FIU Online’s monthly Faculty Webinar series explores relevant instructional strategies and effective uses of technology in an online classroom. The October 2019 session “Learner Feedback that Sticks; Grading Strategies for Amazing Outcomes,” provided faculty with tools and strategies for adding clarity and meaning to the grading process in online learning.
Learner Feedback that Sticks
Grading Strategies for Amazing Outcomes
I have a confession to make: I teach for free – they pay me to grade. I love to have deep discussions with students as they learn about my favorite topics. It is thrilling to make connections for learners and watch as they gain new insights. I even get a kick out of building my online course pages, toying with new approaches for curating my content or changing up my discussion threads for stronger engagement.
However, grading doesn’t hold the same fun and creative challenge. Until fairly recently, it felt like a very transactional and boring part of the teaching process for me. I struggled to scale the mountains of papers and posts that piled up each week. Then I dithered over how to best differentiate B papers from C papers. I scribbled quick comments into the margins of papers that my students had labored over. I knew I wasn’t providing meaningful feedback, and I’m certain my students did not benefit from such a scattershot approach.
Over time, I found that my challenge as an instructor was to create transparency and clarity in the grading process. I had to turn my approach to evaluation and feedback into a meaningful interaction between student and instructor.
The three strategies outlined below summarize the best approaches I have found for setting students up to win, streamlining the grading process, and offering learner feedback that sticks.
Strong Grading Policy
One of the most effective strategies for meaningful grading and effective learner feedback is a well-honed grading policy. A strong policy outlines all graded activity planned for the course, explains how activities or assessments will be evaluated, and how each activity contributes to the final course grade. Also, a clear policy delineates your boundaries for accepting and grading late work, providing extra credit or bonus points, or dropping specified scores from the final grade tally.
Professors can also use the grading policy as a means of directing student effort and attention through the term by signaling priorities. Assignment categories can be weighted to rank the importance of each assignment to the course. To emphasize discussion and collaboration throughout the course, for example, make discussion participation or group projects the heaviest factor in the final grade, reducing the weight of multiple-choice exams or individual assignments.
The Accountability Loop – Providing Learner Feedback
One of the most important strategies for making your learner feedback stick is ensuring the expectations, evaluation, and feedback are aligned in a loop that fosters learner accountability. By linking assignment expectations with your evaluation method and the feedback provided, an instructor can create scenarios where students know exactly what is expected of them and how they will be evaluated. That way, students can truly learn from any piece of feedback.
This accountability loop is also self-reinforcing. As students get in the habit of building assignments under clear expectations, they begin applying more critical self-evaluations prior to submission. Students also benefit from aligned feedback as they move into future assignments with a stronger awareness about the measure of their work.
The use of a strong rubric stands as one of the best practices for the explicit alignment between expectations, evaluation, and feedback. Heidi Andrade helpfully defines the rubric as a document listing the criteria and requirements for an assignment. The rubric also details how varying levels of quality for each criterion in a student submission will be evaluated. In online learning, a rubric posted with an assignment that is also used as the measuring stick for evaluation and the template for feedback provides a touchstone, aligning all three elements for a transparent student-to-instructor interaction in the grading process.
Leverage Canvas Tools for Streamlined Grading
Canvas provides a wide array of tools that help automate much of the grading policy, streamline the grading process, and foster stronger student awareness of their progression and current grades in a course.
Automate Your Grading Policy
Instructors can customize Canvas Grades and assignment settings to automate their policies on late work and missing submissions. For example, if you do not accept late work, set a “close” date for each assignment, discussion, and quiz. Once the assignment close time has passed, students are locked out of submitting anything without specific permission.
As a best practice for student awareness of their standing in the course, enable the grading policy to automatically apply a grade for missing submissions when due dates pass (e.g. a zero). Canvas also offers the option to automatically apply deductions for late submissions (e.g., a certain percentage deduction per day late). Click the gear icon on the Grades page to view and change these settings.
Speedgrader for Streamlined Grading
Canvas Speedgrader presents student submissions, details, and comments in a single view alongside tools for annotations and grading, including the rubric affiliated with the assignment. Speedgrader allows instructors to swiftly review student or group submissions. In Speedgrader, instructors can provide direct annotations and narrative feedback while assigning points on a set rubric. The tool also allows you to add comments, attachments, or video comments to a grade. Moving on to the next submission is is as simple as a single click, which allows smooth navigation through submitted assignments. The mobile Canvas Teacher app Speedgrader is compatible with a stylus or Apple Pencil, allowing for free-form hand markup via tablet or smartphone as well.
At the top of each grade book column, instructors can click the three-dot menu to access the “Message Students Who…” option. From there, you can send reminders to students based on their assignment’s status. Send a reminder to students who haven’t submitted anything yet. Give updates to students whose papers haven’t been graded yet. You might also send general feedback to students who scored more than or less than a given value on the assignment. The “Message Students Who…” tool sends your messages to multiple students at the same time, with each student receiving an individual message.
For example, you might message each student who earned an A on their assignments with positive reinforcement. You could also message students who scored below a B with trended feedback for their consideration in future assignments. If you accept resubmissions, use grade book messaging to invite rework with a focus on specific criteria.
Making Learner Feedback Stick
It is impossible to completely remove the intensity and detail involved in higher ed grading. However, it is possible to strategically position grading and feedback as a meaningful element of online learning. Strong policies, reinforcing loops of expectation-evaluation-feedback, and wise use of the available tools for streamlining stand as key best practices. Though they don’t solve everything, they may help alleviate some of the toughest grading challenges.
Future Faculty Webinars
Be on the lookout for FIU Online’s future webinars on re-imagining video lectures and other strategies for effective online teaching. If you have any ideas for future webinar topics, we’d love to hear them. Contact Christina Schettini (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share your ideas for future webinar topics.
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