By Joy Esboldt, Education
Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2022
Bettering one’s writing is a never ending task. However, receiving and giving feedback on written assignments is riddled with challenges. In my years of teaching, I have found that given the numerous demands and commitments students juggle, engagement with formative feedback on an assignment—even one for which students worked hard—may be met with limited capacity. As an instructor, I strive to use feedback to further students’ thinking, writing, and learning, rather than simply to justify their grades. In the past, I have taken advantage of informal interactions—chatting with students before or after class, or picking up on comments overheard during small group work—to draw out students’ thinking related to their assignment feedback and encourage their further development. These dialogues have complemented my written feedback by helping develop rapport and support intellectual growth in a meaningful way. However, giving feedback in a virtual format raised new challenges. Constrained in the frequency and logistics of informal interactions, I wanted to be able to rigorously engage with student writing and critical thinking in a dialogic way. When I found using written responses based on the rubric given to students for their first essay elicited very little engagement during virtual teaching of Fall 2020, this informal dialogue around students’ writing felt a thing of the past. So, I started to look for other possibilities for essay feedback.
In consultation with my teaching team, I decided to try creating video feedback for students. After reading each student paper and evaluating it on the rubric, I created a 4-6 minute video on bcourses where I highlighted one to two things that the student did particularly well, gave them two suggestions of how to strengthen their writing, and then talked about a specific component of their analysis that they might develop further. I quickly found that this approach offered a couple affordances particular to the virtual setting. First, it brought a personal dynamic to feedback in our virtual setting. I was able to “talk” with students about growth areas with a constructive tone, interweaving examples of things they did well marked with shifts in tone and body language that might have been more challenging to follow if interwoven in a written format. Second, it allowed me to “think with” students in an informal way and encourage their deepening analysis. I drew out examples or claims that students made that I wanted to hear more about and that might benefit from further elaboration. I shared how I saw these concepts connect to other class themes that they had brought up in class or asynchronous posts and raised related questions that they might think about for their final project. Overall, I saw these videos as a place to offer more detailed feedback and encourage further critical thinking in a dialogic way that did not demand students spend more formal time on Zoom.
Evidence that this was a meaningful pedagogical structure came in several forms. First, I was surprised at the amount of quick, informal feedback that I got. Immediately in the class following, several students shared in the large group that they appreciated the videos and brought up specific points. Several others commented on bCourses or in email, sharing the next phase in their thinking on topics related to the feedback. I followed up with each of these students and several responded again, opening on-going conversations. For the next paper, I offered students the option to receive written feedback instead if they preferred, but none requested it. Additionally, before the next paper my office hour attendance more than quadrupled as students came to workshop their thinking or drafts, directly drawing on comments I had offered in their previous feedback videos. Finally, student mid-term and end-of-semester evaluations were overwhelmingly positive and specific about this practice. Students wrote that the visual feedback on the essay “was actually really helpful and helped facilitate learning in the online environment” and that it was “some of the most helpful and detailed feedback they had received in college.” In the future, I plan to take this virtual tool with me back to the in-person classroom. Feedback videos can prompt or continue in-class dialogues, supporting students’ learning across platforms.