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It is simple to just provide students with a numeric or letter grade on their assignments, especially in an online class, but providing additional feedback supports the opportunity for enhanced academic growth. Feedback is defined as information based on a task to improve performance, and often times when students’ work is graded, we overlook the importance of meaningful feedback by providing just a letter grade. Meaningful feedback on assignments enhances critical thinking, reflective practice, and develops instructor-student relationships which is important in an online environment. While feedback fosters reflection, correction and performance extension, it also increases student motivation as they feel the instructor is interested in their success.

Below are several tips to provide meaningful and effective feedback in online courses.

Feedback Format

In an online course, feedback can occur in different formats: written, verbal, or video. Instructors can provide written feedback directly in their learning management systems (LMS) or on the assignment submission itself. In addition to the written feedback, some LMSs, like Canvas, have built in voice and video recorders that allow instructors to provide feedback directly connected to the allocated grade.

If your LMS does not allow you to provide verbal or video feedback, there are several free programs that you can use. They include the following:

Vocaroo allows instructors to provide verbal feedback through an audio podcast. For example, Vocaroo allows instructors to record comments concerning the student’s submission in an audio podcast format, and then place the recording link for playback with the assigned grade.  

Jing allows instructors to combine screen capturing and verbal feedback in a video format. There are several ways online instructors can utilize this program to provide feedback to students. For example, Jing allows instructors to screen capture students’ submissions and provide verbal feedback. Instructors can also screen capture written feedback and provide additional verbal feedback that elaborates on the written comments. Once the feedback is completed, a feedback video link is provided to students with their assigned grades.

Zoom is a videoconferencing software program that allows instructors to host virtual feedback sessions or virtual conferences. This software program has vast applications for feedback options in an online course. For example, instructors can provide feedback prior to an individual conference session, then elaborate during conference session upon given feedback. With this feedback option, students have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions about the given feedback. Zoom also allows instructors screen capture the feedback as well as themselves in video format. This option is effective with increasing the social presence as students get to see the instructor’s nonverbal gestures while offering feedback, enhancing the depth of feedback.

Turn-around Time

When offering meaningful feedback to students, a timely response is an effective approach especially in online courses. It helps to avoid content disconnection and student isolation. If students have to wait several weeks for a grade on an assignment, feedback may not offer the opportunity for students to reflect, correct, and extend their performance. Students should be able to use feedback on assignments to influence the product of future work. A short turn-around time of grading and feedback supports the idea of facilitating a mentoring or coaching relationship with your students and in turn facilitates a more connected learning environment.

Instructor and Peer Feedback

While instructor feedback is essential for student progress, the power of peer feedback cannot go unnoticed in online courses. Students can often synthesize and reteach the content to their peers, which enhances the learning process. Leveraging the power of student feedback not only offers the opportunity to spark deeper, innovative thoughts on assignments, but it also supports increased mastery of content.  

One of our favorite tools to use is VoiceThread, which allows instructors and students to provide written, verbal, and/or video feedback in a presentation format. Peer feedback also heightens social presence in online environments because it provides an inclusive atmosphere where students are more apt to openly share and support one another.

Meaningful Feedback

Many students have mentioned to us that online courses can be intimidating because of the isolated nature that often comes with online classes. Recently, students in our online courses completed reflections concerning learning in an online environment. A common theme within the reflections was the feeling of being connected to a community because they had the comradery of their peers combined with the support of their instructor. They specifically attributed this feeling to the meaningful feedback provided throughout the course.  


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