Resources for Remote Learning
Transitioning Back to In-Person Education
Resource from Columbia University
Article from the Chronicle of Higher Education
Article from Educause Review
Online Pedagogy – Best Practices
Resources from Columbia University on online teaching and hybrid formats
Article from EDUCASE Review
Article from Harvard University
Article from Stanford University
Article by Jennifer Gonzalez, Cult of Pedagogy
Article by Devon G. Penas, University of Washington
Article by Andrew Salcido and Jessica Cole, Arizona State University
Assessing Students during Online Learning
Article by Nicole Feodorov, University of Washington
Article from EDUCAUSE Review
Saga Briggs, teachthought
Article from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga
How To Improve Your Online Teaching
Developing Accessible Materials
Effective Online Pedagogy
A guide from Angelo State University
Article by Alan R. Roper
Article by Danielle Geary, Faculty Focus
A guide from Angelo State University
A guide from Mesa CTL
Synchronous Online Learning
A guide from TalentLMS
Article by Stefan Hrastinski
Article by Kristina Wilson, Northwestern University
Online course available via Lynda.com
A guide from Carleton University
Article by Laura McClelland, Top Hat
Article by Michelle D. Miller, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Article by Rob Kelly, Faculty Focus
Article by Shaunak Wanikar, CallHub
Article by Matthew Lynch, The Tech Edvocate
Classroom Management Strategies
A guide by The Teaching Professor
Article by Mary Bart, Faculty Focus
Article by Lisa Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Article by Adriana Barberena, International Center for Academic Integrity
A guide by G. Reihman, Lehigh University
A guide from Cornell University
Article by Jody Greene, Inside Higher Ed
Inclusive Teaching in the Online Classroom
Article from EdSurge
A guide from Columbia University
A guide from Northwestern University
A guide from Appalachian State University
Guidelines to Develop an Online Course
Online course available via Lynda.com
Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning
YouTube video by Dr. Saliha Bava, Mercy College
Find a “buddy”
- Reach out to those who are familiar with online teaching. Ask them if they can give you any tips, guidance, or support.
Ask for resources and help
- Reach out to departments in your academic institution that can help you. This includes CTL, EdTech, OAA, etc.
- These departments can provide you with additional resources and tips.
Humanize the engagement
- Interacting with our students via the web is not the same as an in-person classroom.
- Personalize your lessons, videos, and communications in order to reassure your students that you are there.
Audio Podcast with Jeff R. Young and Bonni Stachowiak, EdSurge Podcast
- Make sure to record online sessions for those who can’t tune in live
- Use polls to keep students engaged
- Lighting is key and think about virtual eye contact.
- Stimulate eye contact by looking at the camera that for many of us is sitting on top of our monitor – so put you notes at the top of your screen so you look at the camera more.
Article by Saralyn Cruickshank, Johns Hopkins University
Set realistic expectations
- “Perfection is impossible, so don’t strive for that,” says Feilim Mac Gabhann, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Enginerring.
- Instructors should consider “turning the temperature down” in the early days of the transition while students are still adapting to the change.
- “Be a little more flexible with students, and they will give you a break and go with the flow a little more too,”
Communicate regularly with students during the transition
- “Ambiguity is tough for students,” Huckett says. “Therefore, it is highly recommended to communicate clearly with the students about what this transition means for their class.”
- Be clear about how students can contact them—such as through drop-in, virtual office hours using digital technology—and to be patient, because these digital avenues for communication may not be immediately clear to students.
- “You may need to coach students on how best to communicate with you and get their questions answered,”
- He advises faculty to survey students about their preferences and needs early on in the process of moving courses online, so teachers and students are equally prepared for new expectations.
- Surveying student needs, says Mac Gabhann, is a great way to empower students during a process that is outside their control.
- “Involve students in the decision-making process of deciding which digital platforms to use, and they will feel more ownership in the course,” he says.
Consider how the transition opens up new opportunities
- “This is an opportunity for faculty to learn how tools that are used to teach online courses can complement face-to-face instruction,” Reese says.
- Mac Gabhann says instructors should evaluate what works and what doesn’t as they teach courses remotely, and they shouldn’t shy away from incorporating the successes into future in-person instruction.
- “Don’t discard what you create; use it as an opportunity to retool and revamp how you teach,” he says. “Even on-campus courses can benefit from appropriate use of technology.”
Article by Kevin Gannon, The Chronicle of Higher Education
It’s okay to not know what you’re doing
- In such a small time frame, do not expect to be a master of online learning.
- Set realistic expectations with what you can accomplish
- Setting the expectations too high can lead you to feel discouraged and unaccomplished
- “Expect turbulence, change your flight plan accordingly.”
- “Your newly online courses will be most successful if you acknowledge and work within this reality.”
Good teaching is good teaching
- There is a nearly infinite number of ways in which a course can be moved from an in-person to an online experience, and what works for you will be the product of your own pedagogy, choices, experiences, and proficiencies.
- Don’t feel overwhelmed by the vast array of online teaching tools. Do what feels right to you and don’t overload your own capacity.
Good pedagogy requires:
- Regular, effective, and compassionate communication with students.
- Flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.
- Transparency in course materials, like tests, assignments, and activities.
Keep it as simple, and accessible, as you can
- A sudden move from in-person to distance learning is disruptive enough — there’s no need to add to it by introducing complicated, unnecessary tools and procedures.
- If you add new digital tools, be sure to provide your students with guidance (detailed screenshot instructions, brief tutorial videos) as to how to use them.
- Students will likely use their phones as their primary digital device. Ensure that what you’re using is mobile friendly
Article by Michelle D. Miller, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Maybe you have colleagues who are the first to leap onto technology trends. No doubt you’ve heard them reminiscing about all the stuff they started using before anyone else class Facebook pages, Twitter hashtags, in-class polling. Or maybe you’re a member of Club Early Adopter yourself?
I am, or at least I’ve aspired to be. (Have I told you about the web pages I put up for my class back in ’95?) Back in the day, those of us in the club had to kludge together solutions using tech that wasn’t made for teaching. Today, however, you have your pick of hundreds of products, custom-built for education or even for specific disciplines. Furthermore, many of the earliest technologies think: web pages and blogs are now something truly anyone can use, no matter your level of technical expertise.
And therein lies the problem: With such a wealth of options, how do you choose what will work best in your classroom? In technology, as in so many things, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It takes college students one hot minute to figure out when technology is just a useless embellishment, and they’re unforgiving when you have no good answer for why you chose to go with digital materials when pencil and paper would have sufficed.
Using technology well means being selective. Choosing the right tech tools for your teaching means making strategic choices, weighing costs against payoffs, and staying laser-focused on your course goals and that is what this guide aims to help you do. It’s for anyone who is in the process of creating a new course or redesigning an old one and needs advice on which technologies to use, how to use them, and why.
What You Need to Get Started
There was a time when advocates naïvely believed that technology would turbocharge learning by its mere presence in class and that “digital natives” craved it in every corner of their lives. Today even the most hard-core technology enthusiasts have moved on from those simplistic ideas, and advocate much more mindful decision-making about how to use technology in teaching. Even if your decision about what to use winds up being “nothing,” you can make the choice knowing that you’ve done right by your students.
