Instruments, and the Craft, of Feedback

Feedback is a craft, and like any craft it is simultaneously distinct from and defined by the tools we use to practice it. Quality feedback can go through any communicative medium—text message; youtube comments section; a waxed string strung tautly between two paper cups—because the properties of good feedback are universal…

  • Good feedback is honest
  • Good feedback is encouraging
  • Good feedback is mindful of its own context relative to the course’s Learning Objectives, and also
  • Good feedback is mindful of the unique context created between the course, the student, and yourself (perhaps by connecting the specific assignment to which it responds to other examples of the student’s work, that student’s personal life, or even your own personal life)

…though it never hurts to use the right tools for the job.

That’s not a great list. The properties of good feedback are so subjective…maybe it would be better to ask y’all to list some of the properties you consider most important to quality feedback in the comments field below? I like that idea. Please do so.

The subjective qualities of good feedback are why real, imperfect, quirky human teachers—I’m talking about you—are so essential. Yes, feedback may be considered satisfactory if it at least provides the correct answers, but that is not the sole function of feedback. Feedback is an opportunity for the student to, through a tiny window, see her work from the outside and then assimilate it into her larger understanding of the subject. Feedback is also, sometimes, an opportunity for you, the teacher, to express yourself.

Which is why it is great that there are so many options for us to provide feedback for our students. There are countless tools out there outside of Blackboard, but I’ll get to those later (celebrate the constraints in life! Like word count…and time). Let’s look at some of the feedback mechanisms that are available within Blackboard.

Quick Comment

basic comment

Concise feedback is easy to leave without exiting the full grade center. So long as a grade is already entered into the column for that particular student, the dropdown chevron will show an option for a “Quick Comment.” The field that appears has a strict character limit and no formatting options, but it is useful for situations when you feel you need to call attention to an assignment that you’ve already graded and left feedback on. Maybe a recent assignment has given you a new idea regarding an earlier assignment, which you would like to impart upon your student(s) without having to dive into and out of their attempts all over again.

In-Line Grading

in-line feedback

Blackboard has recently made it possible for in-line grading, which is the far more robust option for feedback of the two listed here. When you enter an attempt to grade it, the document (if the student has submitted the attempt as an attached Word document) will appear with the ability for you to leave comments on specific objects and text. That’s really helpful for students, and makes it much easier for you to point out exactly what you want them to pay attention to. And it isn’t just spatially relevant commenting—there is also a field for general comments to the right, often automatically hidden when you enter the attempt to grade it, which you can pull down by clicking the down arrow as shown above.

These are powerful tools for feedback, but in the end they are only tools. Remember: Good feedback comes from you. Find the tool that you’re comfortable with, and then put the time into learning how best you can use it for your students. It’s cheesy, but it’s true: A good instrument does not, by itself, make good music.

Oh, one more thing: We do not recommend text messaging, the Youtube comments section, or paper-cup-and-string phones as mediums for providing student feedback. That would probably be frustrating for everyone involved.

Why Use Word Clouds?

word cloud

Word Cloud

You may be quite familiar with word clouds (by Wordle or Tagxedo, although lots more options also exist: thing 1 and thing 2). A whole bunch of text is popped into a word cloud engine and then – boom! – you only get a handful of words (you control the number) which are usually the most frequently used and/or the most important words of a larger text.

Why use it? On the one hand, you can analyze the text for focus or bias. On the other hand, you can fish out the most important words before you read the text (and then upon actively reading it, ascertain that your initial assumptions were correct or have them refuted). Additionally, because it may lead to active reading, the large amounts of text may seem much more digestible and less intimidating and overwhelming. Well, and it looks pretty neat, too.

Additionally, the word cloud may be used a discussion prompt. Not only will it liven up an online course, but having it in a face-to-face classroom will make it a focal point for a class activity. Hmmm… Now you are thinking!

P.S. Wordle doesn’t seem to work well in Chrome, but works beautifully in Firefox or Safari on a Mac system.

How do I check spelling in Outlook Web Access?

spell check iconSome email programs, such as Microsoft Outlook (client), include a spelling checker. Outlook Web App relies on your web browser for checking spelling. That’s why you don’t see a spellcheck button or spelling settings in Outlook Web App.

Spell checking is available in Internet Explorer 10 and later versions, and current versions of Firefox, Chrome, and Safari.
Check the options for your web browser to learn more about how to use it to check spelling.

To learn more about the browsers that are compatible with Outlook Web App, see Supported browsers for Outlook Web App.

Spell check in Chrome (built-in) | A spell check extension for Chrome

Spell check in Firefox (built-in) | Fancy way to enable spell check if all else fails (Firefox)

There are also add-ons for Firefox, which I suggest you try and get back to us here with your findings. So far, none were particularly highly ranked, but I assume with 3 starts out of 5 they are still worth trying out.