The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

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Original Article 

Improving Feedback to Students Online: Teaching Tips From Experienced Faculty

Wanda Bonnel, PhD, GNP-BC, ANEF; Heidi Boehm, MS, RN

Abstract

Background:

As nurses seek to advance their education through online courses, considering best practices in feedback is especially important. Rich and rapid feedback has long been considered a best teaching practice, but how to provide this feedback in an online course environment is not always clear. This study was conducted to identify how experienced faculty provide feedback to online students.

Methods:

This descriptive exploratory study surveyed faculty about their approach to feedback with broad exploratory questions and a validation survey. The sample included faculty in four different states who benchmark online educational best practices.

Results:

Content analysis was used to evaluate data, with 15 themes emerging. These themes were organized into three categories: using best available tools; having a system; and creating a feedback-rich environment.

Conclusion:

The findings support and extend the guidelines for best practices in online education, including a focus on multisource feedback opportunities during course design.

Abstract

Background:

As nurses seek to advance their education through online courses, considering best practices in feedback is especially important. Rich and rapid feedback has long been considered a best teaching practice, but how to provide this feedback in an online course environment is not always clear. This study was conducted to identify how experienced faculty provide feedback to online students.

Methods:

This descriptive exploratory study surveyed faculty about their approach to feedback with broad exploratory questions and a validation survey. The sample included faculty in four different states who benchmark online educational best practices.

Results:

Content analysis was used to evaluate data, with 15 themes emerging. These themes were organized into three categories: using best available tools; having a system; and creating a feedback-rich environment.

Conclusion:

The findings support and extend the guidelines for best practices in online education, including a focus on multisource feedback opportunities during course design.

Dr. Bonnel is Associate Professor, University of Kansas School of Nursing, Kansas City, Kansas. Ms. Boehm is Unit Educator, University of Kansas Hospital, Kansas City, Kansas.

The authors disclose that they have no significant financial interests in any product or class of products discussed directly or indirectly in this activity. This research was supported in part by a National League for Nursing Education Research Grant.

Presented at the Midwest Nursing Research Society Conference, March 28–31, 2008, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Address correspondence to Wanda Bonnel, PhD, GNP-BC, ANEF, University of Kansas School of Nursing, 3901 Rainbow Blvd., Kansas City, KS 66160. E-mail: wbonnel@kumc.edu.

Received: March 15, 2011
Accepted: June 17, 2011
Posted Online: July 22, 2011

Opportunities for online education continue to emerge in staff development, continuing education, and traditional nursing education programs. As broad initiatives encourage entry-level nurses to gain advanced education, the need for continued learning gains new emphasis. Many nurses seeking bachelor’s and graduate degrees are taking programs offered online. Particularly if students are isolated as they take these courses, the availability of course offerings designed with educational best practices that help to engage learners is critical. Although rich and rapid feedback has long been considered a best practice, how best to provide this in an online environment continues to evolve. Additionally, advancing technologies provide new ways to offer students feedback on course activities. This article reports a descriptive exploratory study of experienced faculty best practices in providing feedback to students in online courses.

Background

Online learning and web-enhanced courses have become staples in many traditional nursing education programs. As vast changes in the health care system call for rapid deployment of content and evaluation of staff competency, opportunities for staff development and continuing education in online venues continue to increase (Gerkin, Taylor, & Weatherby, 2009; Phillips, 2005). Although online education provides a unique opportunity to meet the needs of nursing staff with varied schedules and in varied settings, providing online content presents new issues for educators. With the complexities of online education, promoting adequate student engagement with feedback on assignments can be challenging. Faculty who are new to online education may have limited mentors or guides to direct them in implementing best practices. Trial-and-error approaches are a poor use of faculty and student time and resources (Bonnel, Starling, Wambach, & Tarnow, 2003).

Faculty competency in providing feedback is an important component of student evaluation. This includes providing feedback that is timely, constructive, and thoughtful (National League for Nursing, 2005). In the online setting, limited face-to-face student contact requires new approaches to providing feedback. Faculty who are new to online education face challenges in adjusting to teaching and learning in this unique environment. Even then, little attention may be paid to orienting faculty or suggesting strategies to optimize educators’ time. Detailed guidelines for faculty feedback have not been well established.

