Improving Feedback and Fostering Collaboration With Technology
Teachers can use a variety of tools to help students become comfortable with receiving, incorporating, and giving feedback.
Teachers know that giving frequent, timely, and useful feedback can positively affect learning in their class, but the enduring power of feedback stays with a student who knows how to seek, give, and use it in order to enhance self-efficacy. For the teacher, feedback is an essential part of formative assessment that guides adapting instruction to meet learner needs. For a student who leads this process, feedback shapes growth and builds up confidence in their competency.
Using technology to provide differentiated and scaffolded adaptive feedback will move students beyond waiting for teacher feedback and making “corrections” toward more self-regulation and seeking out insights to create more-effective revisions.
In today’s environment, in which schools have had to expand their use of online educational tools, fostering constructive and timely feedback and student collaboration is crucial. As we try our best to take every opportunity to keep students engaged and challenged, technology-based feedback and collaboration tools can help reap meaningful benefits as well as lessen the handwritten feedback load for teachers.
Online Feedback Tools Support Student Autonomy
In an English language arts classroom like mine, I might have 100+ papers to read and respond to with thoughtful feedback. By using technology to assist in the process, I’m able to reduce my workload in giving feedback and can lead students to become more active in this powerful part of learning. Through trial and error during the pandemic distance-learning year, I learned how to use several effective platforms that make giving feedback easier and shift the task to include students much more than before.
Google Docs is the first online feedback tool I use with my students. I use the highlight and comment tools to ask students guiding questions about their writing. When I highlight a section, I can comment with questions like “How does this section relate to your claim in the paragraph?” and others, and the tool allows students to initiate comments and feedback as well.
Students can highlight sections and ask questions for readers to respond to. When a student asks about cohesion or if evidence and reasoning are enough to support a claim, I’m able to give focused feedback, and I know the student will respond to it because they initiated the dialogue about the text. The comment and version history in Google Docs allows anyone with access to the document a window into how the document has changed and grown over time.
While Google Docs shows who’s making comments on a document or draft, which is fine when the feedback is from the teacher, another online tool called Eduflow allows for anonymous posting of drafts and peer feedback.
Teachers can create three free courses, but if you need more than that, subscriptions are available. Keeping peer feedback anonymous removes the potential for hostility among students in real life because of perceived negativity online. Students can focus solely on sharing feedback on the drafts.
I use Eduflow when I think that the dynamic of the students giving and receiving the comments will interfere with the comments themselves. The dialogue that’s possible when peers can read and respond to others’ drafts is very helpful for teachers and students to see.
Online Tools Encourage Meaningful Feedback
Students often need guidance on how to provide useful feedback to peers. As John Hattie suggests in his book Visible Learning, praise like “good job” and “nice” are usually not specific and include little information about performance toward a goal. In my classes, I guide students to begin peer review comments by mentioning something their classmate did well and then identifying something their classmate can improve on, and whether the introduction to the draft has a clear thesis statement. Whatever the rubric for success on an assignment is, the peers are directed to follow the rubric’s descriptors to make comments and suggestions.
To have a smooth beginning in teaching students how to seek, give, and apply feedback, the feedback literacy curriculum and activity from Floop is a good place to start. This resource gives students models and sentence starters and helps teachers guide students new to this process in applying feedback to their work and giving their peers useful feedback. Using Floop as a scaffolding tool, I’ve noticed that after my students complete the practice activities, they are more aware and intentional when giving, receiving, and applying feedback.
The Google Chrome extension Mote is another useful online feedback tool. It allows you to tag specific parts of a document, slide presentation, and more with voice comments. By using voice comments, the meaning can be conveyed with more impact because it’s almost like an in-person conference; emphasis in tone of voice is easily heard and understood.
This option is helpful for students because it doesn’t require them to use interpretation skills to understand written comments. Some of my students have told me that my voice comments help them focus more and that the feedback I give in this format feels more relevant and personal and makes more sense to them. The free version of Mote allows for 30-second voice comments, and if the students have the Mote extension on their Chromebooks, they can also leave comments or questions for the teacher to hear and respond to.
Online Tools Can Support Student Collaboration
Perusall is a powerful online tool that allows students to collaboratively annotate texts, as well as images and paintings. Teachers create a course, and students join it to access the materials and texts. Teachers can set the reading expectations, for example, using a feminist lens to view a text or looking for context clues in a text or image, and the students collectively add their annotations for everyone to see.
This tool amplifies student engagement and voice and helps students lead one another to more in-depth reading and greater skill development. The comments aren’t anonymous, so each student has accountability for contributing to the collective interpretation of the material.
I’m a strong advocate for collaboration—it’s a requirement for my classes. I have my students use the tool to add to their classmates’ comments and to respond to comments to encourage collaboration. This brings student voices together in a community dialogue about a shared material or document.