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How does the timing of your feedback affect your online students?

Illustration Instructor and Teaching Coach Sandra Speidel made an important discovery this fall. She explains:

My classes are going really well this semester, and I think the whole thing was that I rearranged my schedule so that I could get my grading done early in the week. I wanted to just get it off my plate and be done with it. I know I'm not teaching any differently than I always have; I'm just doing the grading sooner — on Monday night.

And so my students think I'm great! I mean, I got these glowing evaluations, and I'm thinking, "I'm doing the same thing I always do — I'm just grading earlier. And they think I'm so much more present because I'm doing that." So that was enlightening!

And I actually like the schedule better. I like having the grading done, so I'm not thinking about it all week and thinking, "Oh gosh, I've got to get that done..."

How do your online students perceive your presence in — or absence from — your online class?

  • Receiving timely feedback on their work is a big part of their learning experience!
  • And speedy answers to their questions also make a big difference...

Could you reorganize your own schedule to be able to critique and grade earlier in the week?

(star) LEARN MORE (star) about streamlining your critiques.


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  1. Thanks to Sandra for sharing her experience!

    If you have a teaching story to share, please get in touch with me:

  2. This recent group seems to be increasingly congregating on the weekend, which makes most of my interaction less effective, even as I chase them through the week with probing questions and interesting anecdotes. If they all show up on Sunday its a tough job.  

  3. Unless I don't understand this, it never occurred to me to grade the week following the admissions. I grade the day they post it. And finalize the grading for the module the "moment" it closes. By grading the day they post it, the students who are really trying to do something great can see what their efforts have earned them. I then allow them to resubmit the module assignment. This gives the good students an advantage of more attention and the ones lazily doing the assignments the lesser response in relationship to their lesser effort. I do not allow late assignments. I also have an Excel sheet I've setup with formulas that allow me "real-time" calculations of their grades – I know how every student is doing any time in any module. For perspective, I teach a course at the MFA level. In relationship to the topic, even though I grade like this I still have students who say I'm not involved, accessible or prompt. Guess which ones.

  4. I think its necessary to reply to my students messages on the day they send them. They know they can rely on me when ever they have questions or technical concerns so they can meet their deadlines.

    I know my students appreciate it with their many positive replies back. Its keep them engaged in their assignments. I have found that discussing their work in progress stages helps them better understand

    how to analyze their learning curves and skill level. I even get requests to repeat an assignment to see how they can strengthen their skills more.


    1. I completely agreed with Camille La Pointe-Lyons. I do the same and receive that kind of feedback also. I believe this is key.

  5. I believe the promptness of grading also depends on whether or not a class is mostly based on assignments or discussions.

    I participate in my largely discussion-based online classes every day, several times throughout the day; I even check in occasionally on weekends when I am able.  Of course questions or issues are addressed as soon as I see them.  However, there is also the issue that Christopher Braun described in his post of many students only engaging on the last day or so of the module, regardless of an instructor's efforts to encourage them to participate early (and I make so many of these efforts during the first part of the semester that some students find it annoying!).  

    For assignments in my class, however, grading immediately is either unnecessary or unrealistic as I have approximately 150 students and most do not post their work until Sunday. On the other hand, when there are timely assignments such as proposals that need approval, I respond to them as quick as possible.  Like Sandra, I grade the previous module's assignments on Monday (the day after the module closes), though the majority of students will likely not check their grade until the end of the week anyway (but at least this is done for those students who DO check their progress and who do read instructor comments).

    1. Great points all around. I guess it is an organic process, akin to chasing the proverbial cats. In my present module I made it clear that only three of my 20 students fully completed an assignment and I would grade them as each fulfilled a most necessary task. Now to log in and see how Friday afternoon is going, lol.

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone! There is a lot of variety in the ways instructors choose to give feedback on students' work. Some, like Sandra and Bob, choose to wait until all the work is in (i.e., until the deadline has passed) to critique everything. Others, like Patrick, take a "rolling" approach and grade work as it comes in. Both can work, and so much depends on the nature of the assignments.

    To Camille and Cheryl's point about responding quickly to students' messages: yes! It's so crucial to answer their questions as soon as possible. Our rule-of-thumb is one business day, and as Camille says, the critical thing is that students can trust that they will get an answer when they need it.

