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Time Management Challenge #3: I'm having trouble posting feedback/grades quickly enough.

(star) Respond to work as it comes in. 
(star) Make a schedule.

Planning your time for working online – whether answering questions, participating in the discussion, or critiquing assignments – helps make sure you accomplish what needs to be done and helps you keep from spending more time than you can afford on your online class.

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I have a regular schedule for grading. If the assignment is due Sunday night, then I set aside the time every Monday to get it graded. If I don't do this, then before you know it, Sunday night is creeping up again. I usually grade the previous week's discussion at the same time. Since it's fresh in my mind, it's easy to say who did well. If I wait too long to grade the discussion, I forget who said what and then I have to go re-read it all, which is a waste of time.

I allocate a day for grading each class. The students learn to expect when I will grade and I find that I can get into a rhythm if grading the same assignment.

(star) Prioritize your reviews.

Not all assignments are created equal. While most assignments should receive individual critiques, for certain kinds of assignments it may be appropriate to give more or less detailed feedback. For example:

  • Some assignments (exercises) are designed to ensure that students practice key skills, and for assignments like these, it may be appropriate to give only minimal feedback – and a grade of "credit."
  • Other assignments require students to submit work-in-progress to make sure they're heading in the right direction as they complete a significant project. This work often requires a more detailed critique to correct mistakes and to make sure that the final result reflects the student's best work. When the final project is turned in, it may then need only a minimal critique, since you've already given so much feedback on this assignment.

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I tend to have three assignment-type topics per module, but I only grade one with a letter grade. The other two (exercises) I give a credit/no credit grade — and I pretty much give credit for anything close to the assignment. I do this to give my students places to practice, where I can be very positive — and where they don’t have to worry about a grade.

(star) Focus your feedback.

While it's tempting to try to tell students everything that's right or wrong with a particular assignment, keep in mind that more feedback is not always better – both because it's exhausting and time-consuming for you and because students can be overwhelmed by too much feedback. Instead, be selective in your critiques: focus on what's most important and make it clear how students can correct their mistakes and improve their work. Try using process sheets to encourage students to reflect on their work and to help you address their areas of greatest concern. And use some sort of script or template or rubric to help you craft your feedback.

(star) Ask students to fill out a "process sheet" when they submit an assignment.  

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Include 2-4 prompts with an assignment and ask students to turn in their responses in writing, along with their homework. Answering these questions...

  • encourages students to describe their process and progress as they complete assignment;

  • encourages students to recognize and reflect on the steps associated with completing quality work; and

  • teaches students to request targeted feedback regarding their work—and helps you to focus and streamline your critiques.

(star) Use rubrics or templates or scripts to organize your feedback.

Using a template (whether a simple checklist or a full-blown rubric) to organize your comments can ensure consistency in your critiques and help focus your feedback. You can further streamline this process by embedding your feedback template into a discussion post and then filling it out there.

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When grading the final work, I use a "mini" rubric that I cut and paste into the critique. The criteria for the rubric varies with each assignment and directly refers to the larger rubric in the class. This keeps the grading consistent and provides a good way for students to compare their work to others’. For example:

Susan: This is a strong start. Your craftsmanship is improving and your understanding of mixing is good. A few color adjustments are suggested. (This text varies in content and length and touches on areas where the work is strongest and weakest.)

Please see my comments on the whiteboard. Blue curves indicate colors that are too close. Red lines are for jumps.


  • Color Transitions & Accuracy: Good, needs adjustment for a better transition. Remember blah, blah, blah

  • Paint Quality: Excellent

  • Craftsmanship: Good, just need little straighter vertical alignment

  • Presentation: Satisfactory, see comments on the board

This example doesn't work for preliminary work, where each student requires comments specific to his/her work. This preliminary stage of the work is the most time-consuming, and I haven't figured out a shorter way to do this other than use of the whiteboard to show them.

I try to get across 5 basic things in each critique (give or take):

  • positive acknowledgement

  • suggestion 1

  • suggestion 2

  • suggestion 3

  • exactly what I want them to turn in next time—including page format, number of items, type of file, deadline.

I'm always trying to find ways to streamline the grading process yet give students enough feedback to work with for revisions. My latest HTML rubric that I embed has saved me LOTS of time.

(star) Post your feedback where students are most likely to see it.
(star) Post a "pre-critique."

If you notice a regular pattern of errors in a particular assignment, it can be helpful to address those mistakes before students submit their work by posting a "pre-critique" — a list and discussion of common pitfalls for the assignment and suggestions about how to avoid these. The advantages of a pre-critique are:

  • that students submit better work, since they know they need to avoid these mistakes, and
  • that it makes your critiquing process faster, because you do not need to address these issues in the work students submit but can simply refer students back to the pre-critique. 