I’ll go further and suggest that these choices are worth considering every time you update a syllabus. Given that ed-tech companies and products today seem to proliferate, mature, and die at roughly the same pace as fruit flies, chances are good that things have changed since the last time you sat down to plan the course. So where do you begin? To make good tech choices for your teaching, you first need to know:
- What is the technology for? Is it for a course or a set of courses? A module? A particular activity? Thoughtful technology choices aren’t generic they’re wedded to a specific discipline and course, and even to specific areas within a course.
- What are your learning objectives and outcomes?Successful tech choices are, above all, goal-focused. You’ll need to have your course goals and priorities at hand as you consider your technology options.
- What are the hardest, or most failure-prone, aspects of what you’re teaching? Make a list of the pinch points material that students repeatedly stumble over or just find boring; concepts that you find yourself having to reteach, time and again. Think about all of those moments when you get a bad feeling that students are leaving your course underprepared for the next one.
That last question might surprise you, especially because it has no obvious connection to technology per se. But it belongs here because, ultimately, you will be weighing the value of dealing with those persistent problems against the costs of technology. And make no mistake, the costs are real. Later in this guide we’ll look at exactly what those costs are and how to keep them down. But it follows that technology needs to earn its place in your classroom by providing tangible benefits, and it has the best chance of doing that when it targets the hardest or most time-consuming aspects of a course.
Get a Sense of the Possibilities
The first step is to survey the landscape of educational technology. Because you’re an academic, you always risk getting sidetracked by theoretical debates on things like how to define the meaning of “educational technology,” and what does or does not qualify as such. Don’t get bogged down by such formalities as you explore the field of options.
I don’t mean to disparage that line of scholarly inquiry it’s an important one for specialists in the field, and it has produced some elegant ed-tech taxonomies and other organizational schemes. If definitions, theories, and systems are your cup of tea, you can explore them to your heart’s content. There’s everything from a John Dewey-inspired framework for classifying forms of technology-aided teaching and learning, to a theoretical discussion of what it means to learn with rather than from technology, to a periodic table of educational technology.
But for the purely practical purpose of course planning, examples are a lot more useful than theory, and a sense of the possibilities is more useful than attempting to delineate the boundaries.
After all, at a basic level, anything students use to enhance their learning chalk, paper airplanes, protractors, Play-Doh can count as educational technology. None of those things are what most of us mean when we think about technology for teaching. Our focus here is on digital devices and platforms: apps that run on smartphones, audio and video media, social media, web-based systems for reviewing and practicing course concepts. You get the picture.
For every one of those technologies, there are nearly limitless ways to weave them into your courses. You could, for example:
- Set up a fast-paced, low-stakes quiz game that students play in class using their own mobile devices.
- Have students use their own smartphones to take a virtual-reality tour of a cultural or historic site.
- Ask students to tweet photos of something they see, while going about their day, that illustrates topics they’re learning about in your class.
- Organize a blog for students to post accounts of their travel experiences during a study-abroad program.
- Ask students to make their course assignments public through YouTube or Medium.
- Replace a traditional textbook with courseware that presents content in a personalized way and also tests students on the material as they work their way through it.
- Use interactive multimedia that students can explore as an illustration of course content.
- Produce your own narrated videos that students can watch online on their own time.
Feeling creative yet? Ed tech really does span everything from email to virtual reality, and new ways of using it are being invented all the time. Your institution’s e-learning or faculty-development center can probably point you to up-to-date collections of technology ideas either a web page the center has created itself or similar sites out there on the web. (For a great example, check out Jane Hart’s online Directory of Learning & Performance Tools.)
Here are other sources you might tap for inspiration:
- Take a look back through scholarly articles you read and saved related to teaching. Do any of them use technology in a way that appeals to you?
- Try perusing teaching-oriented journals for ed-tech ideas. A good journal to start with is College Teaching, but there are many others linked to specific disciplines such as psychology, chemistry, science teaching, and engineering
- Tap your local colleagues for their expertise. If you hear faculty members enthusing about a new tool or technique they are trying, corner them. Talk with academics who are familiar faces at teaching conferences or who haunt e-learning centers. Take them to coffee and be sure to bring your notebook, because they will have reams of advice and suggestions to share.
After surveying the field, you may be feeling overwhelmed by all the options you’ve discovered. So it’s time to narrow your list.
One way to do that: Decide whether you want to use a general ed-tech tool that is discipline-independent (for example, putting your content into a quizzing application), or one that is discipline-specific (such as interactive laboratory simulations, modules that present content online, or quizzes with premade content). Making that choice, in turn, might lead you back to the big picture of what you want technology to achieve for you as the instructor and for your students. And that segues neatly to the next step in this process.
Figure Out Your Tech Goals
You need a crystal-clear picture of what you want to accomplish with technology. The task of identifying and refining your desired outcomes can be approached using a couple of different frameworks. Such a framework can: (a) uncover which aspects of your course would be best served by bringing in technology, and (b) steer you away from superfluous, why-are-we-using-this tech choices. I’ll outline three frameworks I’ve found helpful in my own teaching.
Focus on those pinch points. Under this approach, your tech goals seek to resolve the most difficult, challenging, or problematic parts of the course. In choosing technology, people naturally gravitate toward tools that seem fun or easy, even if they’re not the most useful. You can counter that tendency by setting tech goals that focus on your biggest teaching problems. This also helps ensure that the payoff from these new tools you’ve chosen will be worth the costs.
Ask yourself the “magic-wand” question. In a course-redesign program I direct at Northern Arizona University, I sometimes ask faculty members: If you could wave a wand and change one thing — a skill students lack, a misconception that stubbornly persists, a task students opt not to do but should — what would that one thing be?
Try asking yourself that question, too, and you may find an area of your teaching that’s ripe for the kind of transformation that the right technology can bring. For example, when I teach my introductory course in cognitive psychology, I find that students are pretty good at picking up terminology and identifying course concepts in real-world situations. But they often struggle to understand how major principles of psychology are derived from patterns of data obtained in laboratory experiments.
Getting students to make that mental leap is my magic-wand issue. To deal with the problem, I turn to technology: I assign an online laboratory application that simulates classic experimental paradigms in abbreviated form. This online lab lets students see and experience from the perspective of a research subject the procedures they’ve read about in the textbook. Most important, as they complete the lab, they can see whether the quantitative results they’ve generated align with the theories they’re learning about in class.
The pinch-points approach is similar to the Decoding the Disciplines framework created by David Pace and Joan Middendorf of Indiana University at Bloomington. Their system encourages faculty members to identify and focus their teaching on the “bottlenecks” like analyzing primary sources or interpreting data where students consistently run into difficulty. (This approach also has roots in the Universal Design for Learningmovement, which we’ll return to later in this guide.)
Use backward design. This is a powerful strategy for figuring out tech goals. Like the name implies, the idea is to start your planning with an end in mind. In the case of teaching, the end goal essentially corresponds to all the things that you hope students will know and be able to do by the end of the course. Once you’ve defined your end goals, use them to plan the semester — making sure that everything students do (i.e., learning activities) and everything they turn in (i.e., assessments) are tightly aligned to those objectives.
I find that the backward-design concept accommodates technology choices particularly well. Especially toward the end of the design process, when you are figuring out the details of how you’ll arrive at the end goals you’ve laid out, you can dive back into the larger pool of technology options that caught your eye and choose the ones that map onto the goals.
Take as an example some of the features my colleagues and I have added over the years in redesigning our “Introduction to Psychology” course. We started with our big-picture goals, one of which was for students to build a knowledge base of major findings and theories. No surprise there, but we also wanted students to be able to identify connections between the course and the real world.
