Making Feedback Effective: Part 1 – The Purpose

When grading student work, instructors are asked to give not just a mark or a score, but also to give feedback to the student.  That feedback should be meaningful, constructive, informative, and personal.   But why is that?  What are instructors trying to achieve by giving feedback?

The answer to that question depends in part on when the feedback is being given, both in terms of the assignment and the course itself.

If being given early in the course, feedback serves to identify misconceptions and ensure that the student is on the right track with the subject matter.  The instructor has the opportunity to look at later assignments and see that any correction in misunderstanding has taken place.   Early in the course, it also serves to give the instructor feedback on how things are going: are there any corrections or adjustments the instructor should do to assist with learning?  Given later in the course, feedback confirms for the student that materials have been correctly learned, and corrects any misconceptions with explicit comments.

If the assignment is part of a larger, later, submission, the feedback serves to provide correction and encouragement toward that final product.  Misconceptions and errors can be corrected, components that are no track can be rewarded with praise.

Feedback comments also serve to confirm for the student, and the grade appeal committee if an appeal is made, that the score is justified.  Comments that reflect the wording of the grading rubric and show the connection between the submission, the assigned grade, and the rubric (showing both areas that are correct and areas for improvement).

The ultimate goal though is to improve the student’s performance.  That feedback serves to improve performance within the context of the course, or later, when using the concepts or performing a task at work that relates to the course learning.  That feedback serves to ensure the student has a firm understanding of what is correct and not only what is wrong, but how to correct or improve it.


Help, I need to create an exam!

That was the opening line on an email I recently got.  Essentially asking, where do I start?  I need to create an exam for my course, how do I even begin to tackle this topic?

My advice is to start with reviewing the learning outcomes.  (That should be done even before starting on building content, but let’s assume that’s happened.)  Look at the learning outcomes and ensure that you can see what it is students are expected to know or be able to do at the end of the course.

With the learning outcomes in mind, ask yourself what is the absolutely MOST important pieces of knowledge that students need to show the learning outcomes.  What are the pieces that you want students to remember a year from now?  What is it students need to know that they cannot just look up later, but need to be able to recall from memory to perform the job function or demonstrate they know this material?

Those are the starting points for your exam.  Not that they have to be the first questions, but those are the must haves that should be included in the exam.

Next look at what you’ve spent time on in the course.  The topic that you spent 2 minutes out of a 36 hour course is not the topic that gets 75 out of 80 questions.  Look at where you spent time, or are going to spend time since ideally the exam is created before the course!  (Yeah, I know, I don’t always manage that either!)  Be fair about how you are assigning topics on the exam, after importance look at where you spent time so that students can use that as a guide help studying.

Now look at the types of questions that you are asking.  Are the questions all about memorizing or recalling information?  Or is there some application?  How are you distributing those types of questions?  This goes back to the learning outcomes.  Generally speaking, an introductory course is going to put the emphasis on having students be able to recall information, with some application.  A higher level course is going to ask students more about analyzing and applying the materials, with some recall; an advanced topic is going to ask about creating, designing, developing, and justifying decisions.

Then look at filling the time.  Generally speaking, a multiple choice question takes 1 minute to do; listing takes a minute or less per word on the list; writing a paragraph or a long answer? That’s harder!  You have to look at the content, and what are you asking students to recall and explain.  If you knew this topic, what would it take to write that out by hand?

Remember, no true and false questions at PACE, and assign the marks based on what you are asking students to recall and how many items are in that answer.

Wow, that’s a lot but should get you started!

Want to know more?  Look back at some past blogs:

Creating Multiple Choice Questions

Building Better Quizzes

Exam Reviews

Exam Checklis

Nexus Tip of the Month: Group Set Up

Did you know that Nexus allows for the creation of groups for courses?  Found under the Communication tab on the ribbon bar, then Groups, this feature allows for the creation of groups where enrollment can be randomized, set up by the instructor, or allows for students to self select.

The  group feature allows for the automatic creation of discussion areas that are restricted to the instructor and assigned group members, and for assignment folders that are also restricted to group members.