Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Technology & Assessment: Digital Feedback Tools

The Coaching (Assessment FOR Learning) section on the AAC Key Visual can help us understand the place for (and power of) feedback in the learning process. Feedback is the key component of formative assessment, and it's importance in the learning process cannot be overstated!

The Importance of Feedback for Students:

When students receive specific, descriptive, and timely feedback, they are able to close the gap between where they are trying to go (the learning target) and where they are currently. In other words, feedback at the right time and at the right level moves learning forward. 

Not all feedback is created equal, however. Quality feedback needs to be:
  • focused on criteria
  • frequent and timely
  • collaborative, with the learners deeply involved in the process
  • designed to improve student learning
  • differentiated to support the learners at their level

Feedback is also tied to motivation, interest, and performance (not to mention ego), so educators need to understand it's effect and use it carefully. As Ruth Butler's article in the Journal of Educational Psychology (1987) observed, the only type of feedback that helps students to improve and to stay motivated, is comments; providing marks as feedback does not result in any gain in performance and only motivates the top students. Be aware of the purpose of the feedback you are providing, and the timing of it as well; ask yourself WHY am I giving this feedback, and WHAT will students do with it when they receive it. Students should be expected to make adjustments to their work based upon the feedback they receive, and they will need time to do so before a summative judgment is delivered.

So Where's the DIGITAL part of this blog post?!

Okay...so now that we've discussed the properties of quality feedback, let's take a look at some of the fantastic digital tools available for giving feedback:

1) Blogs: What I love about blogs is the ability to provide feedback that is visible to others besides the intended recipient. This benefits not only the recipient of the feedback, but other viewers as well. In a classroom context, this means that students who view the work/feedback of their peers also have an opportunity to internalize the success criteria themselves. My only caution here is that the context needs to be safe for this to take place, so ensure that the feedback is directly related to the criteria for the task, and is formative (not summative/no grade attached).

2) Google docs: When students share their work in Google docs, they can choose to allow collaborators to comment on that work.  Teachers or classmates can highlight portions of the text and insert typed comments. The recipient of the feedback can make adjustments to their work as needed and mark the comment as "resolved" when ready. The ability to collaborate in real time is a key feature of Google docs, allowing collaborators to provide feedback, make adjustments, ask clarifying questions, etc. to improve their work.

3Kaizena (GAFE/Chrome app): Kaizena is a web app that allows you to leave audio comments on Google Docs. You enable this by creating a Kaizena profile, a place where your students or peers can go to request your feedback by selecting a document and placing it in one of the "boxes" you set up with your profile. Have a look at the Kaizena Blog for more details on how to enable sharing.

4) MS Word: MS Word has had the ability to provide typed comments for years, and this feature is still available for both Mac and PC. The PC version, however, also allows for audio comments -- a nice feature, especially for those times when a large amount of feedback might be needed. You can learn more about how to provide comments in Word on the Microsoft Support website.

5) Screenchomp: Screenchomp is a free iOS app created by Techsmith (makers of Jing, Camtasia, Snag It and other popular software tools) that allows the user to leave audio comments as well as text comments/drawings on uploaded student work. Watch this video to see Screenchomp in action.

A clear understanding and implementation of formative feedback can have a powerful effect on student learning. There are many digital tools available for providing feedback, but as is the case with most (all) things, the quality of the feedback – not the quantity – is critical.

Feedback resources:

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