Additionally, rapid advances in technology create new opportunities for providing feedback to students. For example, as online education expands to include enhanced use of course learning management systems, these tools have become a staple, providing unique opportunities to enhance feedback (Bonnel & Smith, 2010). Considering best practices in feedback is especially important.

Appropriate use of technology presents both challenges and opportunities (Markert & Backer, 2009). It has been noted that opportunities for using technology to enhance online education have not been maximized. Although collaborative tools, such as discussion boards, have the potential to enhance course interaction and feedback, Schmieder (2008) noted that their use often falls short in implementation.

Students also need opportunities to gain an understanding of what feedback means in a particular course. The importance of learning to be an online learner was a theme reported in Hummel’s (2006) survey of online students. The concept of “knowing how to be a learner” was also described by Fink (2003) as part of a successful educational experience. In a review of the literature on best educational practices in providing feedback, Bonnel (2008) reported that components of quality feedback included designated faculty and student roles. Students should be able to articulate the goals for learning, present information on how well they are achieving these goals, and apply feedback to improve their performance (Walvoord, Anderson, & Angelo, 2010).

Feedback has been described as assessment-based information communicated to students to help them reflect and work further with the information provided; for feedback to be complete, students must construct self-knowledge relevant to course learning and set further learning goals (Bonnel, Ludwig, & Smith, 2007). According to the best practices literature, prompt feedback contributes to student learning success (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996).

Various educational theorists have also identified feedback as central to learning. Vella (2001) noted that good feedback helps students to frame learning and challenges them to integrate new information into their practices. Fink (2003) considered feedback a key component of integrated course design. Brookfield and Preskill (2005) noted the role of good feedback in “meaning making” as a part of learning. These approaches are consistent with constructivist concepts that incorporate a focus on learner-centered teaching and strategies that engage the student (Savery & Duffy, 1995).

Broad educational research on feedback was comprehensively reviewed by Mory (2004). He noted that most studies of feedback were completed from a behavioralist, or traditional faculty-directed, model. He found that limited research was available on feedback from the constructivist view that focuses on the learner’s perspective and participation in learning.

Although feedback has been addressed in relation to clinical and classroom education, there is limited research on feedback in online education. The following assumptions were made for this discussion: detailed guidelines for providing online course feedback to students have not been well established; feedback has the potential to improve student learning; and best feedback practices may vary by the type of course, student characteristics, course subject, and faculty preference. Feedback is considered a formative evaluation that nurtures further learning rather than a final summative evaluation. Concepts guiding this study include best practices in online teaching (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996); a learner-focused integrated course design (Fink, 2003); and roles for both faculty and students in feedback (Bonnel et al., 2007).

Challenges encountered in providing effective and efficient feedback in online courses can be numerous and complex. A literature review identified no studies specific to faculty feedback practices in online education. Consistent with the need for more information on this topic, this study was conducted to identify the practices of experienced faculty in providing feedback to online students. The research questions that guided the study were as follows: What are the practices of experienced faculty in providing online course feedback? What specific strategies promote efficient, effective feedback?

Methods

This descriptive exploratory study was completed as a two-part survey. Phase I explored faculty background, experiences, and approaches to feedback with broad exploratory questions. A purposeful sample was recruited from a population of faculty who benchmark online educational best practices at five schools in four different states. Internet survey invitations were sent to these 120 faculty, with respondents completing surveys online. Phase II further explored and validated the themes identified in phase I. Approval for the study was obtained through the university institutional review board.

The phase I survey tool was developed as a structured survey instrument, including eight items seeking demographic and background data and eight open-ended survey questions seeking descriptors of best feedback practices. Support for content validity (2 content experts) and face validity (piloted with 10 practicing educators) was obtained. Sample open-ended questions and responses are shown in Sidebar 1.

Sidebar 1

Sample Survey Questions and Responses

When you consider the feedback that you give to online students, what is your preferred approach?

  • “I use track changes, saving the file and sending it as an attachment.”
  • “In group work, I like to post a summary that can relate to all students and provide a synopsis of the group work.”
  • “I prefer to give comments on drafts of assignments that will later be turned in for a grade.”

