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Posts Tagged ‘feedback

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?

Martin Weller recently wondered out loud if more personalised learning, greater flexibility in schooling, and increased feedback was better.

His thoughts were provocative as they usually are and well worth the read. He shared them because he felt that:

we shouldn’t let these unspoken assumptions pass unchallenged, because huge industries and major university strategies which will affect thousands of learners are based on them.

I agree.

However, I disagree with what seemed to be a focus on quantity. I do not think this was Weller’s intent, but he did use phrases like “more feedback” and “more flexibility”.

Imagine if adult learning institutes focused instead on strategic personalisation, meaningful flexibility, and timely feedback. These are about the quality of learning experiences.

More is not the issue. Better is.

After reading this piece on formative assessment by Steven Anderson, I decided to focus on formative feedback instead.

I sum up and oversimplify formative feedback in four broad and overlapping activities. These are driven by the questions:

1. Where is the learner now?
2. Where does s/he need to go?
3. Why does s/he need to go there?
4. How might s/he get there?

Three questions for formative feedback.

The problem with generalisations is that people start and end there. I do not share these questions to drive dogma. Instead they are distillations of the collective experiences and wisdoms of progressive educators everywhere.

Post production note: I originally had just three elements — I did not have the WHY at first. This might not seem like a logical formative question, but it is an important one to ask to keep the learner’s motivation up.

As much as I try to promote and model progressive forms of education, I am “old school” in some ways. I believe in being “cruel” to be kind.

I get a fair bit of my work done at public libraries. These libraries have a rule about not leaving personal property behind to reserve seats or tables.

Signs pasted on table tops inform patrons that abandoned property will be confiscated and put in special collection areas.

Librarians make their rounds to remind users not to reserve seats or leave belongings unattended. If patrons are absent, the librarians are authorised to remove the abandoned items. Instead, most librarians leave warning notes behind instead.

I have observed patrons return to the seats, see the notes, and nonchalantly crumple them up. The rule is not upheld and there is no consequence for their actions.

The librarians probably want to avoid confrontations with patrons. But by being considerate to such patrons, the librarians allow the inconsiderate behaviour of some patrons to persist.

It is better to be cruel to be kind. This adds teeth to the rules and takes a bite out of inconsiderate behaviour.

A peaceful reading alley in the #library at #orchardgateway #singapore.

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

These libraries are one of my work spaces. I often provide feedback and grade assignments there.

In the earlier piece, I explained how and why I provide feedback that goes beyond content. I am particular about how my learners write and I am strict about the standards they need to achieve.

Like the upholding of library rules, I am “cruel” to be kind. I believe in providing encouragement, but I also know that errors and bad habits must be clearly and firmly pointed out.

If doing this bruises the egos of my learners, so be it. I am confident that they will grow and learn from the pain eventually. After all, we learn more from occasionally falling down than constantly staying up.

Yesterday I shared some thoughts on providing formative feedback on written assignments. Today I share some strategies I use to do so efficiently and effectively.

Get out of comfort zones
I try not to work at home. There are too many distractions there largely thanks to my fast Internet connection. I might get sidetracked by YouTube videos or social media alerts.

I make my way to a library or a coffee place. I do not have the comforts of home and I switch to my all-business frame of mind.

One benefit of being at a coffee place is that I cannot stay long. I cannot hog a table or I might have time-limited Internet access. The time limit is an incentive to work efficiently.

Block distractions
Being in a public place means it gets noisy much of the time. I counter this by donning a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

I have different playlists to help drown out ambient noise or bad store music. Some music is calming if the work I am reviewing agitates me; some of the tunes are energetic if my human battery runs low.

I also remove my glasses as I do not need them for close up work. Doing this has the benefit of not being distracted by what appears in my peripheral vision.

Set a quota and stick to it
I use the number of scripts and the feedback due date to calculate how many assignments I need to process a day. Then I divide each day’s quota into a before-lunch and an after-lunch set.

The quota needs to be achievable. Some initial trial and error has built my experience up on this matter. Calculating the quota is the easy part.

The difficult part is keeping to the quota. By this I do not mean completing the AM or PM session’s amount. I do this consistently. I mean stopping when I seem to have gained momentum.

