Foundations of Feedback

Later this week, a colleague and I are presenting a conference session on providing 360-Degree Feedback to students. With 360-Degree Feedback, instructors combine students’ self-assessment with peer and instructor feedback to provide more holistic support for students’ development. With 360-Degree Feedback, feedback doesn’t just come from a single source. Instead, assessment and feedback comes from differentiated but complementary sources. In a way, 360-Degree Feedback leverages the combined effects of several of the top influences that Jon Hattie examines in his meta-analyses.

I’m planning to write about 360-Degree Feedback in more depth down the road, but this week, I wanted to assemble all of the posts I’ve written on feedback and assessment over the years to provide a foundation for readers. Enjoy!

1. Mindset: A primer post This post introduces the concept of growth mindset and shares a bunch of resources to build a solid understanding of how critical feedback is for student development.

2. Teaching for Growth Building on the mindset concept, this post draws on James Lang’s book Small Teaching and discusses how you can Design for Growth, Communicate for Growth and provide Feedback for Growth.

3. The Power of Feedback Drawing on research from Turnitin, this post examines the impact that feedback has on student writing.

4. Glows and Grows This post examines two types of feedback (progress and discrepancy) and discusses how important it is to provide both when giving feedback to students.

5. Better Student Feedback with Classkick While this post focuses a lot on an app called Classkick, it also introduces Wiggins’ Seven Keys to Effective Feedback.

6. Lessons about teaching and learning from Star Wars This definitely qualifies as one of the nerdiest posts I’ve ever written. In this post, I examine how Star Wars is actually a good lens for which we can view assessment and feedback.

7. The Future of Assessment Wearing my “futurist” hat, I draw on Karl Kapp and Robin Kunicke’s concept of “juicy feedback.”

8. The Secret Sauce of Blended Success This post discusses how important formative assessment and feedback are to the blended learning environment.

9. Feedback and the Dunning-Kruger effect One of the challenges with students’ self-assessment is that students tend to evaluate their performance disproportionately to their ability. Ongoing, regular feedback from instructors can help students develop a truer sense of their academic development.



Giving Credit

Where do great ideas originate? I’m prone to saying that inspiration and creativity develops from the space between collaborators. Get some smart people together who are willing to brainstorm and problem solve and the group is bound to come up with some creative ideas. Who owns the idea that emerges? It grows from the space between us so it’s not really any body’s idea. It’s jointly owned. “If anyone deserves credit,” I remember saying, “it’s the space between us.”

But that’s really not true. The “space between us” isn’t a real person and it doesn’t have real feelings. The “space between us” doesn’t deserve validation for its work or need a pat on its back for a job well done. The “space between us” may be a great concept but the real credit should be directed at the specific people who were in the room. We need to identify specific people and praise their contributions. We need to shine a light on individual people.  When we give credit to whole groups, some people may feel left out and not get the credit they deserve. We’re probably all guilty of doing that at some point. But, when I give credit to “the space between,” the light shines on no one.

As often happens in my world, disparate ideas converge to help me make sense of things. In preparation for a presentation, I was doing some reading on peer grading and the potential biases that can emerge when allowing students to assess one another. Dochy, Segers and Sluijsmans (1999) outlined four potential biases that can occur in peer grading situations. Friendship marking occurs when students over-mark their friends (and under-mark others). Decibel marking occurs when the most vocal students receive the grades (without necessarily earning them). When students earn high marks without contributing, parasite marking occurs. Lastly, collusive marking happens when students collaborate to over-rate (or under-rate) their peers. Because of the prevalence of these biases, many instructors choose to avoid using peer assessment all together.

Thinking about their hesitation to incorporate peer assessment in their classes, I think most instructors worry that they may be giving inaccurate grades to students who don’t deserve them. In a way, avoiding peer grading parallels my “crediting the space between us.” While instructors want to avoid giving students grades that they didn’t deserve (either good or bad), I’m avoiding give credit to anyone specifically, whether they’ve earned it or not. Both practices are poor decisions borne out of our inability to effectively value (and validate) individual and collective efforts and achievements at the same time. One approach sacrifices the group for the individual.  While the other, sacrifices the individual for the group. Neither approach is ideal.

