Formative Feedback: Offering Feedback Along the Way
What is formative feedback?
Formative feedback refers to feedback that learners receive throughout a class. Formative feedback tends to be given in a spirit of growth and improvement, helping students see how well they are understanding course concepts or how clearly they are communicating key ideas from and within a course.
Why give formative feedback?
Formative feedback helps students recognize where they may have gaps in their knowledge or where they may need to grow to achieve course outcomes. Without formative feedback, students may not have a clear sense of where they might need support or where they might need to grow before they get to a larger, summative assignment, like a final project or exam. Even though there will not be a final exam week for AY 2020-21, formative feedback remains valuable insofar as it can be used to give students a clear sense of progress and completion.
What are some examples of formative feedback in an online learning environment?
- Written notes from the instructor (in Canvas SpeedGrader through Canvas Assignments or in Gradescope). When students turn in smaller assignments (e.g. homework), it can be valuable to give students some occasional written notes on their problem sets or responses, especially in an online environment when you don't have as many opportunities to give students feedback on the fly. To avoid spending too much time responding to every small assignment, consider creating a spreadsheet or grid with your students' names, keeping track of when you give certain students feedback on smaller assignments. If you track who receives feedback at certain points in the quarter, you can distribute feedback equitably, ensuring that all students at some point in the quarter receive some feedback on a small assignment they've submitted for the course before receiving a grade or final feedback on a larger assignment.
- Audio-based memos from the instructor (in Canvas SpeedGrader or Canvas Discussions). Writing responses to individual students can be time-consuming and some students find written responses hard to follow or challenging to understand. In Canvas, instructors can leave audio-based responses to assignments in SpeedGrader or in a Discussion forum (you will just need to have a working microphone built into your laptop). Recording an audio message can be a great way to communicate feedback that you might have otherwise given in-person and it can also help build community for students to hear your voice and receive feedback in a way that might feel more informal. Keep accessibility concerns in mind, however, and be prepared to be flexible if some students need written text instead of audio.
- Screencast walkthrough from the instructor. If you're giving feedback on a project a student has created or an assignment heavy in visuals, it might be helpful to record your screen and show the student what you're noticing as a viewer of their work. While written comments and audio-based feedback may capture some of your impressions, showing your students what you're seeing and noticing about their work can be extremely powerful and useful to them. You can create a screencast by recording your screen in Zoom, by using a built-in screen-recording program like QuickTime on a Mac, or by downloading a free screencast software program, like Screencast-o-matic. Again, keep accessibility concerns in mind if you choose to leave feedback in this way, noting when students might not be able to access or engage with visuals.