Our goals drove the kinds of tech-based learning activities we created for the course:
- To push development of knowledge, we had students take weekly online reading quizzes and answer factual questions using in-class response devices — not so much to measure their knowledge as get them actively recalling it (a strategy that, as you’ll see in the next section, is particularly effective for memory).
- For enhancing their understanding of how psychology plays out in interesting real-world contexts, we assigned students to: (a) complete selected interactive activities we found on the web, such as this one that tests how well you can tell fake smiles from real ones, and (b) send in a brief reflection on the experience via the course’s learning-management system (LMS).
Make tech choices through the lens of the learning sciences. I use this framework most often to make goal-focused technology choices for my own courses. In my book, Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, and elsewhere, I’ve argued that one of the best reasons to use technology in teaching is that it offers ways to put into practice the extensive body of research in cognitive psychology and related sciences on how human beings learn.
The research on attention, memory, reasoning, problem solving, and other learning principles is incredibly powerful. But it can be difficult to put those principles to use in your classroom without some kind of technological aid.
Take the concept of retrieval practice, a cognitive principle you can dig into in more depth at this web site, in this article by The Chronicle’s teaching columnist James M. Lang, or in this episode of the Tea for Teaching podcast. Retrieval practice is what you do any time you pull information out of your memory. It kicks in when you’re taking a test, a practice quiz, or any other kind of assessment. But it can also operate when you are using flashcards or writing in a journal to induce recall.
Multiple studies (for example, here and here) have established the effectiveness of retrieval practice for promoting memory allowing students to remember more information per minute invested than just about anything else they can do with their time. This is exciting news for teachers because, although building a base of knowledge isn’t the be-all and end-all of learning, it is an important part. And it’s something that has to be managed if students are going to have time and energy left over to handle other, higher-level learning goals in your course.
Myriad ed-tech tools allow you to take advantage of the research on retrieval practice. For example, you can use your institution’s LMS to set up low-stakes quizzes on the assigned readings. There are also quite a few great choices for in-class short quizzes that run on students’ mobile devices (see, for example, Kahoot!, Top Hat, and Poll Everywhere) and offer rapid feedback and options to create friendly competition.
These activities can also have the useful side benefit of keeping students attentive during a face-to-face class. That’s important because despite folk beliefs about learning through osmosis attention is a requirement for forming new memories. When we focus on the fact that memory is one part of learning, and that we can use retrieval practice to promote memory, it sharpens and gives shape to our technology search. Knowing, for example, that you want students to be doing more active retrieval in your course considerably narrows the field of tech options.
Other cognitive principles can produce a similar winnowing effect. One research-proven memory booster is called spacing or distributed practice. It holds that study time yields more memory wise when it’s divided across frequent, short sessions rather than concentrated in marathon sessions. Deciding that you want to tap into the benefits of spacing can narrow your tech choices. You might, for instance, decide to offer brief quizzes that students can take outside of scheduled class times. Or send out text reminders of upcoming assignments and class news to get students thinking about course material more frequently than they otherwise would.
Likewise, if your goal is to emphasize reasoning or problem-solving skills, that can point you in the direction of certain technologies. Word of warning, however: Reinforcing thinking skills is a notoriously difficult goal for instructors, and finding the right tech tools to do it is not much easier.
Just having students view certain content won’t achieve much. They must be interacting with it repeatedly across varied problems for real learning to occur. So you will want to choose tools that allow students direct, repeated practice and complex, high-level interactions with an extensive base of problem sets, examples, case studies, and other content. Ideally, their practice will also feature feedback and some level of personalization of the sequence, amount, or type of content.
Tech tools with all of those features aren’t a dime a dozen. Nor are you likely to find technology that reinforces thinking skills across the board, in a discipline-independent way. Human cognitive processes tend to be wedded to the specific context in which we use them.
Your best bet, therefore, is to start searching within your discipline or even within a specific course topic. See if there’s a commercial product you can buy unbundled. If you’re lucky, you may even find a good-quality open resource. You can also come at it from a slightly different angle: Start with the type of activity you want e.g., problem-based learning and then search for a tool within your discipline that emphasizes that activity (the University of Delaware’s online PBL Clearinghouse is a great example).
Turn to the research on multimedia learning. Finally, if you would like some concrete dos and don’ts about the best ways to combine audio, diagrams, and interactive elements in a course, check out the research on multimedia learning most notably the work of Richard Mayer and colleagues.
Multimedia materials can be highly useful, especially in fully online courses where you don’t want to inundate students with page after page of text. It makes sense to use the basic principles from multimedia theory such as combining audio narration with visual depictions of concepts and processes, and avoiding graphics that are decorative rather than substantive as a selection guide.
For a full rundown of the theory, it’s certainly worthwhile to check out one of Mayer’s excellent books on the subject. But even having just the main highlights in mind can help you choose digital resources that let multimedia do what it does best: Combine sight, sound, and language to illustrate complex processes and principles.
Consider the Costs
In choosing technology, you need to balance the benefits against the price tag especially if you’re requiring students to use a tool they have to pay for upfront. There’s no standard formula for doing a cost-benefit analysis of ed tech. But in addition to a clear picture of the cash you’re asking students to spend, you also need to consider your own costs in terms of time and effort (more on that in a bit).
Then you weigh the costs against the things you hope the technology will deliver, keeping in mind that some of the benefits will be intangible and others concrete. For example, if some technology you’ve adopted results in more students passing your class, that’s a tangible benefit because every failure means someone has to bear the cost of a retake.
It may be difficult to tease out all of the benefits of a specific technology, especially if it’s part of a larger package of improvements you’ve made to a course, but this is one way to get a ballpark estimate of what students are getting for their money. They won’t see the cost-benefit trade-offs that accrue from improved pass rates, but they will see how well (and how often) a technology is used in a course, and that will form a big part of their perception that it’s worthwhile.
For example, in the redesign of our intro psychology course, we incorporated student-response systems(allowing students to answer questions and participate in polls via clickers and mobile phones) as a crucial component. Surveys of our students showed they specifically wanted faculty members to use clickers either frequently or not at all: Their perceived value went up markedly once we started using them to administer substantive questions multiple times in a class meeting, and stopped using them as expensive substitutes for paper sign-in sheets.
In your own cost-benefit analysis of a particular tool, be sure to take into account how often students would use it, and what percentage of their final grade would be earned via the technology.
The cost of any piece of technology is a lot easier to justify if it replaces something else that students would have to pay for. Textbooks are the most obvious example replaced with, say, an interactive courseware system (like this one) or a set of readings drawn from free online content. I’ve done that myself, for example, by assigning Noba Project modules in lieu of a traditional textbook.
There are other possible substitutions. Instead of clickers that cost money, try free polling apps that run on mobile phones. Professors feeling adventurous could replace an in-person laboratory experience and its corresponding lab fee with an online simulation. That last suggestion is somewhat controversial, but there’s at least some precedent for it being done effectively under certain circumstances.
Don’t think that choosing free products automatically exempts you from weighing costs. Especially if students are registering to use the free version of a tool, what kind of personal data must they provide to gain access? Are there going to be ads involved, and are you OK with exposing students to the number and type of ads they’ll see over the course of the semester? In rare cases there may even be questions about what happens to the content that students post on those “free” sites most prominently, the appropriation of student intellectual property that some critics say is happening with plagiarism checker tools.