Sample Survey Questions and Responses

What tips can you share for providing timely feedback?

  • “Providing feedback in a timely manner is really important. Clear language is also really important to avoid being misunderstood.”
  • “Offering frequent, specific feedback to individual students demonstrates genuine interest in their learning and affects their performance positively.”

Sample Survey Questions and Responses

What are your best examples of strategies for providing feedback in large classes?

  • “Using group e-mail, announcements, or discussion group entries is essential when providing feedback to larger groups of students.”
  • “Divide large classes into groups and assign course activities to be completed in groups.”
Content analysis for key themes, using Miles and Huberman’s (1994) framework for discovery, guided data analysis. Final codes were generated and defined to identify the range of themes. Reliability and validity included a decision trail and inter-rater reliability coding to consensus. In phase II, participants were asked to validate the appropriateness of the themes (agree-disagree-neutral) and comment on the strengths, weaknesses, or needed alterations for each theme or descriptor.

Results

Demographic Data

The response rate for this two-part survey was 20% for phase I (n = 24) and 18% for phase II (n = 22). Respondents were experienced nurse educators who had been teaching for an average of 21.4 years (SD = 10.3). The average number of years teaching online was 5.1 (SD = 3.1). Most of the study participants were teaching graduate courses (84%), and the average class size was 25 students (SD = 11.0).

Participant belief in the importance of feedback practices that supported student learning was conveyed across responses. Comments indicated that participants saw feedback as important to their role of being a good online educator. They also noted that best practices in online education were typically missing from their own educator coursework and indicated that they gained ideas primarily from self-directed learning and continuing education. Most participants were self-educated in online teaching methods (53%), but continuing education classes (32%) and coursework (15%) also supported their learning. As noted, participants were experienced in online education, supporting their knowledge of feedback approaches.

Categories and Themes

Fifteen themes describing feedback practices emerged from the open-ended responses. For each of the 15 themes that emerged from the data, descriptors were developed. Confirmatory surveys in phase II validated that the themes developed were appropriate feedback approaches (all respondents, with the exception of one neutral response, agreed).

The 15 themes generated were organized into three faculty practice categories specific to feedback: (1) using best available tools (providing an overview of specific technologies and teaching tools that can assist in providing feedback); (2) having a system (providing guidance in helping faculty to organize systematically in providing feedback); and (3) creating a feedback-rich environment (expanding the concept of diverse feedback modes to integrate into online courses). The following discussion describes the three categories, including sample descriptors and practice tips that emerged from the data.

Category 1: Using Best Available Tools. Category 1 addresses the use of best available tools to help faculty optimize resources for feedback. The following themes were identified: maximize the technology; and use rubrics, templates, and automated responses. This category provides an overview of specific technologies and teaching tools that can assist faculty in providing feedback. Participants noted that their best feedback approaches were often multifactorial. Sample comments are provided for the two themes in this category.

Maximize the Technology. This theme was described as using technology to its fullest potential to promote feedback. It included creative use of newer technologies to facilitate communication. In addition to using more traditional technologies, such as e-mail and asynchronous discussions, to provide feedback, faculty shared a variety of tools that supported enhanced feedback, including online office hours; live chats; voice-over PowerPoint presentations; announcement functions; synchronous presentations, such as Wimba or Elluminate; course management survey functions; tracking changes; messaging; and concept mapping tools. Sample participant comments included the following:

“Using the announcement section is really helpful in answering specific class questions that are common to all students rather than answering them individually.”

“I like to use tools such as Wimba for synchronous discussions with the archive feature turned on for students who can’t be there.”

 

Use Rubrics, Templates, and Automated Responses. Rubrics provide schematics for assessing knowledge and increasing the efficiency of feedback responses; templates and automated response sets also provide advantages. Sample faculty comments included the following:

“When I provide feedback, I show students what the criteria were, letting them know what went well and what could have improved their grade.”

“I use automated, low-stakes quizzes to test comprehension and completion. I use these to review difficult concepts and allow students to verify their comprehension before we move on to the next topic.”

