Category Archives: EDUU 629

The Importance of Feedback: Both Fast and Slow

Feedback is one of the most important parts of a teacher’s job. Even if they don’t always act like it, students tend to be very interested in teachers’ reactions to their work. The emotional course of a young person’s entire day can be strongly affected by the sort of feedback–both positive and negative–that a teacher may provide. The power of effective feedback, of course, doesn’t only impact a student’s affective domain; cognitive development also depends on frequent and specific feedback from teachers. As Wiggins (2012) pointed out, feedback based on formative assessment is one of the most powerful factors affecting student learning.

For adult learners, of course, feedback is no less important, but it needs to be structured a little differently. Adults, especially professional educators, often have a well-earned sense of their own expertise, which they may have developed over the course of many years or even decades of classroom experience with young people. Even the most personable and trustworthy administrator, instructional coach, or trainer might offer a well-stated and specific suggestion to a teacher, only to be rebuffed as a non-expert who doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. In short, providing critical feedback to adults is complicated.

Mochari (2014) described how Abraham Lincoln was masterful at providing feedback to his generals during the Civil War. After Lincoln’s death, unsent letters were discovered in Lincoln’s desk that he had wisely decided not to send. Writing these letters must have helped Lincoln clarify his thinking, and perhaps even vent some of his frustrations and anxieties about trying to keep the young nation together in spite of a brutal war. Among Mochari’s takeaways was the importance of putting yourself into someone else’s shoes before criticizing him or her (Mochari, para. 11). I once worked for a superintendent who developed a well-deserved reputation for fits of rage, during which he would yell at employees so loudly that others could hear his every word through the wall. Hearing my colleagues, some of whom had been educators for decades, being cursed at and belittled didn’t just affect their morale and self-esteem; it had negative effects on everyone within earshot. While this is a rather extreme example, the fact remains that supervisors must tread lightly when providing feedback.

Of course, treading lightly isn’t always possible. Swartz (n.d.) outlined a system of writing feedback she used with her online language arts students. Among her insights was a commitment to provide feedback via electronic comments within 24 hours of a student writing submission. Prompt feedback is key to learning because the learner needs to hear both positive reassurances and suggestions for improvement while their work is still fresh in their minds. Most people have had the dubious experience of receiving feedback so long after finishing a job that many of the decisions and actions associated with the work have been forgotten.

As I consider the feedback mechanisms in my Demo Unit for this course, I believe there are several good ways that the instructor can provide prompt and specific feedback to learners. Wiki posts and threaded online discussions, for example, give instructors an opportunity to participate in a discussion in real-time, certainly within the 24-hour constraint that Swartz developed. Virtual online meetings and video conferences allow for feedback that is even quicker, in that they approximate the face-to-face conversations that occur constantly in a classroom environment.

Although feedback is most effective when it is prompt, it is sometimes important for teachers to take at least a little more time to carefully reflect on which suggestion(s) will have the most impact on learning. Several of my Demo Unit assignments have rubric-based feedback, associated with formal grading tasks, which are somewhat slower than online meetings and simultaneous discussions. The advantage to slower feedback is that great, breakthrough ideas often require more time and reflection before they can be formulated. If there is one lesson that we can learn from Abraham Lincoln, it is that the slower, more deliberate approach may not always be the most popular choice, but it is sometimes the most effective.

References

Mochari, I. (2014, February 11). Abraham Lincoln’s brilliant method for handling setbacks. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/ilan-mochari/lincoln-lesson-setbacks.html

Swartz, J. (n.d.). Strategies for providing substantive feedback in language arts in the online environment. Retrieved from http://itlab2.coe.wayne.edu/it6230/casestudies/english/english.html

Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10-16. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx

The Nature of Our Learners: Prezi Reflection

For this week’s Blog post, I will be reviewing Elizabeth Neal’s (2017) presentation about the nature of our learners, and comparing and contrasting her thoughts and beliefs with mine. Neal’s presentation describes three specific beliefs about 21st Century learners, and makes connections to relevant iNACOL standards throughout (International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 2011). My presentation similarly concerns three of my core beliefs and makes reference to the same standards.

Both Neal and I listed a strong system of feedback as essential to understanding the nature of our learners, which both of us related to iNACOL Standard D. Her associated artifact, an Edutopia article about how to provide effective feedback to students, strongly supports and expands upon this belief. Although we both outlined that effective feedback can come from both students’ peers and teachers, she went a step further by mentioning the possibility of eliciting feedback from experts. When students are using technology to produce authentic products, the value of feedback from experts in the field is especially important to keep in mind. Teachers should endeavor to establish partnerships with community experts, who can provide valuable feedback by sitting in a presentation audience and/or providing written feedback of student work. Neal also overtly connected this belief in the importance of feedback to the accessing of students’ cognitive domains. Rather than making such connections to affective, behavioral, and cognitive domains, I instead made specific mention of components of my Demo Unit that support each of my three beliefs. Although we approached this assignment with this slight difference in perspective, I think both approaches resulted in a good analysis.