I am not a data privacy expert, and I don’t think you should have to become one just to take advantage of educational technology resources that are available free of charge. But, particularly if you’re designing a lot of the course around one tool, read the fine print first.
Now to turn briefly to the issue of time costs. Before you get too far into a technology project, do the best you can to estimate how many hours it’s going to take you to get it up and running. Then estimate how much time you will spend on maintenance, troubleshooting, and answering all the extra email generated by students’ questions about the technology.
Your estimate won’t be perfect. Just give it your best guess, and ask around to see if someone (like one of your Club Early Adopter colleagues) could let you know what to expect. Remember, however, only you can answer whether the benefit to students and to your teaching seems worth the investment of your time.
Think About Who Has Access, and Who Doesn’t
Cost is an access issue for some students, but there are also broader questions of access and inclusivity that are getting some well-deserved, and overdue, attention right now in higher education. As a general principle, all course materials including technology and digital media should be usable for people with a wide range of sensory abilities and requirements.
At a bare minimum, putting that principle into practice involves meeting accommodation requirements. But there’s more to access than mere compliance, as advocates of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) argue.
The UDL framework is related to, but distinct from, the idea of disability accommodations. An official accessibility policy requires faculty members to accommodate individual students with documented disabilities who need alternative ways to do the coursework. UDL steers instructors away from the idea of singling out a student for individual accommodations on an as-needed basis, and instead encourages them to offer all students alternative ways to complete their coursework. Those multiple pathways are built into the course design. The idea is that these options such as participating in an online discussion via voice recording instead of text, or reading a transcript of a video instead of listening to it can benefit all students who use them.
It’s worth exploring UDL (here’s one excellent resource) in more depth for its own sake. For our purposes, it’s useful to look at technology choices through the lens of UDL and find tools that offer multiple routes to the same end rather than standardization. UDL can also reveal unwanted barriers within our technology choices videos without appropriate captioning, multimedia that is difficult or impossible for students with sensory limitations to access, and other problems.
This played out in my own work a few years ago when a team of designers and I built the Attention Matters! module, an online resource for teaching students about the perils of distraction. Part of the module is an online simulation of a classic research paradigm in cognitive psychology that involves reading words printed in a range of specific colors. But not everyone can see color. So my UDL-savvy design team searched for, and found, an alternative simulation that produces the same kind of results using black-and-white line drawings rather than colored text.
Students are required to complete one of the two versions, although a fair number do both. We are still looking for an alternative activity for low-vision users. But by considering UDL from the beginning, we expanded the number of students who can access the module, and by doing so, we added depth and substance to the exercise as a whole.
Evaluating access is a mandatory step in choosing technology, for reasons both educational and ethical. But don’t let that put you off the whole idea of bringing in technology. For one thing, it’s often technology that lets you expand the range of options in your course such as allowing students to participate in an online discussion using microphones or webcams as an alternative to typing in text in ways that fit with the UDL philosophy.
The more academics demand accessibility when shopping around for course materials, the more pressure will be brought to bear on tech producers to make this a priority.
When Shopping for Technology, Look for These Features
Throughout this guide, I’ve sought to emphasize the importance of looking at technology choices from both practical and pedagogical angles, and staying focused on your end goals while setting high standards for what you’ll adopt. Condensed into a shopping list of sorts, here is what to look for selecting an ed-tech tool for your teaching.
1: Does it align with my toughest course goals? Use one of the frameworks I mentioned above to uncover where technology will deliver the biggest payoff in the course. Look for tools that directly support the course goals that are hardest for students to reach.
Example: Students often struggle the most in mastering high-level thinking skills in a discipline. Developing those skills to a sophisticated level takes a substantial amount of practice. So look for technologies that directly engage students in those thinking skills — through simulations, problem sets with feedback, or opportunities to create and share their own original content with peers.
2: Does it align with what we know about how people learn? In the research on learning, we are at a point where we can safely say that some approaches to teaching are simply more effective than others. Take advantage of this knowledge by fast-tracking technology options that clearly tie in to established principles of learning.
Example: We know from research that quizzes, self-tests, and other tasks that get students retrieving information from memory are all highly effective for building knowledge. Look for technologies that emphasize retrieval practice.
3: Is it high quality? That issue isn’t as ineffable as it might seem. With educational technologies, quality breaks down into several concrete aspects, all of which are possible to evaluate ahead of time. They include:
- Is it accurate and free of errors and misinformation? Is it clear and engaging? If there are instructions, are they also clear, accurate, and easy to understand? Is the content at the right level for your students? Does it duplicate content from elsewhere in the course? Duplication is not always a bad thing, as it could be a way to reinforce concepts that you want students to know. But if the overlap is significant, consider whether the technology could replace something like a costly textbook.
- How well is the product put together, from a technical standpoint? Does it work smoothly and reasonably bug-free? Does it work consistently across a variety of devices and browsers? Does it talk to your campus LMS, or will you have to manually enter course points or other performance data into your gradebook?
- Will your institution handle troubleshooting and questions? If not, what is the company or creator offering as far as support? Is there just one or multiple forms of tech support (phone, email, chat, online FAQ)? What kind of turnaround time can students expect, and is it reasonable in light of the timeline students will have for meeting deadlines?
4: Is it a good value? Technology’s value is all about trade-offs — between the cost to students, the information they will have to provide to gain access, the amount of instructor time you will have to commit, and the benefits that you think the technology will deliver. Enhancing and deepening learning is the chief benefit. But there could be others, such as more efficient use of study time, replacement of other costly materials, or opportunities to do something fresh and different in class. Start by making sure you know the full costs. Then consider the question of value from these additional angles:
Are there free alternatives for the type of technology you want to use, and to what extent are they truly free? Will students have to agree to be on a mailing list, give up personal data, or see endless ads? Does the free one really do everything you need it to, or will students likely end up having to spend money on the premium version?
Are there low-tech or no-tech options that would achieve the same thing and cost less? Remember that students are super-sensitive to technology that seems like it doesn’t add value. And it’s entirely possible that pen and paper, whiteboards, or verbal discussion could be perfectly sufficient, especially within small groups or when you don’t need to track student performance in a precise way. Is there a wow factor? No instructor would advocate for educational technology purely for novelty value, but we can’t deny that sometimes it can bring something new and fun into class. It’s OK to add that kind of appeal into the value equation as another benefit that can balance out costs.
One more thing: Once you answer these questions for your own teaching, won’t you please share what you’ve learned? When faculty members swap experiences be they good, bad, or just interesting that helps move the whole field forward. It’s also a way to counterbalance the inevitable hype, gee-whiz futurism, and salesmanship that tend to come with the ed-tech territory. When you help colleagues sort through the ed-tech options that are best for them, you put the focus of our joint enterprise back on students and learning. Who knows, you might even score a free cup of coffee in the process.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
You’ve settled on your choices. Now it’s time to put into place some safeguards that will keep you and your students out of technology purgatory once the course is underway. Keep in mind that students are likely to need more coaching than you anticipate on how to use the technology you assign. Especially if you’re working with first- and second-year students, even basic things like navigating your institution’s learning-management system or setting up a login and password for a publisher’s website are going to stump some students. You want to avoid a situation in which the first you learn of their confusion is when you notice they are missing assignments.
As a preventive measure, you can offer one-on-one help on request, orient everyone to the technology in class, set up icebreaker or orientation assignments to introduce the technology, or some combination of those. The point is: You’ll need to do something to be sure everyone is conversant with the technology before they start using it for serious work.