 

Providing formative student feedback can be challenging, but tools are available to improve the time spent and value provided with feedback. As educational technologies continue to improve with learning management systems and other resources, information from this category is particularly important. Automated tools, such as self-graded quizzes, within learning management systems provide support for structuring learning opportunities and providing timely feedback. Using prompts or templates within these learning management systems also helps to organize feedback from semester to semester. Faculty can learn about tools that are currently available and learn strategies for optimizing these tools in providing feedback.

Tools such as rubrics can also help faculty to focus their efforts and use time more efficiently (Suski, 2004). These tools are described as explicit summaries outlining essential criteria for a project and including each criterion’s rating potential (Bonnel & Smith, 2010). Rubrics are important guides in promoting communication about the strengths and weaknesses of a project, helping to promote clarity, consistency, and thoroughness. These structured guides may be particularly beneficial for students at a distance.

Using the best available tools can make it easier for students to access feedback and for faculty to acknowledge students. In addition, these tools can help faculty monitor and track student work and follow student progress. Just as faculty keep up with advancing content for teaching and learning, they need to keep up with new technologies.

Category 2: Having a System. Participant responses within category 2 focused on the importance of having a system for providing feedback. The eight themes within this category guide faculty in addressing organizational and time challenges when providing online students with feedback on assignments. Although participant examples addressed basic concepts, such as calendars, schedules, and course phases for feedback, much more information was included. Sidebar 2 lists themes and identifies descriptors for this category. Sample comments are provided for the following themes: be proactive; guide and coach; and synthesize.

Sidebar 2

Identified Themes and Brief Descriptors

Category 1: Using Best Available Tools

  • Maximize the technology. Use technology to its fullest potential to promote feedback; this includes creative use of newer technologies that facilitate communication and interactions.

  • Use rubrics, templates, and automated responses. Use selected best available tools to assess knowledge and increase the efficiency of responses to feedback.

Category 2: Having a System

  • Be proactive. Minimize potential problems through early guidance and restating or clarifying expectations; act in advance to deal with anticipated challenges.

  • Schedule feedback. Use a systematic approach to providing feedback; make feedback a priority in your schedule; use prompts such as calendar reminders that are conducive to both the educator’s schedule and students’ needs.

  • Plan by the numbers. The way feedback is given is affected by the size of the class, so plan accordingly.

  • Communicate clearly. Model professional communication techniques. Offer praise and constructive feedback to individuals in both private venues (such as e-mail) and public formats (such as online discussions).

  • Be timely. Share timely, regular feedback with students, particularly focusing on the contracted syllabus guides.

  • Grade the draft. Provide feedback on student drafts with the expectation that the final project will be improved because of changes made based on the feedback.

  • Guide and coach. Give feedback that provides direction and offers support and encouragement; use the opportunity to promote critical thinking skills.

  • Synthesize. Develop summaries from a review of discussions or assignments and share common themes and implications with the online class; this provides further reflection opportunities for course members.

Category 3: Creating a Feedback-Rich Environment

  • Optimize student self-reflection. Use assignments such as journal writing or self-assessments that stimulate students’ self-examination and introspection to evaluate performance and promote critical thinking skills.

  • Use peer review. Provide opportunities for peer critique, for students to evaluate each other’s work or performance and provide feedback.

  • Vary feedback by the assignment. Consider the type of assignment when determining the best approach to feedback.

  • Build groups. Use groups in a variety of ways, such as assigning group activities and providing feedback through communication with specific groups; address issues of group grades in the course syllabus.

  • Continue the conversation. Provide students opportunities to continue learning, such as ending feedback with prompts for goal setting or questions that challenge students to think “what next?”

Be Proactive. Within this theme, faculty were reminded to think about feedback early in the course to prevent later challenges for students. Sample participant comments included the following:

“I use methods that are proactive and that may help the student to improve the final product.”

“If a student is headed off track in a discussion, I usually raise a question, trying to encourage the student to reconsider the issue. Students want to validate their knowledge and get assurances that they are on target.”

 

Guide and Coach. Participants emphasized the importance of giving feedback that provides direction and offers support and encouragement. They also noted that feedback can be used to demonstrate professional text-based communication and increase critical thinking opportunities. Sample comments include the following:

“I give individualized comments that guide student learning and future learning activities. I explain principles with examples or confirm what is being said.”

