Providing feedback regarding a student’s level of proficiency with writing can be a daunting process for faculty. Within the online learning environment numerous challenges must be overcome when communicating with students about their writing behaviors and processes. For example, feedback rarely occurs in real time, a personal connection is often lacking, and there is limited opportunity for open dialogue about the feedback with the student “in class”. For my project, I explored the use of technology to deliver writing feedback in the online learning environment. Technology tools that supported best practices of effective written and recorded feedback were incorporated in a doctoral level writing intensive capstone course in the Spring semester of 2017.
Various planning steps had to completed prior to implementing this project. First, I turned to the literature to identify types and characteristics of effective writing feedback. Then, through conversations with Instructional Technology I explored the use of technology tools to support the delivery of effective writing feedback. I selected the annotation / editing tool Track Changes / Comments in Word, the audio recording tool PoodLL, and the interactive presentation tool VoiceThread. Lastly, I reviewed various “how to” guides and websites under the direction of Instructional Technology regarding how to incorporate the selected tools in the Moodle platform.
Upon implementation of this project I reached out to students via a group email to explain how technology would be used to deliver feedback on written assignments in the course. Student writing assignments for this course include submitting drafts and final versions of eight different chapters that encompass a culminating capstone project. For each submitted draft individual written feedback using Track Changes / Comments in Word and individual recorded feedback using PoodLL was provided. Both approaches were modeled to reflect best practice standards of effective writing feedback (meaningful, focused, clear, personalized) while providing: 1) general praise (Appreciation for what was done well), 2) informative, issue specific comments (Feed-Forward directions regarding what needs to change to be successful), and 3) support (Coaching by providing specific examples and resources for the student to model writing behaviors and processes after).
Written feedback (Track Changes / Comments in Word) was provided at the word / sentence level. Use of this tool allowed me to provide specific content and editing suggestions and examples. The tool also allowed the student to locate, address, and/or correct specific areas in his/her assignment. Each annotated file was uploaded to the course in Moodle for each student to independently review via the assignment submission link in the course. Here is an example of Feed-Forward and Coaching feedback I provided using Track Changes / Comments in Word:
“In this section you need to identify how you plan to analyze the collected data. For example, will you calculate a percent change in means? Also, you need to identify what benchmark you will use to determine project effectiveness. For example, does the literature support a benchmark of a 20% increase in knowledge scores post intervention? For additional examples please refer back to the handouts provided in NUR707.”
Recorded feedback (PoodLL) was provided at the global level (e.g., overall quality, structure, and organization). Use of this tool allowed me to established a sense of faculty presence and a personal connection with the student. The tool also softened the written feedback I provided. Since PoodLL is a Moodle plugin, students were able to independently listen and download the audio file via the assignment submission link in the course. Here is an example of Appreciation and Feed-Forward feedback I provided using PoodLL:
“Hi Jill, nice work on your introduction! Your approach helped set the tone of the paper. You have a few areas that are lacking specific details. Please be sure to carefully review the attached feedback regarding your proposed measurement tools and data analysis plans. Please contact me with any questions. Keep up the great work!”
Upon completion of the final version of the first four chapters of the capstone document, written feedback with recorded feedback using VoiceThread was provided to the group. This approach was modeled to reflect best practice standards of effective writing feedback (meaningful, focused, clear, personalized) while providing: 1) general praise (Appreciation for what was done well), 2) informative, issue specific comments (Feed-Forward directions regarding what needs to change to be successful), and 3) support (Coaching by providing specific examples and resources for the student to model writing behaviors and processes after).
Written feedback and Recorded feedback (VoiceThread) was provided at the course level. Use of this tool allowed the student to form an awareness of where he/she stood in relation to meeting assignment goals. The tool also allowed the student to identify what steps needed to be taken next (individual goal-setting). The VoiceThread provided both illustrations and narrative tips directed towards modeling effective and efficient writing behaviors and processes. Content included: 1) Strategies for setting writing goals, 2) Approaches for managing writing time, and 3) Steps for addressing required revisions. Since VoiceThread is a Moodle plugin, students were able to independently view and listen to the presentation in the course.
At the midpoint of the course, I used Google Forms to assess the students’ perspective of usefulness of the strategies implemented to deliver writing feedback. Aggregate findings are provided below:
Strategy most useful in allowing the students to identify which areas of the assignment they were most successful at writing:
Strategy most useful in allowing the students to identify which areas of the assignment they needed to improve:
Strategy most useful in allowing the students to identify which writing behaviors they needed to change:
These findings are not surprising when viewed within the context of work performed by Richard Mayer in regards to a multimedia learner. The students’ responses reflect Mayer’s principles that people learn better:
- from narration combined with illustrations than narration or text alone.
- when they know the characteristics of the main concepts.
- when words are in conversational style rather than formal style.
VoiceThread was the only strategy used that combined illustrations with narration. Written feedback using Track Changes / Comments in Word and recorded feedback using PoodLL were provided independently from one another. VoiceThread was utilized once the students completed the first four chapters of their capstone. Hence, one may conclude that the students had a firm understanding of the requirements of the culminating assignment. The provided narration was spoken in a friendly personally tone, with attention directed towards conveying a message of instructor presence and support.
Success and Challenges
I believe this project was successful. Exploring the use of technology to deliver writing feedback in the online learning environment allowed me to self-reflect on my “feedback style” and “feedback philosophy”. Through incorporating technology, I was better able to be in-tune with students’ writing needs and feedback expectations. On the other hand, changing my approach was also a challenge. I had to devote considerably more time in reading and responding to each student’s written work. I had to be more cognizant of making sure I reflected best practice standards; while consistently providing general praise, informative – issue specific comments, and examples and resources for the student to model writing behaviors and processes after.
Next steps stemming from this project include:
- Continue to explore the work of Richard Mayer in regards to a multimedia learner. Evaluation findings from this project suggest students feel they benefit best from writing feedback when it is provided in a way that 1) allows them to form an awareness of where they stand in relation to meeting assignment goals and 2) facilitates the development of individual goal-setting.
- Develop a plan to further incorporate the use of VoiceThread to positively influence writing behaviors and processes of doctoral students in an online program.