Skip to content


African American female looking at laptop computer screen

In a recent Teach Thought blog post, Justin Chando writes,

To tell a student “great job” or “this needs work” is a missed opportunity.

Hearing that you did a great job is wonderful. However, the problem with “great job” or “this needs work” is that it is not specific. There is no indication of what was done that was successful, and no information about how to replicate this success in future assignments.

In the blog post, Justin goes on to explain Grant Wiggins’ key characteristics of better feedback. Helpful feedback is:

Goal oriented: Goal referenced feedback creates a roadmap for students; it shows them how far they can go in the mastery of a subject or skill by outlining specific places for improvement or highlighting successful behaviors/techniques.

Transparent: A useful feedback system involves not only a clear goal, but transparent and tangible results related to the goal. The feedback needs to be concrete and obvious.

Actionable: Great feedback begs an obvious action/response from a student. It provides a clear course of action for the next time around or outlines a new plan for moving forward.

User-friendly: Feedback is not of much value if the student cannot understand it or is overwhelmed by it. Quality feedback should be accessible to the student, clear and concise, using familiar language from the lesson/course.

Timely: Vital feedback often comes days, weeks, or even months after. Give students timely feedback and opportunities to use it in the course while the attempt and effects are still fresh in their minds.

Ongoing: One of the best ways to give great feedback is to give it often. Ongoing formative feedback helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work.

Consistent: Keeping guidance as consistent as possible allows students to hone in what needs to improve in their work and focus on making it better.

For more information on these key characteristics of better feedback including strategies to give better feedback, read Justin's Teach Thought blog post, How To Give Students Specific Feedback That Actually Helps Them Learn.

Photo credit: photo by #WOCinTech Chat is licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Janice Florent

In a recent Faculty Focus article, Dr. Karen Buchanan, associate professor of education at George Fox University, compared formative assessments and fitness bands. In the article, Dr. Buchanan explained how a fitness band changed the life of a colleague because of the continuous feedback provided about her progress toward her fitness goal.

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

  • Help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • Help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

person wearing a fitness band

Fitness bands are popular because they work. The fitness band:

  • Provides clear, timely data on users progress
  • Helps users see where their current data sits in relation to their goals
  • Provides users with feedback and/or tips aimed at improving their performance
  • Celebrates milestones using a variety of electronic methods

The continuous feedback and progress toward goal is formative assessment.

Can instructors be as effective as a fitness band? Here are two suggestions for providing students with helpful feedback:

  • Be detailed in your feedback - Be specific and give examples. How can students implement your suggestions if they are missing, minimal, or vague?
  • Stay current in grading - How can students implement your suggestions if they are not given in a timely manner?

Embracing the power of formative assessment will help you increase the quality of your teaching and help students to improve their metacognitive awareness of how they learn.

For more information read Dr. Buchanan’s article What Fitness Bands Can Teach Us about Classroom Assessment.

Image Credit: Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

by Karen Nichols

Are your students like some of mine in that they often wait until the last minute to post their discussion board assignments? When that happens, you have more grading to do all at once plus the opportunity for a really great discussion is missed because students are merely trying to complete an assignment before the deadline rather than practice engaged learning.

Tony Birch gives two ideas to help maintain a continuous flow of discussion posts in his article "How to Encourage Continuously Interactive Online Discussions" published in eLearning Industry earlier this year.  In his article, he recommends two techniques to improve the flow of discussion posts.

First, he suggests instilling a sense of social purpose for posting in the discussions.  Your objectives for each discussion should be clear to the students--they should understand why they are being asked to discuss a topic.  They should also be made to realize that their participation (or lack thereof) directly influences the success of the discussion and learning experience.  The students should take ownership of the discussions. To assist them in achieving this requires fairly quick feedback from the instructors which includes suggestions like, "Student X posted an interesting viewpoint on this topic.  Why don't you have a look and discuss your take on it?"  So, rather than giving the general direction of "respond to at least two of your classmates' posts", you are helping to direct students to certain posts.  In that way you can match up some students according to different criteria--a weaker one with a stronger student, two students with similar or different ideas, etc.  This type of feedback can also ensure that everyone has received some response to their post and no one is left out of the discussion.

Another way to discourage last minute or all-at-once posting is to reward students who post early and/or throughout the given time for the discussion board.  The author suggests adding Timeliness into your grading rubric.  Here is the one he uses for a week-long discussion:

Timeliness All posts are after Friday or all posts on a single day First post no later than Wednesday; other posts prior to end of week Posts early: First post no later than Wednesday; at least one other post Friday or before; posts on several days of the week
0 pts 1 pts 2 pts

The author notes that the total number of points is 13 so adding these 2 points affects the grade by 15%.  Explain to the students that they can potentially raise their grade by 15% just by posting on time.  The difference of a whole letter grade can be a significant incentive.

Well, what do you think of these two ideas?  Can they work for you with your discussion boards?  Are you using other techniques with success?  If so, please share!

by Karen Nichols

Edutopia's 53 Ways to Check for Understanding offers several quick and easy activities for formative assessment. While these were established for a face to face environment, I think we can adapt several of them to our online/hybrid courses.

A number of the formative assessments listed require defining, identifying objectives, explaining why a reading is important, etc.  For these types of assessments, Blackboard offers an array of discussion boards, wikis, journals, etc.  They can be set up for students to view other postings and comment, thus providing opportunities for dialogue and collaboration.

Suggestion 20 is to create a collage using the themes from the current lesson.  A word cloud can be used for this activity and it can be uploaded in a discussion board.  Wordle is commonly used, but here is one I created from Tagxedo (Also item 35 in this article)--can you tell the topic I chose?


I've successfully used Item 45, Bio Poem, in my French classes.  In my case, I used this idea for the students to practice using newly learned French vocabulary by describing themselves, but it can certainly be used to as a formative assessment check to make sure the students understand literary characters or historical figures.  For those unfamiliar with the Bio Poem, here are the items to include:

Line 1:  First Name

Line 2: 3-4 adjectives that describe the person

Line 3:  An important relationship

Line 4: 2-3 things, people or ideas that the person loved

Line 5: 3 feelings the person experienced

Line 6: 3 fears the person experienced

Line 7:  Accomplishments

Line 8: 2-3 things the person experienced or wanted to see happen

Line 9:  Person's place of residence

Line 10:  Last name

Let's be creative ourselves!  Complete this bio poem about yourself or a literary or historical figures and share with us in a post!