The Need for Balanced Feedback

In the online class environment, students enjoy many advantages, such as increased scheduling flexibility, ability to balance work and school, classroom portability, and convenience. But there are potential shortcomings as well, including the lack of student-instructor interaction and a student not understanding the instructor’s expectations. A key mechanism to convey expectations while increasing student-instructor communication is relevant, timely, constructive, and balanced instructor feedback.

What is balanced feedback? From my experience in numerous courses as a former online student and now as an online instructor, balanced feedback embodies two concepts. The first is balancing praise and critique. Seldom does a student submit an assignment that does not contain at least a few praiseworthy elements. By commending students, we show respect for their efforts and allow them to recognize the good aspects of their papers. On the other hand, students typically provide ample areas for instructors to provide specific correction and feedback. Pointing out errors or deficiencies without providing information that could prevent future repetitive errors does little to promote improvement. Critical feedback needs an element of precision and specificity. Here are a few examples how to make the feedback you give your students more balanced and instructive:

  • Instead of “Writing style too informal” try feedback such as “You made an excellent point, yet consider in academic writing we strive to write in third person. Please avoid using personal pronouns such as I, we, or you.
  • Instead of “No sources?” try “You nicely presented your opinion, however the instructions required the use of three scholarly sources to support your statements.”
  • Instead of “Incorrect citation” try “Thank you for citing the source of the quote, but remember to always include the page number of the excerpt.”

In addition, we need to consider our method for spotting areas that require feedback. For example, are you only scanning the paper looking for errors, or do you actively search for commendable elements? Certainly we need to point out the errors, yet offering praise when praise is due provides balance, takes the edge off of the included criticism, and keeps the lines of communication open. Think back to your worst teacher, the one that yelled or never had anything good to say. When confronted with that type of learning environment, the natural tendency is to withdraw, keep your distance, and never raise your hand to ask a question. I believe the same phenomenon exists in the online classroom, perhaps even more so.

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