Seven Principles, part three-ish: Timely and Effective Feedback

This week, we’re using a bit of editorial discretion to shuffle Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles around a bit and look at the question of feedback. Chickering and Gamson declare that “prompt feedback” to students is one of the seven good practices of undergraduate education. Of course, there is an entire spectrum of methods we can use to give students feedback about their work–some of it informal, some of it formal. It’s often the formal part of that feedback that trips us up, though. The piles of papers to grade and journal entries to read, of drafts to provide comments on and exams to mark, can reach intimidating proportions faster than we realize. I’m convinced that exam blue books breed in my office overnight, since the pile on my desk always seems bigger no matter how many of them I’ve plowed through the day before. And that, in a nutshell, is what makes this principle the hardest one to consistently practice: it often seems like I can either give good feedback, or have it be prompt, but not both.


From the student perspective, it’s frustrating to turn in an assignment and wait for weeks to get feedback on it. There’s a few students who seem to expect a paper returned within a day, sure, but most students have reasonable expectations to receive work back in time to actually put the feedback into use for subsequent assignments. If we mean what we say about practice and improvement being key components of learning, it’s incumbent on us to give the type of timely feedback that will help students do so. In this regard, it helps to reach an understanding with our students as to what constitutes a reasonable time frame for returning graded work. At the beginning of the semester, I tell my students that I strive to return exams and papers within two weeks, and I will regularly keep them informed about when they can expect my feedback.

The problem, though, as that it’s easy to set goals at the beginning of the semester when the calendar hasn’t filled up, committee meetings haven’t proliferated, and we haven’t yet realized that we scheduled exams in each of our classes to occur during the same week. What do we do when the grading piles up, the days go by, and we get caught in the spiral of guilt over not grading leading to procrastination leading to more guilt over not grading leading to eating ice cream right out of the container while watching basketball and still not grading? Is there a way to address the need for effective, timely feedback for our students without enduring vicious circles of procrastination and guilt or multi-day grading marathons?

FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK…today, Monday the 5th, CETL is hosting a workshop on exactly this subject! We’ll cover everything from  designing assignments with ease of feedback in mind to tips and tricks to make grading go more quickly without sacrificing the quality of feedback we give to our students. As a sneak preview of today’s discussion, here are three questions we can ask ourselves to get a handle on our grading load:

  1. Do I need to grade everything? How much commentary should I include? Do I really have to identify every grammatical error and formatting mistake? Do I need to grade everything in the same manner? Can I have students do any of this assessment work?
  2. Are there any pre-emptive measures I can take to mitigate the most common (and most time-consuming) issues I encounter in student work? How can I prevent plagiarism and other kinds of academic dishonesty? How can I keep from having to write the same comments over and over? How can I get students to actually use the feedback I give on one assignment to avoid making the same mistakes on the next one?
  3. How can I grade all these damn papers and still have a life? Are there techniques I can use to save time and effort, to streamline the grading process, without sacrificing the quality of feedback I’m giving? What the hell is a rubric and why would I ever use one? Are there ways I can use technology to work smarter, not harder? HELP ME PLEASE I’M DROWNING IN BLUE BOOKS AND ESSAY DRAFTS

For answers to these questions and more, please consider braving the winter weather and joining us this afternoon in the CETL. If you can’t make it, or are looking for particular resources or solutions concerning student feedback, just contact CETL and we can set up a time to meet that works best for your needs. But we hope to see many of you this afternoon in Rasmussen 208!

Don’t forget the Blackboard training sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday; this week, we’ll be going over how to use the blog and journal tools in Blackboard to foster student writing and streamline the feedback process. See the CETL calendar for workshop times; we hope you can make it.

Finally, the idea of dogs with their own soundtracks has great potential, I think (volume up for this one):


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