In virtual classrooms, building instructor presence relies heavily on the feedback that you provide to students. Through this feedback, you enable students to identify their strengths, target areas to improve, and stay on track. Well-crafted feedback also reminds students that you—a committed expert in the subject area—are guiding their learning from afar. In this article, we review the six characteristics of feedback that help you empower students in virtual environments.
You will use different mediums to communicate with students online than you did in physical classrooms. For instance, you will typically engage with online students by sending emails, providing audio recordings of comments, and setting up live video calls. But the quality of feedback matters more than the medium that delivers it. By providing effective feedback, you will have a powerful method for keeping students on track to meeting their personal, professional, and academic goals.
What Characteristics Make Feedback Effective?
Feedback should inform students about their understanding of concepts, identify where their performance is strong or weak, and show what they should do to further their knowledge (Ambrose et al., p. 137). To achieve these goals, craft feedback with the following characteristics:
1. It’s descriptive.
Be as clear as possible in your comments to students and use precise details to ensure your intention shows through. Feedback should be corrective and identify areas that aren’t on task. It should also provide concrete examples to illustrate how students can meet the expectations for assignments. Merely saying “Good presentation” is too vague. Instead, tell what makes a presentation good, such as, “You offered a clear, demonstrable argument and used a wide range of evidence.”
Simply put, use clear language and provide specific, detailed examples. This approach helps students “see” and understand the intent of your feedback.
2. It’s constructive.
It’s important to provide a mix of positive and critical comments—but always take an honest approach. Excessively positive feedback can seem inauthentic. Conversely, feedback that is too negative may seem to belittle students and reinforce their insecurities and self-doubt. Providing constructive feedback is especially important because each student may perceive your remarks differently.
3. It’s actionable.
Provide clear direction for what students must do to improve. If you merely identify what students do well or poorly, they won’t recognize how to correct assignments or develop their knowledge. Consider this comment: “Next time, explain your methodology in greater detail, including how you selected your example.” This statement is actionable because it gives the student specific instructions for elevating the quality of their work.
While feedback often focuses on what students should improve now, you should also share upcoming steps for them to take. After all, actionable feedback addresses immediate improvements while explaining what students can do to succeed on future assignments.
4. It’s timely.
Your institution may provide specific guidelines for grading assignments. Conversely, it may limit requirements to a general timeframe. Whatever your situation, it’s best to follow a timetable that empowers students to achieve the objectives established for your course (Ambrose et al., p. 142). But remember, the longer students must wait for feedback, the less impactful your comments will be. The bottom line: Don’t wait too long to grade assignments—grade them while concepts are fresh in your students’ minds.
5. It’s prioritized.
Focus your feedback on the skills that students must gain and improve. At the same time, strike a balance for how many comments to offer for each study area. If you say too much, students may ignore your feedback. They may also find a large number of comments discouraging or overwhelming.
What’s more, students can’t always discern between major and minor problems. When students receive too many comments, they often focus on making easy-to-fix corrections (Ambrose et al., 140). On the other hand, a lack of comments may give the impression that you’re disinterested. Therefore, offer a reasonable amount of feedback that focuses on the top skills that students should master.
6. It’s personalized.
In virtual courses, feedback is a central one-on-one interaction that you have with students. Ensure that your feedback not only speaks to the quality of work but a student’s character, too. To begin, use students’ first names to personalize each interaction. Also, consider writing in a casual or conversational tone. These small adjustments help students feel a connection with you as they review your comments.
Effective feedback goes beyond confirming correct answers. It also encourages students to further their understanding of concepts while establishing structures for you to facilitate their learning. As you work to maintain or create instructor presence virtually, the feedback characteristics reviewed in this article can help you form enduring connections with students and ensure they stay on track.
For concrete tips on crafting student comments with the characteristics shared here, check out this downloadable resource. Plus, explore our Virtual Resource Center for more strategies that foster success in virtual education.
Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.