“Through my feedback I definitely believe I have a great opportunity to demonstrate genuine interest, expertise, and encouragement of students’ learning.”

 

Synthesize. Synthesis includes providing a summary to the group. If the assignment is a discussion, synthesis involves reviewing the shared comments, seeking common themes, and relating these points to the purpose of the discussion. Several faculty wrote enthusiastically about the importance of synthesis, as follows:

“This process includes keeping notes as I grade each paper. I gather all of the postings and develop a list of themes or summarize general comments or high and low points about an examination or assignment once it is graded.”

“I keep notes as I grade each paper and then synthesize the notes for a group response.”

 

Having a system for providing feedback helps faculty focus their efforts and use time more efficiently. A systematic approach also aids in course development, reminding faculty to allocate assignments and provide appropriate feedback over the course of the semester to enhance learning and cope with time commitments (Bonnel et al., 2007). The theme “be proactive” also reminds faculty to consider that students often need more feedback at the beginning of the semester or the start of a project. The theme “guide and coach” conveys the importance of using a planned, systematic approach to foster a positive tone in providing course feedback, supporting and encouraging students while providing guidance. The theme “synthesize” provides an opportunity for faculty to group comments and relate them to learning themes so that all students can benefit and extend their learning.

Other themes identified within this category (see Sidebar 2) include the following: schedule feedback; plan by the numbers; communicate clearly; be timely; and grade the draft. These themes provide further ideas for organizing a system for providing feedback.

Category 3: Creating a Feedback-Rich Environment. Within this category, participant responses suggested a variety of opportunities to integrate and enhance feedback in online courses. This included integrating a variety of sources of feedback to meet diverse student needs. Sidebar 2 lists themes and identifies descriptors within this category. Sample participant comments follow for the following three themes: optimize student self-reflection; use peer review; and vary feedback by the assignment.

Optimize Student Self-Reflection. Within this theme, faculty used assignments such as journal writing and self-assessment that stimulate students’ self-examination and introspection to evaluate performance and promote critical thinking skills. Sample comments included the following:

“I ask students to reflect on a specific area of growth or needed improvement related to a course topic or competency. What was the situation? What did you do? What did you learn? What is the significance?”

“I ask students to comment on their own participation and thinking as part of the course through written assignments, in addition to the content activity. What was the most important information? What was the most surprising finding?”

 

Use Peer Review. Within this theme, faculty provided opportunities for peer critique in which student peers evaluate colleagues’ work and provide feedback to each other. Sample faculty comments included the following:

“Peers are invited to respond to each other’s postings. I have seen some very good interaction between the students about each topic.”

“I have students do a review of a classmate’s paper, much like the peer reviewer responsibilities for a journal.”

 

Vary Feedback by the Assignment. This theme reminded faculty to consider the type of assignment when determining the best feedback approach. Sample comments included the following:

“Different feedback tools provide differing learning opportunities.”

“Feedback varies depending on the assignment. It can mean faculty participating in discussion boards or giving rich feedback on graded assignments.”

 

Further themes from this category (Sidebar 2) included build groups and continue the conversation. Each theme provided ideas for integrating diverse feedback modes into courses. The themes in this category support and enhance the concept of rich and rapid feedback and support feedback opportunities for engaging students in further learning. The use of varied feedback formats provides opportunities to engage students with diverse auditory and visual learning styles.

Optimizing various feedback methods through course and assignment design creates multiple learning opportunities. Fink (2003) identified feedback as a key component of integrated course design. This includes building into the course increased opportunities for diverse sources of feedback. Students have acknowledged that strategies such as group feedback, automated feedback, peer feedback, and self-reflection are important factors in their learning (Bonnel et al., 2007). In courses that provide multiple sources of feedback, such as self-assessment and peer review, students are encouraged to take on new responsibilities and gain new learning opportunities. This can set the stage for further professional responsibilities.

Discussion and Implications

The themes generated from this survey of faculty with experience in online education supported a variety of approaches and provided guidance for offering feedback online. During the phase II theme validation, a noted strength was the applicability of the 15 themes across a wide variety of student levels and course content. Additional strengths of the themes were noted as including positive, proactive approaches to feedback. Themes are consistent with quality initiatives for online education and extend feedback best practices for online education (Bonnel et al., 2007; Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996).