For Neal’s second belief, she outlined the importance of student motivation, which she related to iNACOL Standard A. I also mentioned student engagement in my presentation, although I linked it instead to iNACOL Standard B. Our beliefs about these two standards are somewhat similar; Neal focused on students being able to make choices in their learning, and provided a link to a journal article about fostering students’ skills in working independently. I chose instead to cite a resource about how technology tools can be used to promote student interest. Both of these connections are, I think, valid. Both are clearly connected to the affective domain of learning, although Neal made this connection overtly, while I did not do so.

Finally, Neal described the importance of students being actively engaged in their learning, which she related to iNACOL Standard C. She connected engagement strategies to the behavioral domain, which is a connection I would not have thought of. I tend to connect student engagement primarily to motivation and student affect, as I explained above. Her artifact is a very interesting video that illustrates the concept that 21st Century students make a very real contribution to the learning relationship because they have technological expertise that their teachers may lack (MacPherson Institute, 2015). Teachers are still, of course, content experts, but students are adept at using multiple technological tools to efficiently find and vet information.

My third belief, by contrast, concerned a completely different issue, that of using formative assessment to inform, modify, and improve instructional design. I related formative assessment to iNACOL Standard I. I think this is an especially important concept in blended and online instruction, because teachers cannot always rely on nonverbal cues and face-to-face conversation with students in order to assess whether or not they are understanding the desired learning objectives. In fact, it is sometimes challenging for the online teacher to even know whether or not the students are paying attention. Thus, the importance of using frequent, multilayered formative assessment looms large in 21st Century learning. For this final argument, I selected a very practical artifact in the form of a blog post that outlines several dozen tools and apps that teachers can use to make different types of formative assessments.

References

International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online teaching. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/resource/inacol-national-standards-for-quality-online-teaching-v2/

Neal, E. (2017, May 11). The nature of our learners [Prezi slides]. Retrieved from http://prezi.com/sdvtycdt8n9g/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

MacPherson Institute. (2015, October 26). Peter Felten on engaging students as partners in learning and teaching [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/pPU4ckBBeEU

Refining the Demo Unit: Strengths and Areas for Growth So Far

My Demo Unit contains many elements that strongly address some of the iNACOL Standards (International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 2011). Three standards in particular stand out as particular areas of strength in my Demo Unit:

iNACOL Standard D

The threaded discussion and summative assessment rubrics provide some clear expectations for how my learners need to demonstrate their learning. At the same time, the rubrics were carefully designed to accommodate a wide variety of project formats and technology tools, so learners still have plenty of freedom about how to design their learning. For example, the summative portfolio must include a minimum of 3 artifacts and a reflective essay, but the format of the artifacts can be anything including a text document, slideshow, image, video, or URL link to some other online resource the learner has designed.

iNACOL Standard J

Communication with colleagues and stakeholders is an important part of my job, so I feel this is a real strength in my Demo Unit. The sample letters I included in my Hidden Instructor Resources folder are just small samples of my everyday interactions with technology tool vendors, colleagues in other districts, parents, students, etc.

iNACOL Standard F

Many of my weekly lesson design tasks are very flexible. These open-ended assignments create rich opportunities for accommodation because learners have a lot of choices to make in how to represent their lesson design tasks. For example, the weekly assignments may be submitted as either text or slideshow documents. My Demo Course also includes several screencast video explanations with embedded subtitles, which provides some support for learners with disabilities and/or different learning styles.


Of course, the work of a thoughtful designer is never really complete, and I see several areas in which my Demo Unit still needs revision in order to meet some iNACOL Standards:

iNACOL Standard B

Since the whole point of my Demo Unit is to teach a variety of media tools, I’m concerned that the curriculum may have too many new technology tools squeezed into the original seven-week time frame. Perhaps it would be better to spread this number of technology tools out over an entire school year of professional development meetings. Maybe each lesson should really happen over the course of a month, rather than a week, since many of my learners are employed as full-time classroom teachers. Also, the Demo Unit does not include any lesson that encourages learners to connect with outside colleagues via Edmodo, Twitter Chat, or similar networking activity designed to support a community of practice. In order to address this shortcoming, I will be replacing one of the redundant assignments in Week 6 with a social media assignment.

iNACOL Standard G

I feel that my assessments are very strong overall, especially the summative ones. However, there are not sufficient formative assessments upon which to make adjustments in the course, especially in the early lessons. I will be adding a formative assessment component that checks the learners for basic conceptual understanding after the second or third lesson of the Demo Unit. I will probably design an easy- to medium-level difficulty test of basic knowledge of SAMR, HyperDocs, and using YouTube for education. In keeping with the Demo Unit’s main theme of media tools, I will probably structure the quiz in a way that incorporates embedded graphics and video clips via Socrative or similar online assessment platform.

iNACOL Standard I

While I am designing the quiz mentioned above, I will also include one or more questions that solicit feedback on how the course is going, including suggestions for how the remaining lessons might be better explained or modified to meet learners’ needs, so that the early formative assessment may be used to make adjustments to the course in real time.

 

Reference
International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online teaching. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/resource/inacol-national-standards-for-quality-online-teaching-v2/