If your technology is the type that includes content, you’ll also need to check it for consistency and accuracy. Sadly, there continues to be a wide range of quality in courseware and other content-intensive resources. Problems wrought by bad information are not something you want to be dealing with in the middle of the term. Depending on the nature and severity of the content errors, you might be able to excise the problematic material ahead of time, warn students about it, or reinforce concepts in class.
Also be thinking ahead about how you’ll manage the grades generated by the technology. Some tools, such as certain online homework systems, can drop grades right into your institution’s learning-management system. But that kind of smooth integration with LMS grade books is the exception, not the rule. So especially if you intend students to use the tech frequently (and I hope you do), you’re going to need to figure out how you will track all of the data points.
Lastly, there’s everyone’s favorite tech issue: making sure the tools you’ve chosen are accessible on multiple devices and browsers. This is another area where you don’t need to worry about becoming a deep technical expert. However, part of your planning should include reading up on what the product’s company or creator says about this issue. Ideally, do some Googling or even run some tests of your own to ensure that the tool will work across at least the major alternatives: Mac versus PC, Android versus iPhone, that kind of thing.
This brings us to the question of tech support. Specifically: Whose responsibility is it going to be? Unless you say otherwise, you as the instructor will, by default, become the 24-hour technical support line.
No technology is reliable enough for you to just set it and forget it. Students deserve to know how to get help and to have that help delivered to them on a reasonable time frame. That goes double for any software you ask students to install or gain access to via codes, because so much can (and does) go wrong when passwords, credit cards, multiple platforms, and operating systems are all thrown into the mix.
If you want to take on this IT role, fine. But given that you probably don’t, you need to find out where students can turn for help. It might be the technology company (in the case of a commercial product) or the help desk of your own institution or some other entity. Post the help-desk contact information (email, phone, social media account or website) not just on your syllabus, but also prominently throughout the assignment materials and on the course website. Be ready to repeat that information regularly in class.
Many institutions, mine included, have specific guidelines about what forms of course related tech support they will, and won’t, provide to students. Colleges do that with the entirely reasonable goal of preventing a crush of student calls to the campus tech-support center about software it’s never heard of. When in doubt, get in touch with the campus help desk, e-learning center, or IT staff ahead of time. Explain what you want to do in class, and see if they can provide some or all of the needed support.
Recommendations to Get You Started
Here is a list of apps and other tools that I’ve either used myself and liked, or heard good things about from faculty colleagues:
- Screencast-O-Matic: a video and screen-capture application with captioning capability.
- Flipgrid: a platform for disseminating materials and facilitating discussion, in multiple ways (video, text, voice recording).
- VoiceThread: an application for presenting media (e.g., slideshows) on which students can comment via video, text, or voice recording.
- Padlet: an application for creating customizable, Pinterest-type boards that can be shared publicly or with select people.
- Kahoot!: a quizzing and survey tool optimized for fast-paced competitive games played on individual mobile devices.
- Poll Everywhere: a general-purpose tool for real-time surveying in class using individual mobile devices.
- iClicker: a quizzing and survey system that uses dedicated hardware — much like a handheld remote control device.
- Smart Sparrow: a platform for creating interactive digital content.
Plenty of tech tools you may already use in your department or at home are ripe for educational uses. Standouts include YouTubefor ready-made video content and student-created video assignments, Slack for facilitating student-to-student collaboration, Canva and Piktochart for creating visual illustrations, Google Forms for creating interactive assessments, and Google Sites for easy-to-design web pages. Twitter can be a place for students to post reflections about course material. Even Wikipedia can be the basis for interesting assignments in which students collaborate to edit content.
Textbook publishers are another source of useful online content. Test banks, especially ones you can upload directly into your LMS, make it easy to create low-stakes quizzes. You may also find websites, games, and media listed in the textbook or the accompanying instructor guide that you can use as a base for tech-enhanced assignments.
What follows isn’t a definitive list but includes some of the most useful sources of information about choosing technology for your teaching.
- Merlot: Part of the California State University system, the acronym stands for Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching. It offers thousands of online learning materials for educators around the world.
- Top Tools for Learning: This is an annual list of the best ed-tech tools as compiled by the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies in Britain.
- Directory of Learning & Performance Tools: Another useful resource from the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies in Britain.
- Backward Design: Choosing Technology Tools for Teaching: A program to help you develop learning goals and choose the tech to support them, created via the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium.
- Which Technology Tool Do I Choose?: This is org’s version of how to choose ed tech.
- PBL (Problem-Based Learning) Clearinghouse: Here is a wealth of realistic problem scenarios that you can use in assignments across a wide variety of disciplines, curated via the University of Delaware.
Organizations and Conferences
- OLC stands for the Online Learning Consortium; this Massachusetts-based organization offers conferences, online workshops, and publications.
- Pod Network stands for the Professional and Organizational Development Network; this group offers conferences and publications.
- DT&L Conference: The annual Distance Teaching & Learning Conference is in its 35th year at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
- Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning, by José Antonio Bowen.
- Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments, by Derek Bruff.
- Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching, forthcoming in November 2019, also by Derek Bruff.
- Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes, published this year by Flower Darby and James M. Lang.
- Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses, by Dee Fink.
- Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education, by Thomas J. Tobin and Kirsten T. Behling.
- Leading Lines focuses exclusively on instructional technology in higher education.
- Teaching in Higher Ed covers myriad topics relevant to higher education, with an excellent collection of episodes specifically about technology.
- Tea for Teaching frequently focuses on teaching with technology, including episodes about augmented reality, VoiceThread, the culture of ed tech, intentional technology choices, and social presence in online courses.
Choosing technology isn’t simple, but it is important. Do all of the things I’ve listed in this guide, and you’ll become not merely an early adopter of technology, but also a thoughtful one.
If you have questions or concerns about this article, please email the editors or submit a letter for publication.
Michelle D. Miller is a professor of psychological sciences at Northern Arizona University and director and co-creator of its First Year Learning Initiative. Her latest book is Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology, published by Harvard University Press.
Think back to your time as a student. How did you experience feedback from your own instructors? Did reading their comments on your work bring moments of elation? Pride? Disappointment? Bewilderment? Do you still have a visceral reaction to a lot of red ink?
Feedback can be a powerful force in college classrooms, and there are ways to make the experience of providing and receiving it even stronger. That’s especially important as students continue to report dissatisfaction with the feedback they get on assignments and tests — calling it vague, discouraging, and/or late.
Technology has the potential to make course feedback better — more effective, more engaging, more timely — but that won’t happen automatically. Technology must be thoughtfully applied, not just used for the sake of using it. As an instructor you may have a variety of feedback tools already at your disposal, via your institution’s online platform or learning-management system (LMS), such as Google Classroom, Blackboard, Moodle, Desire2Learn, or Canvas. But that doesn’t mean you know how to use them to improve your feedback.
Welcome to The Chronicle’s guide on how to use technology to better evaluate and comment on students’ work. Whether you’re a novice or an expert user of technology, you will find useful tips and answers to common questions here.
A frequent misperception is that the only people who should worry about how instructors provide feedback are the instructors. However, feedback is an important consideration for all learners, instructional designers, future teachers, technologists, academic deans, and others. It’s not uncommon for students to be asked to provide feedback to their peers in class. So whether you teach online or in a face-to-face classroom, whether you work with students or support teachers, whether you’re a designer or a technologist, there’s something in this guide for you.
