Giving students better, more meaningful feedback

Many people I meet in professional development sessions believe that the ‘tool’ is predominantly for the use of students to undertake some activity. This can be true, however if you are working with newcomers, it is more productive to focus on the teacher. This avoids a stream of questions in which the teacher usually tries to predict student issues, behaviour and attitude – all of which is entirely hypothetical, subjective and leaves plenty of room for them to mentally dismiss the entire session. Instead focus on something that all teachers and students can benefit from easily – feedback.

Yes yes, lots of tools can give feedback. Consider however that your new found friends are used to marking, grading and annotating. Giving feedback on paper can be very rewarding, the hand written comments bringing a degree of reality and personalisation to their typed up, turned in documents.

This is very important to newcomers. Offering digital feedback feels un-natural. The fact it might be more efficient isn’t considered until after this feeling is psychologically resolved. Remember that for many – encountering online software at all is a revelation. Research suggests that 90% of teachers don’t stray from Word processors, spreadsheets and presentation software. Their use of ‘the internet’ is to crudely search for information which they hand out liberally as a digital-reading list. Conceptually the internet and software is seen as a dichotomy. I tend to favour working with assessment over any other component of teacher-activities. This assures them, that no matter what occurs during digital-learning, they will be able to assess it.

Reviewbasics, is an excellent tool to use is this respect. It is very clear about what it does from the outset.The home page needs resonate immediately – given them a clear message as to what it is for. ReviewBasics is a great way to start working with teachers. It allows the teacher or student to upload multiple page documents, video, images, web documents, schematics etc., It allows them to use pre-existing materials – PowerPoint, PDFs etc, so they can immediately use it for very little effort. One feature that I like is the ability to organise work into project folders.

So far so good, nothing scary here … language newcomers can understand. At this point you can talk about uploading course materials, and how it is rather like storing them on a flash drive or shared drive – but unlike those devices; you can invite students to use them to (in assessment).

After making a project folder it allows the upload of familiar file types. Don’t overlook this. People like to upload documents. It feels very affirmative and deliberate. You might also like to point out the file size limit. In many cases distributing large files by email is problematic – as they can bounce or take forever to arrive. (Heads will nod).

You can also capture a webpage. Trying to scrape webpages into Word or print them out is a basic activity of the newcomer, so show them how that can work to their advantage. This is simple to do, just paste in the URL of some resource that might be of interest to them.

Now you have a couple of simple resources to work with. So far you are about 15 minutes into the session. You’ve proved to people that they can add content to the internet. So take a moment to de-brief and celebrate.

Now we can get people to start working in pairs. Ask them to invite each other to review a document of webpage. Keep it simple – we are trying to get them familiar with the idea of sharing – easily. If any questions arise at this point over privacy etc., just explain that you will be talking about that later. These questions are genuine concerns, but subconsciously it can be an opt out point, so smile and complete the step.

This screen is important – it firstly looks fairly familiar – as it has 99% of the tools they ever use in a word processor anyway, and has a clear option that allow privacy. Remember the situated learning context here is assessment and student feedback, not mass collaboration (which is far more scary).

IMPORTANT: As them to log-out of ReviewBasics and check their email.

ReviewBasic will have sent them an invite (check spambox) to review the document(s). The sign in with an auto-generated password, and will be promoted to change it. This is good – it denotes security. They change it and move on to see this screen. You can see not only what to review – but gives you a time! – You can actually account for the time you are spending with a student! – This is a great feature, and exposes to a wider audience – the amount of time you spend with students – digitally. You can show the instructions, see the documents … and get reviewing.

Now let’s see what kind of feedback can be added. At this point, allow your learners to experiment – and wander around asking about what kind of feedback they like to give – and point out ways to transfer that happyness to this activity. Allow about 10 minutes tinker-time. Invite people to grab a drink – it makes the experience seem more relaxed and takes the focus off you for a while.

Review basic uses a system of call outs to give feedback. This is great! They are all clearly colour coded with specific actions – highligher pens, line drawing, selection of areas etc., but they are also use a taxonomy. The student will immediately see the kind of feedback that is given. Students can’t judge the tone of your penmanship, nor to ticks and statements like ‘good work’ have any meaning. This is cognitive organiser for both teacher and student. As we are trying to develop critical thinking, we need structures to help us do it.

