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Posts Tagged ‘feedback

 
I am in the middle of an intense grading exercise. This happens every semester because I get at least one Friday class which has deadlines on Friday evenings. This means that I burn weekends to give timely feedback to my students.

This practice is not unusual because I was a teacher and professor. I am married to a teacher and my parents were teachers. Marking scripts on weekends is a sad family norm.

What I find irritating is that I need to have at least five (sometimes six) web browser tabs open to provide feedback and grade. These is a tab each for:

  1. The institutional LMS (to access the online scripts)
  2. The feedback tool (for commenting on student work)
  3. A timer (because the LMS page times out every 30 minutes)
  4. A Google Sheet (for recording my marks)
  5. A Google Doc (for backing up my comments)

When I am in a public place like a library, I have a sixth tab to play soothing music through my headphones. I do this to drown out inconsiderate users who talk in the study space.

Technically I should need only three tabs open: The LMS (to get the scripts), the feedback tool (to read and comment on them), and the Google Sheet (to record the marks).

However, the auto-timeout of the LMS page requires me to refresh it, so I need the timer to remind me. If I do not pay attention, the LMS page times out in the background and my last set of comments does not get saved. The feedback tool also just freezes.

I need the Google Doc tab to back up my comments. I have been burnt by a systems administrator who removed my LMS account and its data (all the assignment comments), so I need the Google Doc for continuity between semesters.

Then there are the people who talk in the library… sigh. Ambassador-at-large, Tommy Koh, recently described us as a first world country with third world citizens. It is the small things that add up. Small things like being considerate in a shared space.

Needing five (or six) tabs open to grade and give feedback is a first-world problem. But the problems that cause them have been around for as long as Man has soiled the Earth.

This rant has been brought to you by Misanthrope Plus.

Today I link at behind-the-scenes (BTS) documentary about Game of Thrones (GoT) with the blog entry of an educator I follow via RSS.

George Couros reflected:

I am a big believer that challenge is necessary for growth and development, but I also know how criticism is delivered and where it is delivered from matter tremendously.

I agree, but I would also focus on who a critique (not just criticism) came from and why it was offered.

A criticism is negative; a critique can be positive, negative, or both.

Who a critique comes from and why matters. I would rather hear from a fellow educator or an authority from my field about my practice or my evidence than even the most observant outsider.

That is not to say that outsiders cannot provide unexpected or serendipitous perspective. They can. But they also do not have shared language and values, and in Couros’ context of reflecting on education, who offers feedback and why they do so matters.


Video source

The video above is a trailer for the GoT BTS documentary. It is a one-minute teaser for an almost two-hour insight into how the final season was prepared and delivered.

If social media feedback is taken at face value, then the final season of GoT was a disappointment. I say that the people who complained about the season should watch this documentary first. You cannot provide feedback on the product if you are not aware of the processes.

No show is perfect just as no teaching practice is perfect. Both are open for feedback in the form of criticism and critique. But the negative feedback on the final season of GoT seemed to come largely from armchair pundits. Many of their reasons were selfish: Self-promotion of self-proclaimed expertise, bandwagon likes on social media, calls for better entertainment.

That is the type of feedback that does not come from the right place for the right reasons. It demoralised and destroys. I have reflected before on how I believe in providing tough feedback as long as it is deserved and comes from a good place.

Who the feedback comes from and why it is offered matters.

 
If there is one thing I am positive about it is that I would rather be “cruel” in order to be kind. I do this even if I might come across as negative.

I design and implement learning experiences for adult learners. Most of the learning happens when they attempt challenging assignments and perform authentic tasks. These activities highlight gaps and my learners are likely to make mistakes or fail.

When I provide feedback, I offer encouragement when it is warranted. I also highlight areas of improvement as directly and as clearly as I can.

Most students seem able to process such feedback in the spirit it is intended. A few seem to only expect positive strokes or do not believe they could be wrong. This is unrealistic and harmful — no one is perfect, and focusing only on the positives does not build resilience or nurture reflectiveness.

If students do not receive less than pleasant feedback, they are not taught how to listen under these circumstances. They also need to be explicitly taught listening strategies, e.g., wait time, clarifying questions, reflection.

I would rather critique than mollycoddle. As an educator of not just content but also of values and attitudes, I would be acting irresponsibly if I did not.

Today I reflect on a section in a written assignment in which my students respond to feedback about improving their work.