Jump to a section
- 4 Key Qualities of Good Feedback
- 2 Time-Saving Approaches
- When to Use Audio or Video Tools for Feedback
- When to Stick to Text Feedback
- Tips on Getting Started
- Common Pitfalls and Smart Solutions
We’ve all been the recipient of feedback that was more painful than productive. One of us (Holly) remembers nervously sending off an article for peer review as a graduate student and receiving two positive critiques with specific advice on areas for improvement. The third reviewer, however, was not so kind and wrote, “Cauld kail het” (a.k.a., cold food reheated). The reviewer “helpfully” explained what that phrase meant but offered no suggestions on how to move the work forward.
When it comes to feedback, students and instructors often are not on the same page:
- Students want feedback with specific, detailed directions for future improvement, offered in a manner that is both constructive and encouraging. And they want that advice sooner rather than later. Many studies have shown that the ideal time for learners to receive feedback ranges from two to 15 work days. Beyond that point, students have moved on to other topics and learning activities and the feedback is much less helpful.
- Meanwhile, instructors, according to one study, “tended to believe their feedback was more useful, fair, understandable, constructive and encouraging and detailed in comparison to what students felt they were receiving.”
So let’s start this guide by looking at the big picture. What do we mean here by feedback?
We mean the various types of guidance and direction that instructors provide: corrections or positive reinforcement after an exam, explanations on written work, details and notes included as part of rubric grading. Monitoring student learning through regular assessment is an important element of an instructor’s job. By providing individualized feedback, you help students stay on track, personalize their learning, and build trust and connections.
As technology continues to advance, so does the opportunity to provide feedback via different tools. The use of technology in the classroom (both in face-to-face and online environments) is becoming inescapable. While that has some downsides, the good news is you can leverage those tools to help students. By “feedback tools,” we mean digital applications or extensions used to give responses to your students’ work. There are a number of options available:
- Rubrics: online scoring guides to evaluate students’ work.
- Annotations: notes or comments added digitally to essays and other assignments.
- Audio: a sound file of your voice giving feedback on students’ work.
- Video: a recorded file of you offering feedback either as a “talking head,” a screencast, or a mix of both.
- Peer review: online systems in which students review one another’s work.
Each tool offers the opportunity to communicate directly with students and guide their learning. How?
- Say you have to grade a lot of papers with extensive formatting, outline, or grammatical concerns. Embedded comments and tracked changes will do the trick. You can walk students through all of your concerns and show them exactly how to do something or what it should look like.
- Looking for a way to provide fast feedback? Audio may be your best bet. You can quickly record your voice and send the files off to each student.
- Maybe you have to help students through a complicated problem with multiple steps. Video feedback may be the solution. (We’ll discuss this more below in the “When to Use Audio or Video Tools for Feedback” section.)
To put our cards on the table upfront: We are strong advocates of video and audio feedback, and that’s what you will see most emphasized in this guide. Whatever your reservations about audio and video, we would urge every faculty member to give it a try.
Written feedback is so easy to misconstrue. Students often read it as harsher than you intend. By providing feedback with your voice, however, your students will be able to listen to your tone and understand that you are being encouraging and are directing their learning.
Over all, when instructors use audio or video technologies, they tend to provide more feedback than written text alone. Yet, we’ve found that — once you learn the ropes — using audio or video feedback can save time. There is a learning curve at first. But the more you become familiar with these feedback tools, the more time you will save, and the more productive you will become as an instructor.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed by the excess of options (find tips here on how to make smart tech choices for your classroom). So before you get started with any new feedback tool, pause and remember: It’s not the type of tool that matters, but how you use it. Students will not be wowed by your video feedback on their work if it doesn’t make sense, is unhelpful, or took you three weeks to produce.
Our goal here is to present different ways of giving feedback. But the most important piece of the whole equation is the feedback itself. At no point should you use a tool just because it is cool or trendy — use it only if it helps you communicate better with your students. Good feedback should always be frequent, specific, balanced, and timely. Let’s consider each in turn.
4 Key Qualities of Good Feedback
But first, a caveat: Feedback is not the same as criticism.
While often conflated, they are distinct activities with different end goals. Criticism involves judgment and faultfinding, while feedback is evaluative and corrective. Describing a student’s work as “cauld kail het” without any actual guidance on how to improve it will leave her directionless and discouraged. Feedback should tell the recipients where they erred and how they can do better next time. Critique is an important skill for any academic to learn but not one you should use to assess students’ work. So how should we evaluate their work?
The goal of any evaluation and feedback should be to support the learning process, help students understand where they did not meet established standards, and aid them in identifying what they can do better next time. Feedback should guide them toward building new knowledge and increasing their skills.
Two main types of feedback — formative and summative — work together in that process but have different purposes. Formative feedback occurs during the learning process and is used to monitor progress. Summative feedback happens at the end of a lesson or a unit and is used to evaluate the achievement of the learning outcomes.
For example: Perhaps you require students to submit a writing assignment that demonstrates their knowledge of a topic based on their own research and analysis. Maybe you set a series of deadlines along the way for their rough drafts and annotated bibliographies. You would give formative feedback on those rough drafts and bibliographies to make sure students were on the right track. The project’s final grade and assessment is a form of summative assessment.
Throughout the course, students should receive ample formative and summative feedback, but let’s consider some general principles. Good feedback should be:
Frequent. Students rely on your feedback to guide their learning. If they’re not receiving it consistently and often throughout the course, they may have difficulty identifying where to focus their efforts. We recognize that frequency is relative to a number of factors: the type of course, term length, content, credit hours, etc. We recommend you provide students at least one opportunity a week to receive your feedback. It doesn’t have to be a big weekly assignment — it can be something as small as giving an in-class quiz or responding to a student’s discussion post. Weekly feedback may seem impossible in a big class. But most large courses come with teaching assistants who help manage the feedback load.
Specific. Good feedback not only details the areas for improvement but offers actionable advice. Merely telling a student “this needs work” does not provide any guidance on how to fix the problem. Here’s a good example of specific feedback: “I would like to hear more details of why you chose this framework. You also assume the reader knows all about the theories you’re using — but it would help to define what they mean here.”
Balanced. You shouldn’t shy away from pointing out weaknesses in students’ work, but neither should you avoid highlighting their successes. Letting students know what they did well is empowering and reinforcing. Affirm their strengths to balance the flaws in their work. Some call that approach the “feedback sandwich” — corrective feedback sandwiched between positive feedback.
Timely. For it to be most useful, feedback should be given as soon as possible.
Formative feedback that meets all four principles is not just good practice but critical to student success. As Viji Sathy and Kelly A. Hogan explain in their guide on inclusive teaching, frequent, low-stakes assessments are an inclusive teaching practice. Incorporating lots of low-stakes assessments provokes less anxiety because they carry less weight in a student’s grade than a high-stakes midterm or final exam. Frequent, low-stakes assessments also provide more opportunities for students to practice new skills or demonstrate knowledge and get feedback.
At this point you are probably nodding your head but thinking, “you said I was going to save time, but all of this sounds like it takes a lot of time.” Just figuring out how to operate the technology will take time. Once you’ve conquered that, the efficiency comes, in part, from knowing when to use digital-feedback tools.