The themes can benefit faculty across diverse programs, including staff development, continuing education, and traditional classroom instruction. For example, as nursing staff development opportunities move online, educators who are seeking ways to enhance online learning for staff cohorts can benefit from these strategies, enhancing, for example, feedback that incorporates self-assessment, peer assessment, and group feedback. In staff development as well as traditional undergraduate education, better understanding the opportunities and challenges associated with online education can promote student learning. This includes coaching and guiding students in seeking further feedback as needed.

The themes identified in this study can be used as a type of guideline that might be developed into an orientation or self-assessment checklist for faculty who are new to online education. The themes provide a resource for seasoned faculty to use in assessing their current feedback strategies as well as an opportunity to expand their approaches.

The study findings support and extend the current understanding of feedback practices. Themes generated in this “big picture” approach to providing feedback are rich with opportunities for further study. The study has limits in providing a descriptive faculty survey from just five schools. The responses are considered thought provoking, but are not definitive. Additional research is needed, particularly with new generations of technology and with diverse students, including international students, students with English as a second language, and students of varying ages and at different educational program levels.

Conclusion

Faculty respondents described feedback as a way to enhance their approach to online teaching. They offered suggestions for diverse, time-efficient methods to provide feedback. Particularly with increasingly diverse learners and technological changes, attention to best feedback practices is indicated. The concept of feedback helps to link teaching and learning and can be incorporated with other online best teaching practices. Nurses advancing their education with online learning benefit from feedback strategies that encourage and promote learning. With increasing opportunities for online staff development, continuing education, and student education, an increased emphasis on best practices in online education is indicated.

References

  • Bonnel, W. (2008). Improving feedback to students in online courses. Nursing Education Perspectives, 29(5), 290–294.
  • Bonnel, W., Ludwig, C. & Smith, J. (2007). Providing feedback in online courses: What do students want? How do we do that?Annual Review of Nursing Education, 6, 205–221.
  • Bonnel, W. & Smith, K. (2010). Teaching technologies in nursing and the health professions. New York, NY: Springer.
  • Bonnel, W., Starling, C. K., Wambach, K. & Tarnow, K. (2003). Blended roles: Preparing the advanced practice nurse educator/clinician with a web-based nurse educator certificate program. Journal of Professional Nursing, 19(6), 347–353. doi:10.1016/S8755-7223(03)00130-3 [CrossRef]
  • Brookfield, S. & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Chickering, A. W. & Ehrmann, S. C. (1996, October). Implementing the seven principles: Technology as lever. American Association of Higher Education Bulletin. Retrieved from www.aahea.org/bulletins/articles/sevenprinciples.htm
  • Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Gerkin, K., Taylor, T. & Weatherby, F. (2009). The perception of learning and satisfaction of nurses in the online environment. Journal for Nurses in Staff Development, 25(1), 8–13. doi:10.1097/NND.0b013e318194b6a4 [CrossRef]
  • Hummel, H. G. (2006). Feedback model to support designers of blended learning courses. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl
  • Markert, L. & Backer, P. (2009). Contemporary technology innovations, issues, and perspectives. Tinley Park, IL: Goodheart-Willcox.
  • Miles, M. B. & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Mory, E. H. (2004). Feedback research revisited. In Jonassen, D. H. (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (pp. 745–783). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • National League for Nursing. (2005). Core competencies of nurse educators with task statements. Retrieved from www.nln.org/profdev/pdf/corecompetencies.pdf
  • Phillips, J. (2005). Strategies for active learning in online continuing education. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 36(2), 77–83.
  • Savery, J. & Duffy, T. (1995). Problem based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. Educational Technology, 35, 31–38.
  • Schmieder, E. (2008). Communication: The tool to interact with and control your online classroom environment. Retrieved from www.itdl.org/Journal/Mar_08/article03.htm
  • Suski, L. (2004). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. San Francisco, CA: Anker.
  • Vella, J. (2001). Taking learning to task: Creative strategies for teaching adults. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Walvoord, B., Anderson, V. & Angelo, T. A. (2010). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sidebar 1

When you consider the feedback that you give to online students, what is your preferred approach?

