Helping students to understand where they did well and where they need to do some more work is all part of teaching. When working in an online or blended environment the body language and facial cues that can often help provide quick feedback to students in a face to face classroom are not available. Instead, feedback must be strategically planned and continually implemented. The semantic dimension, or quality, of the feedback is as important as the timing of the feedback.
Providing Information About Errors
The feedback quality can be categorized into four domains. The first of these four provides the student with a description of the errors he or she has made (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). Giving students this information helps them to see specific problems in their work allowing them to correct mistakes and review material which can help prevent them from continuing to repeat these types of errors. Since teacher professional development usually hinges less on correct answers and more on problems solving and implementation of skills, this strategy may not be used as much in an online or blended professional development course.
The place for this type of feedback could be in the initial learning of a strategy or skill as teachers learn new vocabulary, processes, or factual materials they may need to teach to their students. For example, a teacher who is receiving professional development about a new online learning management system may be required to complete an assessment that shows their ability to navigate the new environment. If the professional development participant were to incorrectly complete a task within this system, the instructor of the course can provide the participant a description of the errors he or she has made to help him or her to review and redo the activity to improve his or her ability to use the tool.
The second semantic feedback domain gives students the solution or part of the answer (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). This strategy can provide students the information they need to solve the problem on their own. This approach can often be more valuable as it requires the student to think through the process again with the solution as a guide for understanding where he or she may have made the initial mistake.
In teacher professional development this strategy can be used to direct a participant to reformulate plans to meet a specific learning goal. For example, a participant may be learning about creating a differentiated unit or lesson using data. While there is no right answer to how to do this, providing a suggestion of a strategy to implement can have the same effect. By providing a strategy suggestion, the participant is able to go back and look at how that strategy can be utilized for this instance. The participant has to work through not only what the strategy is, but also what they need to do to implement the strategy effectively in the unique environment that is their classroom. This can provide a great opportunity for participants to collaborate with the instructor or other participants to gather ideas and feedback which will help them reach that implementation goal.
The third way to provide quality feedback is to provide the student with guidelines and strategies to improve their work (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). This can help to refocus students on the material or guide them back to the right answer without either pointing it out or giving them the solution. This method gives student the opportunity to identify and reevaluate their work on their own.
This method is effective in online and blended teacher professional development programs as it allows the participant to search for the resources or tools that would best fit their classroom’s needs. If an online or blended K-12 professional development participant is struggling with how to integrate a new strategy into their classroom, the instructor can provide guidelines for how they could rethink the problems they are facing. This can be done by providing additional resources such as videos that model the strategy in action, blog posts that describe the effective use of the strategy in a similar classroom, or observational feedback that can provide clarity of the problem for the participant.
The final dimension to give students quality feedback is by providing the learner with additional resources for future learning (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). This provides students the opportunity to dig deeper into a topic when they need or want to learn more about the method, subject, or ideas being learned in the course. Students may find this information useful to revisit for future courses, problem solving, or just to satisfy their own interest driven learning.
For teachers who are participating in online or blended professional development, this type of feedback can be beneficial as they rethink or restructure learning opportunities for their students later on in the year or even in subsequent years. Because each year of teaching is different and has different students with different needs, it is important for educators to keep a toolbox of strategies, skills, and resources ready. Professional development providers can give teachers who are not ready to implement or use a skill, strategy, or tool right now resources for future reading, watching, or listening that will allow the participant to continue to fill their teaching toolbox. Providers can share books, research, blogs, podcasts, videos, and other medias that can be utilized by participants at a later time.
While the quality of the feedback provided to students is important for maintaining motivation, the timeliness of that feedback is equally important. Timely and informative feedback can help learners recognize and correct misconceptions, increase confidence and motivation, and motivate them to acquire knowledge (Epstein, 2010). There are various individuals who can provide feedback to participants of online and blended professional development and each of these providers of feedback can play a significant role in maintaining motivation for these participants.
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