    As for Christopher's point about students posting all their work on Sunday, it is a perennial problem, as we all know. Bob, you mentioned that you work hard to get students to post earlier in the week, and I wonder what exactly you do and what success you're having with this approach? Is anyone trying the strategy of keeping discussions open after the end of the module (say, through Wednesday or Thursday)? I wonder whether and how well this is working. Please comment, if you've tried this tactic!

    One other thing I wanted to mention: the graduate Illustration classes this semester are all using a new strategy to ensure that students review and engage with their instructor's critiques. In lieu of a regular discussion, students are required to go back into the (reopened) assignment topic from the previous module, review all the instructor's critiques, and then write a response to each critique stating how those points apply (or don't apply) to their own work. Sandra (and Bill Maughan, who originated this approach, and others) report that they have seen significant improvement in their students' work, since they implemented this method. Has anyone else tried this? It would be great to hear more about how it's working and whether there are any downsides to this approach. (I wonder, for example, if a sense of community is lost when there is no actual interaction among class members...)

    1. Hi Jenny, yes out of necessity I opened a dialogue topic I call "Catch-all discussion" for each module, usually to bring that Sunday crew into focus if they show up early by chance. It seems to be a place these students interact with each other more as well. Giving them another avenue to discuss points and follow up is beneficial.

      1. Nice idea, Christopher!

    2. When I was teaching online several semesters ago, I was finding that students weren't incorporating the feedback they had been given. This made me wonder if they were even seeing it. So I tried an approach somewhat similar to Bill and Sandra's. I started requiring that - as part of a subsequent project - students go back to review prior feedback and summarize which changes they had made, based on that feedback. When they turned in the new project, they had to attach a brief summary of the feedback they were incorporating. I didn't experiment with this enough to have a good sense of the impact, but if it seems like something worth trying all it would take would be adding an additional step to your assignments. If anyone tries this, it would be great to hear how it goes!

      1. Great idea, Molly. I'll give it a try.

        1. Super, Christopher. I hope it helps!

      2. Before my class was changed to its present schizpphrenic form, I actually didn't give ANY grades until the end of the last module. My approach was the same one I used teaching at FIT. The work they generated was more important than the grade for the work was what they needed to show to get a job. The module work assignments were never closed. They remained open all semester. I gave input and expected them to follow the threads and understand how the comments I made to one were for all. They had all semester to do any assignment (for the first time) or any assignment over to account for the comments of myself and their peers.


        Two results.

        1) The people who were really good and serious about learning would keep up on the work to get the input. They would add comments to mine about the other people's work. Not always agreeing, which I encouraged. The good students who participated every module with submitted work would often resubmit their work during the last module. This gave them more professional work for their portfolios and always bumped their grade at least a point. To encourage this I graded five assignments. I allowed them to submit seven. This allowed them to "go-for-it." To "fail" on two assignments without it affecting their grade. I decided which two not to include, which removed them having to guess what I "want/like" to get a good grade.

        2) The others would use my system to delay the work. Some until the very end. And always demonstrating that they "never" read the comments of myself or the other students to the work that was handed in before them.

        As I do now, I kept a running grade summation. It's what I used for the needed grading periods. Remember I did give them comments and direction. I also reminded them that the only grade that counts is the final one. And I always point out that the work they get to show is more important than the grade (my bias).

        To keep everyone "honest" I did close the discussions with the module. Forcing participation even if they were lax on assignments. And when we had to submit grades my running total penalized them for not handing an assignment(s) in for they were counted zero.


        I don't know if anyone else figured this out, but the published weighting of the class grading actually allows someone to pass without ever handing in an assignment. If they do the discussions, take the quizzes, and do a few exercises which don't receive a recorded grade they can get pretty damn close to a "C." I believe one student actually did. I believe in his case I "cheated" the system and gave him a "D." As I mentioned I have an Excel sheet I created that has the formulas in it to weight each module's requirements based on the published weighting and give me a running total.


        It's probably apparent to all of you that my approach is not one of hand-holding. Especially in a Master level class. If they don't want what their paying for it merely points out that they should change majors for they're not going to make it in the business arena I'm teaching. I hope my extreme teaching technique of never closing an assignment bookends this discussion for all. My conclusion, the participation is the same no matter the time allotted or the number of comments you make. And in a way, the result too.


        *I should note that although my class size was 12-18 students, the change in this class has made it 6+/- who enroll and 2-4 who stay. This semester I'm down to two.