In classroom settings, I’ve tried to confront this by partnering individual and peer assessments together.  In some cases, I’ve even incorporated my own feedback to provide a more holistic assessment of student learning and development. In fact, I recently presented a webinar on 360 Degree Assessment for Magna Publications to share my work.  But that only addresses classroom environments.  What about my work with colleagues? How can celebrate the work and achievements of the individual and the group?

I wish I had the answer here. I know that I’m going to work harder to celebrate the achievements of the individuals and the groups in which they work. I’m going to shine the light less on “the space between” and give more credit to specific individuals. That’s my starting point.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Five Stages of Online Learning?

As an online educator (and someone who researches online education), I’m always coming across new model to describe the online learning process. Personally, I gravitate to the Community of Inquiry framework because I see the need to foster social presence in online learning environments. A colleague shared another framework recently and I’m still working through its applicability.

In her 2013 book E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning, Gilly Salmon offers a five-stage model of e-moderation that scaffolds students through increasingly complex technological ability and interactivity. Salmon’s stage model is relatively new to me but I can see that, in many ways, it reflects how I create my online courses. To dig deeper into the model, I thought I’d outline each stage and discuss a little about the ways I meet (or don’t meet) each stage in my online classes.

Stage 1: Access and Motivation
This stage focuses on helping students understand the learning environment and how to technically engage with the different tools. In all of my online classes, I offer short online orientation that help students develop basic proficiency with the learning management system and understand how I plan to use.

Stage 2: On-line Socialization
Stage 2 targets developing a social space for students to interact with their peers and with the course instructor. In my online classes, I always include some sort of icebreaker to get the students sharing short introductions with one another.

Stage 3: Information Exchange
This stage has students interacting with course content and reflecting on what they’ve learned. To make this process a little more transparent in my online classes, I have students post short reading summaries before they begin discussing what they’ve learned with their peers (Stage 4).

Stage 4: Knowledge Construction
If Stage 3 is about accessing information, Stage 4 focuses on building knowledge through social collaboration. This stage is highly interactive with students sharing their ideas with one another. In my online classes, I usually post a few open-ended discussion board questions to foster conversations with the hopes that the class will use the content as a springboard for sharing additional ideas and content.

Stage 5: Development
If there’s a stage that I haven’t done a great job meeting, it’s Stage 5. This stage focuses on the students’ reflecting on and evaluating their own learning. The goal with this stage is to foster more independent learning and increased self-regulation. In a way, Stage 5 reminds me a little of Level 6 of Dee Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning. In Fink’s taxonomy, Level 6 has students focus on the metacognitive process of “learning how to learn.” Across my online and face-to-face classes, I don’t feel like I offer enough opportunities for students to do this.  It definitely provides some opportunities for growth.

Regular readers know that I subscribe to the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework when I build and facilitate my online classes.  While I don’t necessarily see Salmon’s stage model replacing my use of the COI, I do see its applicability. I really like how the model focuses on students learning to navigate the technical aspects of their online classes before they gradually engage in more interactive processes in the class. This scaffolded approach is critical to online student success and reflects research I shared a few years ago about online orientations. For this reason alone, I feel like the Salmon’s stage model deserves a little more attention.

The one you feed

There’s an old fable that goes something like this:

An old man is teaching his grandson about life. He explains that there are two wolves inside each of us, which are constantly at war with one another.

“One of them is a good wolf,” the grandfather says to the boy. “It represents things like love, kindness, bravery, humility, trust, hope, peace and joy.  The other one is evil. He is anger, envy, guilt, greed, hatred and fear.”

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a moment and then asks his grandfather, “Grandpa, which wolf wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies “The one you feed.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this fable this week as I’ve been collaborating with a few colleagues on some programmatic assessments we’re developing. As often happens with these particular colleagues, we fell into a really deep conversation about the philosophical foundations of our work and our roles as teachers. Drawing on the dark recesses of his memory, one colleague brought up some seemingly arcane leadership concept from the 1960’s. “It’s like the XY leadership theories.  Either we embrace Theory X or we embrace Theory Y.”

