The world is in the grip of the corona virus. Schools have been closed and people are urged to work from home if possible. Education institutions and organisations alike are trying to figure out how to help their students or workers learn while at home. At this point, they’re forced to redesign their current offerings from face-to-face to digital at a distance. Although there are many pitfalls (redesign from in-person to virtual requires a careful design process), we thought it might be helpful to give some tips & tricks. Wilfred Rubens, a friend / colleague has recently written some useful blogs in Dutch and has kindly agreed to allow us to translate them to English. They’re all based on the book ‘Wijze lessen. Twaalf bouwstenen voor effectieve didactiek’ (‘Lessons for Learning: 12 Building Blocks for Effective Teaching’ which is at this very moment being translated into English), written by Tim Surma, Kristel Vanhoyweghen, Dominique Sluijsmans, Gino Kamp, Daniel Muijs and Paul A. Kirschner.
In the book, Surma and his co-authors, discuss how to teach effectively using twelve evidence-informed instruction principles. Wilfred saw an opportunity to elaborate on the building blocks by teasing out the relationship between each building block and learning technologies. He published 12 blogs – one for each building block – in which he explained how learning technologies can be used to facilitate and strengthen the relevant building block (you can find the original blogs here).
This is the eleventh one. Stay tuned for ONE more! We (Mirjam and Paul), together with ExCEL’s – the Expertise Centre for Effective Learning (of which Paul A. Kirschner is guest professor) Tim Surma, Kristel Vanhoyweghen (researchers at ExCEL and also authors of the book), and Tine Hoof (also a researcher of ExCEL), we’re working hard to translate the next 9 building blocks, and how learning technology can strengthen them, into English.
The authors stress the importance of giving feedback:
Feedback is one of the most powerful interventions to strengthen learning. The goal of feedback is to give learners information about their learning process and to help them achieve the learning goals. However, giving effective feedback is complex. Feedback that doesn’t encourage or make learners think and also act, is ineffective. In that case, something else is needed first.
Feedback helps learners learn and understand what you expect from them. It’s often used in combination with a number of other building blocks. The authors of Lessons for Learning distinguish different types of feedback, like corrective feedback [if an answer was correct and if not what the answer should have been], directive feedback [if an answer was correct and if not how the learner should have carried the task out], and epistemic feedback [feedback that gets the learner thinking: How could you have done this differently? What would the answer have been if you approached it in the following way?]. Feedback can be given by the instructor/facilitator or other experts (pre-programmed or not), but also by peers or by the learners themselves (via for example worked examples).
I [Wilfred Rubens] think that you should keep three things in mind when giving feedback. First, the quality of the feedback. Tim Surma and his co-authors specify effective feedback via two review studies that state that feedback should be structured, clear, simple but challenging, and specific. Moreover, feedback is more than a grade, it should also include the strategy to solve a certain problem or assignment. It’s more about process than product. Feedback should take into account the level of learners and it shouldn’t be personal [Wow you’re smart!]. The authors also explain how feedup, feedback and feedforward work.
You can use learning technology to give pre-programmed feedback, which means that you, as the instructor/facilitator, incorporate feedback when creating a test. You indicate which feedback learners should get when they give a correct or incorrect answer. When the questions are open-answer then the learners receive the expert answer of the instructor/facilitator. In other words, you’re responsible for formulating the feedback and therefore, for its quality. An important advantage is that learners immediately receive feedback. A disadvantage of open-answer questions is that the feedback is often generic and not specific. Moreover, learners may just look at the result feedback and not the process feedback. Adaptive systems for language and mathematics for example, use exercises with feedback, but the quality of the feedback isn’t always trustworthy. At the moment, artificial intelligence within technology enhanced learning is on the rise. One of its applications is to be able to analyse the texts of learners and then come up with an intervention (like giving feedback, choosing extra instruction,…). This development offers the possibility to give more specific feedback. To do this, however, you need a lot of texts to be able to make such analyses and offer effective feedback. In any case, this application seems promising.
A second element is the type of feedback. You can for example give written feedback, spoken feedback or feedback via video. I [Wilfred] have seen examples of screen casting in which the instructor/facilitator analyses a learner’s text while illustrating what the learner could have done differently. These different types of feedback have their advantages and disadvantages. Professor Diane Laurillard explains in one of her educational clips that feedback is better given orally than in writing. Apparently, this is not the case for mathematics as oral feedback doesn’t work as well (you have to be able to see the formulas). Tim Surma also writes that oral feedback can be interpreted more subjectively (because of for example the intonation of the speaker). You can use your smartphone to record feedback. A meta-analysis on the timing and content of feedback shows that when learners study a text, computer-generated feedback supports them more than personal feedback (I [Wilfred] suppose that is because computer-generated feedback is given immediately after finishing the test).
A third element is the system you use to give feedback. I [Wilfred] have already mentioned adaptive systems with exercises and feedback. These systems adapt to the level of the learner (based on data and conditions). Electronic learning environments allow you to give feedback via specific functionalities. Sometimes you can record the feedback immediately, but usually you’ll have to insert an audio file. You can also often use functionalities for peer feedback. In that case the instructor/facilitator creates teams of learners (either by hand or generated by the learning environment) and has them give each other feedback. When leaner A completes an assignment, learner B receives a notification to give feedback (for example by a specific deadline). Afterwards, learner A incorporates the feedback of learner B. Obviously this process takes quite a bit of preparation. Learners become mutually dependent on each other [positive interdependence]. It’s also about giving effective feedback, so learners need to be taught how to give effective peer feedback. KU Leuven offers information on this. E-portfolio systems usually have (peer) feedback functionalities similar to those of digital learning environments. Some annotation systems are also meant to give (peer) feedback to texts of learners. These systems often have a database with standardised texts to give feedback that instructors/facilitators can use. While it saves you time, it also makes your feedback less personal. To combat this, you can combine standardised texts with personal texts. It’s highly recommended to make an overview of standardised texts elements to give feedback. Last but not least there are also separate systems to give feedback. Pitch2peer is a Dutch platform to give (peer) feedback on videos made by learners (qualitative feedback and a quantitative judgement). Systems like Feedback Fruits are mostly meant to facilitate peer review (although this application has many more functionalities). Feedpulse supports a specific way of giving feedback. Plexuz was developed specifically for medical trainings.
This blog includes just four examples of applications for (peer) feedback. To some extent, they can be integrated into your digital learning environment (via a so-called LTI-link).
It is important to realise that applications and functionalities for (peer) feedback often have a specific workflow and sometimes even underlying views on (peer) feedback. So, it takes more than just choosing an applications or using a functionality.