It is important to stop because I do not want to mentally exhaust myself. If I am tired, it will show in my feedback and this is not fair to my learners. I also need time to rest, play, or finish the now cold cup of coffee on the table.

Revisit earlier scripts
It is tempting to grade, provide feedback, and never want to see a piece of writing again. However, I find it useful to revisit earlier scripts to
to check for the consistency of my feedback.

I think that we operate like the tides when we process assignments. We seem to wash up consistently like waves crashing on a beach. But no two waves are identical and there is the overall ebb or flow of tides too.

This could be due to my energy, the time of day, the overall nature of the class, the behaviour and expectations of learners who submit at different times, and so much more.

Embrace subjectivity
I do not try to be a robot or strive to be absolutely objective. This is impossible.

I embrace subjectivity but do so professionally. By this I mean that I take into account how a group responded to one or more lessons, what strategies I used with them, what content we uncovered together, etc.

We might have a menu to follow, but each dish is a bit different from another. I acknowledge and respect that by seeing how it was prepared (focusing on the process), not what it looks like (focusing on the product).

Strive for timeliness
One thing that makes feedback effective is timeliness. Wait too long to provide it and all effort it lost because learners have forgotten what they wrote.

The assignments I grade and provide feedback on are submitted online. After the submission deadline, I process assignments in the order they were submitted. This means that the first person to submit gets feedback first.

I could resort to an administratively convenient alphabetical order, but this is not fair to students who might have Z surnames but A response times.

End note: I prepared much of this reflection after processing a day’s quota of assignments. My mind was still buzzing, so I put my energy into sharing some ideas.

It is that time of the year when I deal with the haze.

A photo I took of the haze in 2013.

Not the literal and annual haze that has plagued Singapore. It mercifully gave us a miss this year.

Neither was it the burning, smoke, smells, and extra dust that accompanies the month-long hungry ghost festival.

I am referring to the haze of written assignments that I grade and provide formative feedback on.

The assignments are cumulative. This means that the first one sets a foundation for the second, and the second is the basis for the third. This makes the writing (by learners) and the evaluating (by facilitators) of the assignment challenging.

I could simply focus on the grading criteria and content of the assignments. That would be challenging enough. However, I do not think that this is logical or ethical.

I also focus on various aspects of writing as a form of communication. I provide feedback on spelling, grammar, organisation and structure, logical flow, presentation, use of white space, and more.

Example of what I provide feedback on that has nothing to do with content.

Doing these might seem like doing extra work. To use the haze analogy, it is like smoking while burning incense paper during the haziest time of year.

It is not.

I know that good writing is not just about WHAT my learners say, but also HOW they say it. It is about their attitudes and mindsets — whether they show care, sincerity, and effort as they write — that also matter.

Here is a general example of the persuasive writing that is expected in some parts of the assignments. A good structure of three arguments (1, 2, 3) is to have three parts to each argument (A, B, C).

An organised person who takes care to communicate clearly would write in this pattern: 1A-1B-1C; 2A-2B-2C, 3A-3B-3C. This is critical thought that flows logically.

A writer that does not care or is not aware of such structure might write like this: 1A-2A-3A, 1B-2B-3B, 1C-2C-3C. This makes it very hard to follow arguments because the elements are out of place.

If I focused just on my learners’ understanding of content and their application of concepts, I could ignore structure and just look for mention of the content and concepts. However, this would be like singing parts of a song out of sequence. All the parts are present, but it does not make sense.

While I am not teaching a writing class, my learners are writing purposefully. The best way to learn how to write is to write, get critiqued, reflect, and revise.

Learners who pick up good writing habits break through the haze of ignorance or stubbornness. It takes effort to do this, but the sunlight and fresh air when you rise above the smog is worth it. So is the effort to help my learners get there.

… is another man’s poison.

That was the saying that came to mind when I read this student’s feedback on teaching.

A reporting officer or an administrator might view this feedback on teaching negatively.

A teacher who focuses on content as a means of nurturing thoughtful learners might view this positively.

I am not describing a false dichotomy. I am summarising reality.

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