I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with these theories at all so he sent me some things to read. Douglas McGregor first presented these theories in his 1960 book called The Human Side of Enterprise. In McGregor’s view, Theory X approaches leadership from an authoritarian and pessimistic perspective.  Theory X leaders believe that “most people must be coerced, controlled, directed, threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of organizational objectives.”  Theory Y leaders, however believe that “the capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed.” Rather than focus on the negative qualities of people, Theory Y leaders see the intellectual potential of people and creates environments to let them grow.

While McGregor’s theories were designed for managerial roles, I definitely see a connection to our roles as educators. I’m sure some people would self-identify as a Theory X teacher. They view most students as being lazy and unmotivated and needing all sorts rules and regulations to show up for class and complete assignments on time. They create encyclopedic syllabi where every detail of student action is legislated.  On the other hand, Theory Y teachers focus less on rules and compliance and more on inspiring learners. They create classroom environments where students can thrive creatively and intellectually.

As you’ve read my presentation of these teaching roles, I’m sure you were thinking of the type of teacher you are. Like most of us, maybe you didn’t have a definite answer. Which is sort of the point. While I’ve presented these as discrete teaching types, I think Theory X and Theory Y teachers live inside each of us to some degree. Like the wolves in the old fable, these competing teaching roles are constantly at war with each other. Which teaching role wins?

The one you feed.

Shifting the Focus

As some readers may know, I have a background in teacher education. In fact, my doctoral dissertation focused on the development of beginning teachers as they navigated the challenges of their collegiate programs and faced the trials and tribulations of their first years of teaching. In my work, I found that when they’re first starting out, beginning teachers tend to focus almost entirely on their own actions as instructors. They plan lectures, create PowerPoint slides and develop assessments. With time and experience, however, beginning teachers start focusing less on their own actions and more on what their students were doing during the lessons. Reflecting on this research now, it is clear that at some point in their development the teachers’ focus shifted from worrying about their delivery of the content and began to concentrate more on their interactions with students. This shift marked a substantial phase in their development as teachers. They were no longer teacher-centered instructors but were developing into student-centered ones.

I was reminded of this research recently after listening to the Hidden Brain podcast where Alan Alda talked about his evolution as an actor. When he was first starting out, he focused on memorizing and delivering his lines.  With time, however, he began to realize that to successfully play a role, he needed to focus less on his actions as a solitary actor and more on his interactions with his cast mates and with the audience. “I don’t say my next line in a play because it’s written in the script and I’ve memorized it,” Alda says. “I say it because you do something — you the other actor — do something or say something that makes me say this next line, and makes me say it in a certain way.” To be effective, we can’t concentrate solely on our actions in isolation but begin to see our roles as part of a reciprocal endeavor with those around us.

I had two conversations recently where this shift from action to interaction took center stage.  A colleague of mine who has been teaching online for several years needed some help. She asked me to look into her course to give her feedback on her course design and to possibly give her ideas on how to interact with her students better. As she explained, “I’ve spent the last few years learning how to effectively organize my content for students. I think I need to figure out better ways to interact with them.” Developmentally, she had a reached a point where she could focus less on what she was doing in the learning management system and was ready to focus more on interacting with her students. She was shifting from action to interaction.

To drive this point home a little more, I was talking with some colleagues about how my role as the director of the campus’s teaching and learning center has changed during my tenure. When I first started in this role five years ago, I focused a lot on what I was doing. I tried to engage my colleagues by planning professional development sessions or by sharing information with them.  These actions, however, are one-way.  About two years ago, I started to shift my focus. Rather than just delivering content to my colleagues, I started to spend more time cultivating long term discussions by creating learning communities across campus. By shifting my focus from action to interaction, I was able to develop more reciprocal endeavors that allowed me to learn with and from my colleagues. And that’s the point with shifting from action to interaction. When we’re able to shift the focus to interaction, we begin to realize that we have as much to gain from the discourse as we give.

Create Interactive Online Content with H5P

I’m always looking to expand the ways I engage my students in my online and face-to-face courses. I’ll look for new websites or applications that I can incorporate into my classes that can help students build their understanding of content or provide feedback to further their development. Years ago, I would use Flash editors to create simple matching games or multiple-choice quizzes to help student learn. Those efforts ended with the advent of mobile devices, however. Since mobile browser didn’t support Flash applets, I didn’t want to create something that only a fraction of my students could use. While mobile devices ushered in a new era of technology ubiquity and information access, the dawn of smartphones and tablets also sparked a downturn in Flash-based content online.

