Online instantaneous and targeted feedback for remote learners

Ross, Shelagh; Jordan, Sally and Butcher, Philip (2006). Online instantaneous and targeted feedback for remote learners. In: Bryan, Cordelia and Clegg, Karen eds. Innovative assessment in Higher Education. Routledge/Taylor and Francis, pp. 123–131.



Providing rapid but detailed teaching feedback is a significant problem in distance education, especially for large population courses of short duration, when hand-marking is costly and assignments sent through the postal services cannot be turned round sufficiently quickly. Online assignments with automatic teaching feedback are a possible solution, providing the feedback can be well targeted to individual students. This chapter discusses the online assessment of a ‘maths for science’ course, in which meaningful feedback was given in response to student answers on both summative and purely formative exercises. Students were allowed three attempts at each question, with an increasing amount of teaching feedback being given after each attempt, so encouraging students to engage with the feedback, to learn from it, and to correct their answers if necessary. The mark awarded on the summative assessment reflected the amount of help that had been given. The designers’ concerns included producing a fair test of the course’s learning outcomes within the constraints imposed by the online format and with only minimal use of multiple choice, writing questions that might help to uncover common student misunderstandings coupled with feedback that would address these problems, and tying answer-matching to specific feedback comments. Evidence from statistical analysis of submitted work, and from student responses to questionnaires, has provided insights into the impact of this kind of feedback on the student learning experience. While the majority of students were happy with the online nature of the assessment, a significant proportion appeared to value it more for the immediate indication of their overall performance than for the detailed teaching feedback, and some were put off by the technology or their perception of it. Students were considerably more likely to submit the summative assessment if they had previously engaged online with the practice formative exercises.

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