One student did not appreciate that I was pointing out only areas of improvement. What I saw as constructive feedback seemed to be viewed by that student as negative and lacking encouragement.

I am all for providing encouragement and acknowledging good work. But I give it only when it is deserving and warranted.

It should be obvious when something is deserves a positive comment. In the context of the assignment, this might be when a student clearly describes a good idea or skilfully outlines a meaningful strategy.

However, it might not be as clear when such feedback is warranted. I only provide it when I think is does not lead a learner to be complacent, i.e., the idea is good enough and does not need improvement.
 

 
I do not encourage for encouragement’s sake. If a student is doing the equivalent of driving towards the end of a cliff, I do not compliment them on how well they drive in a straight line. I tell them to change tactic or course.

It might be easy to label students who depend on positive feedback as snowflakes. I do not. They are products of nurturing. If their teachers before me were only positive and did not occasionally use tough love, they will find what I do unnerving.

But they must learn that life does not operate that way. If I am the first to provide a concrete experience and point this out, then so be it. I will be cruel in order to be kind.

This teacher’s generous sharing is a good example of an open classroom practice.

It is also an example of Cuban’s description of practitioners often being experience or practice rich but theory poor.

The teacher shared some excellent ideas on how to go “gradeless”:

  • Poll students to see where they are at
  • Empathise with the mindsets of students
  • Stick with policies and model practices of going gradeless
  • Get buy-in and support from school leaders and peers
  • Communicate clearly with students and their parents

However, there are areas where experience, practice, and experimentation are not enough.

What the teacher describes are “gradeless” is actually a type of formative feedback; the former is somewhat intimidating while the latter is more mainstream. It is important to lower or remove barriers when trying something new. That principle is fundamental in managing change.

The teacher also had poll responses that puzzled me. For example, what is the difference between “learning biology and also getting a good grade” and “both learning and getting a good grade”? Is the latter about learning in general? If so, how is that option relevant?

Options in a poll or quiz should not be ambiguous or overlap conceptually. This is fundamental to poll and quiz design if you are not to confuse students and if you want to get a clear idea of where the learners are at.

No teacher or teaching is perfect. We need to take the roses and rotten tomatoes thrown in our direction in equal measure.

Far wiser and more articulate people have shared their thoughts on assessment, grading and feedback. So I reshare what they shared.

From these and the work of others, I distill some wisdoms into these image quotes.

Formative feedback

Quantitative grading ends learning. Quality feedback sustains learning.

Turnitin’s Feedback Studio (FS) is a useful tool, but it is not perfect. In fact, far from perfect. The developers attitude to feedback is far from desirable.

For two semesters I have experienced error messages while providing feedback and grading online assignments with FS. I use the latest versions of MacOS and the Chrome browser.

Last semester, the errors would start with this popup overlaying the assignment I am grading.

Turnitin Feedback Studio error message 1.

I have to close the window with the assignment to return to the LMS interface from which FS was launched. I cannot get back to the comment I am writing to attempt to salvage it.

The LMS frame which used to contain a list of student names and assignments contains this error message instead.

Turnitin Feedback Studio error message 2.

This happens consistently and almost predictably every 30 minutes. Even though I set a timer for 29min 45sec to try to refresh the LMS windows and reopen the assignment, I sometimes still get caught by this error.

This semester I have also come across a more elaborate error message.

Turnitin Feedback Studio error message 3.

I do not cancel anything or make any request. The FS system creates this popup and the effect is the same — I lose whatever I am working on and need to refresh the LMS window

The usability is poor not just because these errors disrupt the flow of providing feedback by way of comments in each assignment.

FS is also a pain to use because I cannot mouse scroll in an assignment. I have to use the up and down arrows or a scrollbar. Providing feedback and grading requires me to rapidly look at different parts of an assignment. It is not like reading a news article from start to end. The lack of non-mouse scroll slows me down and frustrates me every minute of using it.

If you think that my mouse or track pad are faulty, they are not. I can scroll just fine in the original LMS window. The fault lies with the FS window.

FS is useful because it leverages on Turnitin’s vast database to match for similar content. However, that feature is an anti-plagiarism measure. FS is, as its name implies, for feedback. While I can provide feedback on assignments, I have to put up with lousy usability and constant time-out and error messages.

How is Turnitin going to respond to my feedback? With a non-user-friendly error message perhaps?


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