  • “I use track changes, saving the file and sending it as an attachment.”
  • “In group work, I like to post a summary that can relate to all students and provide a synopsis of the group work.”
  • “I prefer to give comments on drafts of assignments that will later be turned in for a grade.”

Sample Survey Questions and Responses

What tips can you share for providing timely feedback?

  • “Providing feedback in a timely manner is really important. Clear language is also really important to avoid being misunderstood.”
  • “Offering frequent, specific feedback to individual students demonstrates genuine interest in their learning and affects their performance positively.”

Sample Survey Questions and Responses

What are your best examples of strategies for providing feedback in large classes?

  • “Using group e-mail, announcements, or discussion group entries is essential when providing feedback to larger groups of students.”
  • “Divide large classes into groups and assign course activities to be completed in groups.”

Sample Survey Questions and Responses

Sidebar 2

Category 1: Using Best Available Tools

  • Maximize the technology. Use technology to its fullest potential to promote feedback; this includes creative use of newer technologies that facilitate communication and interactions.

  • Use rubrics, templates, and automated responses. Use selected best available tools to assess knowledge and increase the efficiency of responses to feedback.

Category 2: Having a System

  • Be proactive. Minimize potential problems through early guidance and restating or clarifying expectations; act in advance to deal with anticipated challenges.

  • Schedule feedback. Use a systematic approach to providing feedback; make feedback a priority in your schedule; use prompts such as calendar reminders that are conducive to both the educator’s schedule and students’ needs.

  • Plan by the numbers. The way feedback is given is affected by the size of the class, so plan accordingly.

  • Communicate clearly. Model professional communication techniques. Offer praise and constructive feedback to individuals in both private venues (such as e-mail) and public formats (such as online discussions).

  • Be timely. Share timely, regular feedback with students, particularly focusing on the contracted syllabus guides.

  • Grade the draft. Provide feedback on student drafts with the expectation that the final project will be improved because of changes made based on the feedback.

  • Guide and coach. Give feedback that provides direction and offers support and encouragement; use the opportunity to promote critical thinking skills.

  • Synthesize. Develop summaries from a review of discussions or assignments and share common themes and implications with the online class; this provides further reflection opportunities for course members.

Category 3: Creating a Feedback-Rich Environment

  • Optimize student self-reflection. Use assignments such as journal writing or self-assessments that stimulate students’ self-examination and introspection to evaluate performance and promote critical thinking skills.

  • Use peer review. Provide opportunities for peer critique, for students to evaluate each other’s work or performance and provide feedback.

  • Vary feedback by the assignment. Consider the type of assignment when determining the best approach to feedback.

  • Build groups. Use groups in a variety of ways, such as assigning group activities and providing feedback through communication with specific groups; address issues of group grades in the course syllabus.

  • Continue the conversation. Provide students opportunities to continue learning, such as ending feedback with prompts for goal setting or questions that challenge students to think “what next?”

Feedback

Bonnel, W. & Boehm, H. (2011). Improving Feedback to Students Online: Teaching Tips From Experienced Faculty. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 42(X), xxx–xxx.

  1. New technologies expand opportunities for educators to provide increasing numbers of online students with rich and rapid feedback.

  2. Data from experienced faculty provide guidance on offering feedback within three categories: using best available tools; having a system; and creating a feedback-rich environment.

  3. Incorporating varied feedback modes within the course design phase helps to meet the learning needs of diverse students.

Authors

Dr. Bonnel is Associate Professor, University of Kansas School of Nursing, Kansas City, Kansas. Ms. Boehm is Unit Educator, University of Kansas Hospital, Kansas City, Kansas.

The authors disclose that they have no significant financial interests in any product or class of products discussed directly or indirectly in this activity. This research was supported in part by a National League for Nursing Education Research Grant.

Presented at the Midwest Nursing Research Society Conference, March 28–31, 2008, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Address correspondence to Wanda Bonnel, PhD, GNP-BC, ANEF, University of Kansas School of Nursing, 3901 Rainbow Blvd., Kansas City, KS 66160. E-mail: wbonnel@kumc.edu

Received: March 15, 2011
Accepted: June 17, 2011
Posted Online: July 22, 2011

10.3928/00220124-20110715-02

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