headshot of Michelle McLeoed

Faculty Guest Post: Using Technology to Optimize Student Feedback

This month’s faculty blogger is Michelle McLeod, PhD, ATC, PES, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health & Human Performance.

This blog post is inspired from the lessons and skills learned during the Faculty Technology Institute in May of 2015 focused on planning an interactive lecture. I feel that my lectures are most effective if the classroom is engaged and interactive rather than me talking at students and merely hoping that they are paying attention. It is an opportunity for a real-time assessment and feedback to ensure that students are not only receiving information, but have a fundamental understanding of that information. This also provides me with feedback about my effectiveness in content delivery. I spent much of the 2015-2016 academic year incorporating interactive lecture and technology into my strategy of making the classroom truly more engaged. Here are some of the successes and failures that I encountered.

I will center this blog post on a research proposal assignment given in EXSC 433: Research Methods and Design in Health and Exercise Science. An area where I know that I can continue to improve is providing timely feedback to students. Rather than focusing on the research proposal itself, I will focus on the evolution of the project from the standpoint of how I could more efficiently assess student work and provide helpful feedback through the use of technology.

For me, one of the most painstaking processes of evaluating student work is accessing the work. I really, really dislike accessing work submitted via OAKS. It is so limited. I am also striving to go paperless with most work. In the Fall of 2015, I thought I had found the perfect solution: Kaizena. The tag-line on this Google app is “Fast, personal feedback on student work.” Dream come true, right? Not so fast. I attended a TLT workshop hosted by Jessica. Kaizena seemed awesome. Kaizena is a Google application so all students have access with their g.cofc.edu accounts. Students search for their professors on Kaizena and join “groups” (e.g. EXSC 433). The attraction to Kaizena is that this is a module to keep a running tab of conversations between students and professors regarding their work. Students upload their work in a document that allows you to view the work directly in Kaizena. Professors can create quick links for commonly used feedback in the form of text, hyperlinks, videos, and voice. I thought for sure that this would cut down on the time that it would take for me to provide student feedback and provide them with ample time to make corrections.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. In hindsight, it was probably not the best to try to incorporate this technology without playing around with it more first. I had 24 students in this course so I gave the students the option to work together on these research proposals. The drawbacks I encountered were that I could not create groups within Kaizena. Students had to search for each other first and add me to a conversation. Not such a big deal. However, when it came time for students to submit the first portion of the research proposal consisting of hyperlinks to articles and written summaries of the articles, I felt an impending sense of doom. You are not able to directly edit within the uploaded documents. You may highlight a portion of the document and provide commentary. If the student had submitted their work as a Google doc and provided permission to edit the document, then you could open the document in Google docs to do this. This seemed to negate the need for Kaizena (spoiler alert: this was ultimately my conclusion). Furthermore the biggest headache, perhaps, was that you couldn’t click on hyperlinks in the uploaded documents. As I mentioned previously, part of this portion of the assignment was for the student to provide hyperlinks so that I can confirm their provided references. I was asking students to resubmit their work and on many occasions students claimed to have submitted work that I could not find when I opened conversations.

The end result was that it took me longer than I had anticipated to provide valuable feedback. More of my time was spent requesting changes in the formatting so that I could even access the needed content. I therefore felt the need to be much more lenient in my assessments of student work. However, professors still have learning experiences on the regular, right? This spring semester, I kept this assignment as a part of the course.  Instead of Kaizena, I kept it simple and required students to submit their work via Google drive as a Google document. I still use OAKS to upload lecture content and grades for student accessibility. However, I almost exclusively provide links to a Google drive folder for students to submit their work. I can provide real-time feedback and review changes that have been made to student work as well as see when those changes were made. Because the students can also see when I have provided feedback, this helps to keep both parties accountable.

It’s still not a perfect system. I am still revising rubric content, and finding challenges with students being able to access folders (Tip: if a student says they do not have access, I find that it is because they are trying to sign in on an account other than their g.cofc.edu accounts. Instruct them to first try to sign out and sign back in!) Other lessons learned throughout this process of trying to use something new and fun:

1) Have a rubric! Developing a good rubric can be challenging and does take some time on the front end, but it has made my life easier as far as grading. Students also have a clearer picture of what is expected of them.

2) I love this assignment because it is an opportunity for students in our department to express their interests and creativity. That being said make sure that there are reasonable expectations for what you want to see in their work. I went from having very loose directions for student work to being pretty specific, down to the size of font used, margins, and maximum number of pages in length of proposal sections. In Google, I provided an example that the students could make a copy of and input their own work. You might be thinking: getting a little nit-picky here, Dr. M? Maybe; but, part of research proposal writing is being able to follow directions! Simple, yet still overlooked. 

3) Being able to provide feedback more efficiently and effectively has helped to improve student engagement and interaction. Not always in a direct and personal manner, but it improved communication. I felt that students were more inclined to ask questions or for clarification and I could provide better suggestions or solutions. This was reflected in my course evaluations this spring. Although I’m not yet lightning fast in my feedback my timeliness has drastically improved and I’m optimistic that it will continue.