If you create a global topic for your pre-critique, you can reuse it semester after semester. Eventually, you may find it useful to build this information into the assignment information (as part of a course rebuild).

(star) Do a "keynote" critique. 

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When reviewing work in the whiteboard, and finding the same issues coming up, I will frequently tell a student to look at my critique and markup of a drawing for a previous student to see what I suggested for that student with the same areas needing improvement. This can save me from doing a full review on the current student who gets a less detailed critique, but can amplify their understanding by looking at a specific classmate.

 (star) Try peer critiques. 

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If I do not have time to preview work as it is being turned in, I will post a comment in the topic asking other students to give feedback—instead of that student expecting me to review early every time. In my rules for the class, I encourage students to post early in a homework topic to ask for feedback from classmates. It can be very effective when the class is engaged.

(star) Try a new discussion structure. 

In some Academy classes, students work on a single project over the course of several weeks—or even over the entire semester. In such classes, you may find it helpful to organize your discussion so that all the assignment submissions from an individual student are grouped together. This approach lets you follow each student’s progress on a project over time.

(star) Take advantage of available tools.
(star) Use multiple windows/tabs. 

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I always open multiple windows and tabs. I have 3 online classes and every day I start by opening a tab for each, then quickly scan their "Instructor's Office" topics for urgent questions. Only after this I start with class 1 and open its assignments and discussions.

(star) Use the Notes critiquing tools – including audio feedback.
Many online instructors have found that giving oral feedback is a great timesaver. What’s more, spoken critiques can help you connect with your students in a more personal way. When students hear your voice and your tone, they get a better sense of you, the living, breathing human being behind the comments. If you do decide to give oral feedback, you have two options.  
  • In Notes, you can use the built-in audio recorder.
  • You can also use recording software installed on your own computer, record your comments locally, and then upload your MP3 audio file. You can download and install the Audacity recorder for free, using the links below.

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Require students post their design work in files that will display on the white board. This allows me to review and make comments without clicking around downloading and uploading a variety of documents. And, if I feel the need to upload an example, I can do that quickly as a comparison image and then continue my comments all in the same series of images. This allows the students to see a comparison between their original and my "suggestion." (Particularly helpful with directed study students) . Huge time-saver for me!

Audio is one of the biggest time savers that I have found, especially if I am teaching many, many sections. Not only does it allow me to get my thoughts to the students more quickly, it also helps to personalize the online experience through the use of tone in my voice, it helps to bring the feeling of the crit closer to an in-person crit — and it helps to keep me energized through the course of my day. (Typing and reading and typing and reading kind of makes me sleepy).


  • Keep in mind that if you have a deaf or hearing-impaired student in your class, you must give feedback in written form to all your students.

  • In addition, if you have non-native speakers of English in your class, it’s a good idea to ask them whether they prefer written or spoken feedback. Many ESL students find it easier to understand written comments than to decipher oral critiques.
(star) Try dictation software.

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I use Dragon Dictate for Mac (they also have Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows) to dictate comments. It makes a few errors (I've started saying "also" instead of "too"), but it is far easier to correct the errors than to type the whole message. I type in their text edit window and paste to the whiteboard. Also one can dictate into the grade comment area or in other posts. I find I am much more thorough in my comments when I dictate them.

(star) Try the new video recorder.  
(star) Do live critiques in your online office.  

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This approach has actually proven to save time, students seem to understand the feedback more quickly when it's said directly to them.

  • Send an email to to request an online office and to learn how to use it.

  • Once your office is set up, start the recording and then use the screen-sharing tool to show your students’ work, as you critique it.

  • When your critique is done, post a link to the recording in the Discussion, so everyone can review your critique.

Caveat: Attending a group critique must be optional for your online students: because of the asynchronous nature of our online program, you may not require students to meet at a particular time. However, you may require students to attend an online critiquing session, as long as each student agrees to the timing of the session.
(star) Do live critiques with Camtasia or IShowU.

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Doing a group feedback is one way to get students to learn from each other’s mistakes. Too often they do not take time to review the instructor feedback for other people’s work. But by doing just one “ group crit” (one link they all have to view) I am hoping they will get that broader view and learn from that.I download all the animation clips, edit them into a template in AfterEffects and then view the edited .mov of all submissions in Quicktime player, with Camtasia doing a video web-capture of me and a screen capture of the student submissions.Then I upload my group crit video to Screencast or to a private (unlisted) YouTube.I upload the file into the Discussion and also embed a link to the YouTube site. It looks like this:

It takes about an hour to set up the files before I start the crits. Then I do the grading, which includes a simple note.

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