The way ReviewBasics allows you to look though multi-page documents and give organised feedback will, in my view, make it more clearly understood by the student.

There are so many tools here, that teachers who like to tick, line or write extended responses will be satisfied, as the operate like post it notes. If you now want to draw a bow and shoot Word – ask them how many people can do this in Word already? You will get a tiny proportion raising their hands, and if they do – ask them to share an example. (I can’t I don’t have it on me). Kerzam, ReviewBasics overcomes that.

Now here is the kicker in ReviewBasics. I am proposing that this tool is student centred. By that I mean it is a tool that student would use as an electronic submission of work to the teacher. Students can send work to you (be that on the web in their wikis) or a printable. You can then write all over it. Why is they FANSTASTIC – because even in Ning, Wikis, Blogs etc., it is very hard to give pointed feedback as constructive as this.

The is of course no reason why you would not share a collection of websites and ask students to write all over them. Really? I hadn’t thought of that! Always allow the audience to offer expert advice to you. Focus on the student sending you work, and at least half the room will turn the tables and suggest ways to use this for mass collaboration. You can then show them how on the right you can see the comments of each student, so you can use this to evaluate any web session that you run in class. How many times do students spend an hour on the computer, ‘searching’ or looking at resource – and the teacher has NO IDEA what they understood as they sat doing it? – A plenary at the end, just before the bell? Give it up! – Make them review the learning BEFORE they leave or for homework!

Finally – after you have scribbled all over the students work – you can leave a closing comment. If it is the students collaborating, then they can leave a series of summations – so you can work over a document (middle order thinking) and at the end request a higher order conclusion.

This tool alone would transform a classroom, especially those in 1:1 laptop situations – or where teachers are providing web-content. This is just to ‘touch’ on how to use the the tool – in a simplistic way, and perhaps takes an hour of a morning workshop.

The rest of the workshop we would be talking about deeper uses – strategies and under-pinning the role of the teacher as a collaborator and facilitator of learning – and provide a lot more ‘teacher’ information about how to go about using this one tool – while at the same time dealing with issues of assessment itself.

I hope that this gives you some ideas – not just on a great tool, but also about professional development of teachers – who are very tricky bunch. Love to hear your feedback if you use it.


3 thoughts on “Giving students better, more meaningful feedback

  1. Great one! This looks like a good entry point, as you say 🙂 One of the biggest problems I’ve encountered in sharing tools like this in workshops, though, is that teachers don’t know how to access their webmail (if they haven’t got their laptop with them). They then can’t sign up for anything!

    I’m also wondering what the benefits of ReviewBasics are over GoogleDocs. I can definitely see how it’s a great starting point for introducing the concepts of “webtop” rather than “desktop” because of its interface, but when we start using more and more web tools, that’s more and more logins and passwords to remember (whatever happened to OpenID?!?).

    So… what do you think about starting out with Google? Or is it too text-y and overwhelming for beginners? What have you found?

    • The pedagogical add; that made me bother exploring this was the way it forced teachers to use colour coded and icon driven comments – and very much supports methods in project based learning. For ESL students it would operate as a cognitive organiser for student feedback – show all the great points, show all the questions – show all the errors etc.,

      Its ability to toggle users and views would make it a great de-brief tool in class, as well as a way to encourage teachers to be clear about their feedback and not construct waffling or interpretive responses. GoogleDocs doesn’t provide such a rich way to organise visually I think.

  2. Great tool – thanks for the heads up. Will definitely look into it. I particularly like the way you’ve broken it down above. eMarking has been a particular bone of contention up here lately – the fact that this is web-based (ie platform-agnostic), has a simple interface and has a scribbly tool may persuade some to venture into it. The student collaborative possibilities are brilliant too, although it will be a much harder task to convince our oldest-lecturer-demographic-in-the-country of its value. Mention a decrease in workload and most are sold. Mention anything to do with changing pedagogy (especially combined with the word ‘online’) and eyes start glazing over. Sigh…

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