2 Time-Saving Approaches
We’ll be diving into the when-to-use-technology question shortly. But first we turn to two time-saving techniques — rubrics and peer review — that are essential to providing specific and balanced feedback. Both can be used with or without technology. Our advice:
Use rubrics whenever possible. A rubric is helpful, not just for your own grading, but also to give students a clear understanding of the evaluation criteria before they even begin the assignment. Your grading is more transparent to students, and less prone to bias, when you use a rubric.
Traditionally, professors handed out print copies of their grading rubric, with a row for each criterion and columns that defined the various levels of performance. Now digital tools — standard on most learning-management systems — can be used to create and grade with rubrics. Say you are evaluating a student’s paper. A digital rubric speeds up the grading process by allowing you to click on the appropriate criterion and automatically tally the points and calculate the grade.
Peer review can be a major time saver in large classes. The idea here is for students to evaluate one another’s work. Peer review is especially useful when students are working on scaffolded assignments with multiple opportunities for feedback. With a lot of students, you might not find it feasible to provide frequent and robust feedback in a timely manner at each stage of the assignment. Instead, ask peers to evaluate the earliest drafts, so that students can make improvements before submitting their final version to you for grading.
Peer review can be a logistical challenge. However, most learning-management systems have peer-review tools that make it easier to assign peers and manage the process. Rather than randomly pairing students, some systems even allow the instructor to be strategic about it. For example, an instructor may decide to pair up a student with particular strengths and another who struggles in those areas to assess each other’s work. Peer-review tools also allow instructors to assign peer reviews anonymously. In many systems, it is also possible to have students complete a rubric and comment on specific features of the assignment.
For a more robust set of peer-review features and analytics, it might be worthwhile to explore third-party tools, such as Peerceptiv. Check with your campus IT or online-learning departments to see which tools are already available to you.
When to Use Audio or Video Tools for Feedback
Finding the right time and place to use technology on this front is easier than you might think. Keep in mind: It’s not just about doing this part of your job more quickly or efficiently — it’s about making your feedback more effective for students. And, if you’re worried about accessibility, read on. We’ll cover this in our “Tips on Getting Started” section.
Let’s consider a few scenarios in which audio and video feedback might be the best solution to a pedagogical challenge.
You want to personalize your feedback. A grading rubric may identify common trouble spots in an assignment, but won’t necessarily highlight the specific errors holding an individual student back. That’s where a video-feedback tool comes in handy. A screencast video of a student’s assignment, coupled with you walking the student through the project using audio feedback, allows you to provide detailed, one-on-one support and build a closer connection with every student. Such a personalized approach works well in a small class of 30 students or fewer. It’s more difficult to accomplish in a large class, unless you have TAs.
Or maybe, in evaluating a student’s paper, you usually make handwritten notes and then refer back to them in deciding on the final grade and feedback. With audio or video feedback, you can record your observations, saving time since most of us speak faster than we can type. Audio and video notes typically are more detailed, too, as you explain verbally what you are seeing in the student’s work.
You want to convey nuance. Speaking of voice, there are many times — and many content areas — in which conveying nuance is important. For example, if you are teaching a communications course that emphasizes tone, body language, and social skills, it’s easier to show rather than tell. With video feedback, you can show students exactly what you mean.
The same goes for foreign-language courses. Instructors can use audio files to ensure that tones and dialects are being used or learned properly. Just as you would demonstrate good writing in a writing class, you should demonstrate best practices in a speech-related course.
It’s difficult to evaluate verbal-presentation skills using written feedback alone. With digital tools, you can record their presentations (or have students record themselves) and then use screencasting software to insert your feedback. Besides pointing out content errors, you can use the software to show students when they are repeatedly using “um” to fill gaps, putting their hands in the pockets, or rolling their eyes.
You want to demonstrate a process. In some content areas, such as mathematics, chemistry, and physics, getting the right answer means completing steps in a certain order. Communicating to your learners exactly where an error occurred in a process can be challenging. By using screencasting software, you can point to the exact location of a student’s error and show how it affected the outcome.
One great example of this in mathematics is this video on how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide positive and negative numbers. You can send such a video to a particular student who is struggling with the concept of negative numbers, or upload it for the entire class so that everyone can learn. Technology allows you to provide a mini, one-on-one learning experience.
You want to avoid miscommunication. We’ve all received an email or text that came off as angry or downright rude. Chances are that wasn’t the sender’s intention. If you find that students seem to misinterpret your written communication, or if you receive student evaluation data that show you are perceived as cold and impersonal, audio or video feedback may help to resolve those problems.
Audio and video tools allow students to hear your intonation, listen to you laugh, watch when you are serious, and see when things are OK but could use some polishing.
You want to improve your pedagogy. Faculty interest in classroom innovation is on the rise. Professors are trying all sorts of new techniques to improve the first few minutes of class, to make their teaching more engaging, to hold better class discussions. Buzzwords like active learning, authentic assessment, technology integration, and case-based learning are more and more a part of faculty discussions.
When you try innovative approaches, your usual evaluation techniques may no longer be sufficient. For example, if you assign a project in which the choice of content is subjective or open-ended, a one-size-fits-all grading process may no longer work. Here, again, audio and video feedback can come to the rescue, allowing you to personalize your feedback on a broad array of projects.
You want to be more connected and “present” in your classroom. Especially in an online classroom, audio or video feedback may help students feel less isolated. They may want a personal connection with their instructor for a number of reasons — they’re new to college, they’ve never had an online course before, they’re insecure about their abilities. Other students may feel uncomfortable “bothering” the instructor with questions or speaking up in front of their peers. When you use audio or video feedback, especially in online environments, students begin to see you as a real person giving feedback — not just someone behind a computer screen. You become human.
In face-to-face teaching, digital tools can help you provide feedback more efficiently. You may not have time to meet with students in your office as much as you (or they) would like (especially in the case of large class sizes). Students who can’t attend office hours, for whatever reason, may feel motivated to learn if they are able to see and hear your voice giving them specific and personalized feedback. It also may help them to feel less separated from you as an instructor. In large classes, in addition to utilizing TAs, peer review and audio and video feedback can help learners feel connected to you and to one another.
You want to keep up with the times. Think of the last time you needed to fix something. Did you ransack the house looking for the owner’s manual, or did you quickly search for a how-to video on YouTube? If you did the latter, think of all of your students who are probably doing the same.
Your learners may be more open to watching and listening to what you have to say, more so than reading it — so long as you don’t send long recordings (we recommend you limit audio and video feedback to three to five minutes). By using video and audio feedback tools, you are helping students solve their study-related problems in much the same way that they (or you) would have hopped on YouTube to find out how to change a tire.
When to Stick to Text Feedback
Clearly we believe in the merits of audio and video feedback. But sometimes, written feedback is still your best bet. Even when that’s the case, technology can help you provide that written feedback with greater efficiency.
For example, if your assignment requirements are clearly laid out, with straightforward and well-defined expectations, you might be better off using an online rubric that allows brief text-based comments. Here are a few digital options for text-based feedback:
- Annotation tools. Some course-management systems have built-in annotation tools that you can use to leave comments and feedback directly on a student submission. You can use them without having to download each and every file, which saves a lot of time.
- Built-in rubrics. You may have designed your own rubrics for assignments, but if your LMS or other learning platform has a built-in rubric tool, we highly recommend you give it a try. Built-in rubrics offer time-saving features such as reusable comments and a total-points column that will automatically add up the points you’ve assigned for each criterion of the rubric — another time-saver.
