an option too)! 
  3. Hire graders: There are actually organizations you can hire to do some of your grading for you! For example, The Graide Network provides enhanced writing grading for busy teachers. 
  4. Use a platform made for it. This is where LessonWriter proves to be invaluable to the educator. Assigning work using LessonWriter allows automatic scoring when it comes to multiple choice questions, as well as enables the teacher to leave feedback using a 4-point rubric on any questions that require the student to write out an answer. Plus, there are comment boxes with each of the questions so the teacher can explain the score and provide suggestions. 
  5. Use technology: Some of the most frustrating parts about online grading and feedback isn’t necessarily the grading part itself. Using online grading books, purchasing (or downloading free) gradebook templates, and lesson teaching platforms like above can make your teacher-life a lot easier!  

Feedback: It’s Just as Important, if not More Important, When Teaching Online!

What online feedback techniques do you use in your classroom? Feel free to comment below or send us a message!

If you have not tried LessonWriter, whether you teach online or in the classroom, check out all of our options online. The LessonWriter Premium Teacher or School accounts allow you to simplify scoring and give feedback to your students in a short amount of time.

Need more time in the day? Use LessonWriter to make your lessons! LessonWriter was made by a group of teachers who knew how much time they could save teachers by putting all their lesson-writing work in one platform. Just copy and paste a link into LessonWriter.com, and then customize your lesson as much or as little as you want! Oh, and did we mention it’s free? Try it today

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