Anybody who's ever been a student knows the difference between getting a paper back stamped with a letter grade and getting it back covered with thoughtful feedback. One may quantify your progress, but the other actually tells you what you did right - and how to improve.
Acknowledging the important role that feedback plays in 'quality teaching and student learning,' education technology company Waypoint Outcomes commissioned a study exploring student perceptions of professor feedback. In June 2010, Waypoint conducted an online survey of undergraduates from across the U.S. The company presented the results of the study at the recent Campus Technology 2010: Advancing Higher Education Through Technology conference, alongside their new software for grading and giving student feedback.
Engaged Students: Effective Learners
Out of 473 respondents to the survey, 85% study on-campus, 2% just take courses online and 13% take a combination of online and on-campus classes. As the number of students taking online classes grows, the question of engaging these students has become especially important. Lacking face to face interaction with either their professors or their classmates, online students have a higher need for other forms of interactive engagement with the material. Solutions have included online message boards, interactive websites and even video conferencing, but the Waypoint study reminds instructors of the importance of the basics: Giving high quality feedback on coursework.
Of all the students surveyed, 98.8% agreed or strongly agreed that 'timely, personalized feedback' makes them more effective learners. One respondent commented, 'When I receive thorough feedback, I can better know what is expected of me and will perform better in the future.' Another added, 'It makes you feel like the professor actually cares about your work and that you are doing homework. It makes me try harder.'
The issue of actively engaging students with their coursework is a key one. Studies at community colleges, which tend to have a high rate of student attrition, have found that having clear academic expectations and forging early connections with professors are crucial for keeping students in school. Another study focused on 4-year colleges and universities found that the most predictive factor of student persistence is how students feel about their institutions in the first eight weeks of school - an attitude that's shaped in large part by the quality of their interactions with professors.
As student comments on the Waypoint study emphasize, students who get feedback for their work are motivated to perform better - and, in turn, are more likely to stay in school.
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Defining Quality Feedback
In spite of the importance of feedback, many faculty are falling down on the job. The Waypoint survey found that students aren't happy with the quality of the feedback they're receiving. Only 15.4% of respondents 'strongly agreed' that they're satisfied with the feedback they receive from their professors. An equal number disagreed or strongly disagreed.
So what are the qualities that are missing? Timeliness and personalization. One student commented, 'It's difficult to assess how well you are learning the material when it takes so long for professors to grade assignments.' Another noted, 'A lot of the time I do not feel that I receive adequate personalized feedback. I realize professors keep busy schedules with multiple courses, hundreds of students, and research, but I believe adult education should be centered around individual responsiveness.'
Of those students who did indicate being satisfied with their course feedback, 98.6% said that their professors returned their work within one week. For students who are trying to keep up with heavy course loads and frequent assignments, getting feedback on time is crucial for applying it to future work. One student notes, 'By getting feedback quickly, I feel that I can better complete upcoming assignments. When rubrics or expectations are not given I feel more pressure about assignments and I am unsure what is necessary to adequately complete the assignment.'
Using clearly defined rubrics to set expectations and give student feedback is another important quality. Of those satisfied with the feedback they receive, 86.3% said that their instructors frequently used such rubrics. Although the emphasis on defined rubrics supports Waypoint's promotion of their software, it's the issue of clarity that emerges as key among student comments. Clearly defined expectations and specific, personalized feedback on how individuals are meeting those expectations set students up for success: 'Personalized feedback not only helps me do better in the class, but it helps me understand exactly how my teachers want me to interpret the assignments.'