Friday, July 31, 2009

Prompt Feedback

"Knowing what you know and don't know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. When getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves." (Chickering and Gamson)

If your students come to the online classroom with no clues from you about how well (or poorly) they're doing, they may well wonder why they're coming at all. There are plenty of available tools for impromptu and/or formal assessment, and you should make it a point to use them often.

The breakout rooms, for example, are a perfect resource for allowing individuals or groups to complete self-paced exercises you make available or to take quizzes you administer or deliver to the rooms. Another innovative use of breakout rooms, suggested by Clark and Kwinn, is to set up trios in breakout rooms for role-play exercises, with one of the three acting as an observer. "Guidelines for conducting the role play can be posted on the white board, and the observer can take notes in chat as the role play proceeds and give feedback via audio or white board following the role play exercise.” Note that this technique gives the prompt feedback delivery method to the students, rather than to the instructor.

The chat tool is effective for informal, individualized feedback during an online session. You can send private messages of encouragement or admonishment without distracting the other students or embarrassing your targets. Even a public "Bravo!" in the chat window allows students to know that you're paying attention and that they're on the right track. Another feature of the chat tool is that it can provide your students with a non-threatening way to pose questions or communicate other needs with you. Students who are reluctant to speak up in class sometimes find it easier to communicate in the chat area, and it's almost always true that if one student aks a question, others have it in their minds.

The use of polls is a terrific option for providing prompt feedback. Although you generally have to prepare your polls ahead of time, it doesn't really take much more than a few seconds to type a poll on the whiteboard and deliver it to your students ad hoc. It's often a good idea to hide the polling results until all participants have responded to ensure honest feedback from the students. You should also remember that you can guage your students even without structured poll responses (i.e., "yes/no" or "A, B, C, D, E"). The whiteboard can be used to pose a question and allow students to type their own responses - either on the whiteboard itself or in the chat area. Doing this often - throughout the class - helps ensure that you're on track with your students and that they're keeping up with you. Remember, though: don't ask a question and ignore the results. Students don't appreciate being ignored.

The emoticons (smiley face, frown, applause, etc.) are also useful feedback tools. You can use them to silently appraise your students, and you can also allow your students to use them to give you a "pulse" on the class. Jonathan Finkelstein advises, “When someone else is speaking, have your mouse near the emotion indicators. Get in the habit of clicking on an emoticon as a participant is speaking or typing to express your reaction. These real-time cues can provide the encouragement and confidence a learner needs.”

Chopeta Lyons suggests that at the end of a class session, use an "instant feedback" whiteboard to allow students to reflect and analyze. Divide the screen down the middle and put a plus on one side and a minus on the other. Students can then type comments anonymously in either or both columns.

How about you?

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