- Automated feedback. Also known as “computer-assisted assessment,” this tool basically lets you reuse your written feedback. Some LMS rubrics or other grading platforms allow you to save a comment you wrote for one student and use it again for others who made the same mistake or achieved the same success. In addition, your LMS may allow you to preprogram question-specific — or even answer-specific — feedback for your auto-graded quizzes. For example, for a correct answer, the automatic feedback might say, “Good job,” and for an incorrect answer, it might say, “Please rewatch part two of this week’s lecture,” or, “Please revisit pages 27-29 of your textbook.”
- Electronic surveys or live polling. Both have gained in popularity as a fast way to gauge how well your class as a whole is understanding the material. A thumbs-up rating, a star system, or a simple yes-or-no question can give you valuable feedback on class topics and help you tailor the content and emphasis. You can also use surveys and polls to get a quick read on how students think the course is going, and then make adjustments.
Tips on Getting Started
Now that you have a feel for when to use digital-feedback tools, here are a few tips and tricks to get you started.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most digital tools have online support forums, and most colleges and universities have dedicated staff members to help you learn the technology and adopt it in your courses. Technology is constantly evolving. We’d like to think this guide will tell you what you need to know on this front, but it’s hard to keep up with every new feature, functionality, and gadget out there.
That’s why it’s important to ask for help, and keep asking. Think of your own classroom. You want students to reach out when they need help or don’t understand content, right? Just as you support learners, there are people out there — e.g., instructional designers, educational technologists, information technologists — who want to help and support you, too.
Start with tools your institution already has. One of the easiest ways to get started is to use the digital-feedback tools integrated into your campus LMS. They’ve already been used and tested, meaning that many bugs or tweaks have been worked out and solutions to common issues are readily available. Your institution may have a plethora of resources — getting-started tips, reference videos, dedicated support staff, FAQs, and the like.
Try the digital-feedback tools of a system with which you are already comfortable. Instead of trying to learn a new technology, consider what screencasting software or web-conferencing tools you use for other work purposes. The transition may be easier because the learning curve is less steep. You know how to use the technology; you just have to figure out how it can help you give individualized feedback to your students.
Mix it up. One size does not fit all. There is no universal best practice for providing feedback. So vary your approach. Use a mix of rubrics, written comments, annotations, and audio or video. The feedback tool should fit the student and the activity. For example, you would not offer the same type of feedback for a multiple-choice quiz as you would for a 10-page paper. Context is critical when it comes to using technology in your classroom and giving feedback.
Make sure your choices are accessible for everyone. As with all course design, accessibility should be taken into consideration when giving feedback. If you create audio or video feedback, make sure all students can access it. If you are unable to provide captions or transcripts, ask students if they prefer written comments. If the tool you are using provides automatic captioning, make sure you speak clearly for the greatest accuracy. A broad range of students benefit from accessible feedback tools, not just those with particular needs.
Ask your students. They are happy to tell you how they feel about your teaching methods or other aspects of the course, especially when granted anonymity. So why not ask what they think about your feedback practices? That can be done via a survey or a poll. By asking for their views, you are helping put power in their hands over their own learning. And in the process you learn which feedback methods will work best for them
Expect a few roadblocks. That includes technology limits — on file sizes or on downloading or access issues (for those with slow or limited internet). You will also face cost limitations. But as with anything, the more familiar you become with these tools, the better they will work for you and your students. Experience using these tools, ultimately, will help you save time when providing feedback to your students and improve the quality of that feedback.
Common Pitfalls and Smart Solutions
Don’t assume technology will solve every problem. It’s worth repeating: Context is critical when it comes to using technology. If your course evaluations rate your feedback as lousy, delivering it via a shiny new digital tool is unlikely to fix the root of the problem. Maybe you need to reconsider the substance of your feedback. Audio or video feedback should not be used for all assignments, either. Try to vary your feedback techniques and select the most appropriate method for each assignment.
Avoid making long videos. Be sensitive to students’ time and file-size constraints. Just because they prefer audio or video feedback doesn’t mean they want to sit through an overly long recording. That may deter them from watching/listening at all, especially if it takes a long time to download. We would recommend that you keep your feedback recordings to under five minutes. Try to be concise and on topic in your feedback. This is not the time for a lecture.
Video and audio feedback doesn’t have to be perfect. You can waste a lot of time trying to edit out every pause, “um,” or mistake. You can’t go back and delete those verbal tics in real time, so don’t worry about doing so digitally. In fact, hearing your actual voice and tone is one element of audio and video feedback that appeals to students. We’re not saying don’t practice at all. Especially if you are new to this form of feedback, practice what you are going to say before you hit record.
There is such a thing as too much information. In creating videos, it’s easy to overlook cognitive overload. In layman’s terms, that is when you present too much information too fast. Make sure you only talk about whatever it is you are pointing to on the video. If you are talking about a paper’s organization but suddenly start highlighting another element (say a table or graph), you risk confusing the student. To minimize that problem, use the cursor or a highlighting tool to point out exactly what you are talking about so that your voice and the image(s) align for the learner. That is called signaling, and it helps to reduce the cognitive load for your students.
Have a plan. Don’t add a new digital tool at the last minute or without preparation. The technology may have limits or issues (i.e., user maximums, long download time, large file sizes, associated fees, etc.) that you need to be aware of. Become familiar with the tool and its limitations. Plan how you will use it. As you teach a course, take notes on what technologies would or would not work in different situations. Add a question to the end of the course that asks students for their point of view on adding or using a specific technology. Their feedback can guide your instructional choices when you next teach the course.
What follows is a list of applications and technologies that we’ve found most useful in providing feedback. We do suggest that you first check with your department and/or institution to see what is already available (and locally supported) for instructors on your campus.
- SoundCloud: An easy audio-recording tool that you can embed in your learning-management system so students can click an arrow and play your recording.
- Vocaroo: A simple, PC-friendly tool for recording your voice. You can immediately get a link to the recording and give it to students.
- Screencast-O-Matic: A screencasting tool that allows you to record up to 15 minutes.
- Kaizena: A site that helps you provide verbal feedback directly on student documents and track their progress by comparing your feedback history over multiple assignments.
- Screencastify: A screen recorder for Chrome (via extension) that requires no download.
- VoiceThread: A learning tool that allows the instructor and the students to participate in a pre-uploaded presentation by providing text, audio, and/or video discussions.
- Snagit: A screenshot program by TechSmith that captures both video and audio.
- Camtasia: Another program by TechSmith that allows users to create video via screencast or direct recording.
- Panopto: A program that provides recording, screencasting, and video streaming for users.
- Hippo Video: An all-in-one, cloud-based, video-management system that allows users to capture, edit, and share video, audio, and screen recordings.
A starter kit:
For newbies to digital feedback tools, here are the best resources to get you started:
- A list of 75 digital tools and apps that instructors can use to assess student performance and provide them with feedback.
- The Chronicle’s guide, “How to Make Smart Choices About Tech for Your Course,” by Michelle D. Miller.
- A column from The Hechinger Report, “Has Video Killed the Red Grading Pen?”
- MERLOT: Part of the California State University system, the acronym stands for Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching. It offers thousands of online-learning materials for educators around the world.
Holly Fiock is an instructional designer in the College of Education at Purdue University. Contact her via her LinkedIn profile. Heather Garcia is an instructional design specialist at Oregon State University Ecampus. Reach her on Twitter @heathermargar
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