A colleague shared a site with me that has me really excited. H5P allows users to easily create interactive online content that they can embed on blogs, websites or inside a learning management system. Since its HTML5 compatible, it can run on any device. Want to create a simple matching game so your students can practice vocabulary words? Or maybe you want students to interact with a YouTube video you’ve assigned? H5P has you covered. With a few simple clicks, your students can be interacting with the online content you’ve created and getting feedback on their work. With over 35 different content types, there are so many possibilities for the creative instructor to inject interactive content into their courses. I envision geography teachers using the site to share interactive maps, history teachers sharing online timelines and biology instructors creating microscope images that allow students to zoom in and out.

Since the site is free and easy to use, instructors could also have their students use H5P to create content that they can share with their classmates. For instance, students could use the multiple-choice generator to create assessment questions to help their peers study for an upcoming exam. Since all of the content can be shared via links or through embedded content, they can be easily shared in a discussion forum. By being HTML5 compatible, the content can be viewed by students using computers, smartphones or tablets.

I know that some readers may be thinking “HTML5 Content Editor? That sounds really scary!” In reality, the site cannot be easier to use. Not only can you create some really cool content with a few clicks, the site also offers tons of demonstrations and tutorials to help you get started. Definitely don’t let the technical jargon I’ve shared in this post scare you away. The site couldn’t be easier to use!



The Introverted Student Online

I’m teaching an online class over the winter semester and I’ve been particularly impressed with the level of engagement and involvement from my students. The class is a graduate course on Designing Online Learning Environments and we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the needs of students and how best to support their learning online. One of the students in the class remarked that she really enjoys online classes because she’s an introvert and that the structure and organization plays to her strengths. While I try to create my online classes following principles of Universal Design for Learning, I hadn’t really thought about how online classes could specifically benefit introverted students. After doing some digging and reading, however, I came away with a few critical thoughts that educators should keep in mind when working with students in online and face-to-face learning environments.

1. Introverts aren’t “shy students.” Psychology Today published an article identifying some behavioral signs of introversion. Across the signs, it’s clear that introverts aren’t people who have social anxiety or dislike other people.  Instead, introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by more solitary pursuits. Introverts are also the last ones to share their opinions in social settings. “Whether it’s a family discussion around the kitchen table or a staff meeting to decide how to market new products, people high in introversion will keep their views to themselves and let the noisy extraverts take control.” Instructors may see this play out in online and face-to-face learning environments with introverted students often being the last ones to raise their hands or post to discussion boards.

2. An introvert offline is an introvert online.  In another article from Psychology Today, Sophia Dembling discusses her use of social media. As a self-identified introvert, Dembling writes, some people are surprised that she uses Facebook and Twitter and even blogs.  While the tools give introverts “control of our airspace, and time to think before we respond,” Dembling also talks about her limits. With technology, she’s able to shut down when she gets “the same kind of tiredhead I get at a party.” Computer-mediated communication isn’t going to instantly make an introverted student more extraverted.

3. Introverts prefer online classes. After hearing from my graduate student, I wondered whether any research had been conducted to examine introverts and learning environments. I found a 2010 study reported in The Internet and Higher Education. In the study, Harrington and Lafredo examined 166 collegiate students and compared their responses on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and their “preferred teaching modality.” Results revealed that a statistically significant majority of introverts preferred online classes and extraverts preferred face-to-face classes.

4. Online classes offer introverts an ideal learning environment to be successful. After reading that introverts need “the opportunity to reflect quietly on a problem,” it’s clear why introverts (like my graduate student) enjoy online classes, especially asynchronous ones.  As Tony Baldasaro writes on Edutopia, “The asynchronous environments found on the Internet can provide introverted students with the ideal space needed for them to learn. The freedom to explore their passions, the ability to connect with similar learners, and the time to participate at their personal pace and depth, all with the solitude needed by the introvert, can make these communities the ideal space for learning and creativity to blossom in the introvert.” By offering the time to process information and craft responses, online classes provide introverted students with an environment that is better suited for the personality.  They can still interact with their classmates to socially construct their understanding of content but the environment gives them the time and space to be successful.