Tag Archives: feedback

The Value of Teacher Presence Early and Often in Online Courses


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by La Cinnamon

I recently was given the opportunity to assist as a guest facilitator for part of Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education professional development course on developing and teaching online high school courses. The course is off to a cracking start with an impressive group of teachers.

One of the questions posed to the teacher/students was pick a strategy from the article “A Dozen Strategies for Improving Online Student Retention” in Faculty Focus and share how they might use it. The question got me reflecting. Here is my response:

Having taught online classes for some years now. I think it is always a good thing to track back and review material that addresses effective strategies and approaches. Teaching, online, face-to-face, or in any capacity, truly is an endeavor where we are always chasing mastery.

What I will share from my experience as both a students and teacher in classes that are either entirely online or blended in some capacity is the critical aspect of item number two from the list – “Never underestimate the importance of instructor presence.” I cannot stress enough the power and necessity of understanding that truth.

In fact, I would go even further and suggest that the importance of instructor presence is never more powerful than the early stages of the course. Considering that you, as the instructor, are never seen physically in an all online course. Early and frequent interactions are paramount. It pays huge dividends over the duration of the course.

First, by responding quickly and substantively, you are setting the tone, expectations, and norms of how the course will function. You begin the course modeling the kind of interactions you hope to see. Moreover, be completely transparent and direct about that. Provide feedback that articulates the very elements you hope to see. Good teachers do this in face-to-face classes as a matter of course. However, it is even more important in the online environment. It is linked with time one, “Make a good first impression,” but carries much further in the absence of a physical presence.

Unless you are working in an open course with dozens, hundreds, or more students, be deliberate about responding to every single student in the early going. You may not be able to respond to every assignment, but be sure to provide feedback of some kind to every student on at least one assignment. And I am talking about individualized, thoughtful feedback, not canned, auto-response type stuff. Front-load your effort for the first few weeks. The impact cannot be overstated and students really respond to it. When done in a supportive way, it energizes and motivates students going forward.

Once you have established your presence and seen the kinds of activity, responses, and interactions you are looking to see, then gradually release and find ways to encourage greater student-to-student interactions. They will need that modeled and coached for them too, but you will have already done some of that groundwork.

Even in hybrid or blended courses, the same dynamics are at play. In fact, I would submit that if you do not approach the online component of a blended class in this way, the implicit message is that this forum is not as valued or important as what we will do when we meet in person. Admittedly, blended courses pose a number of slightly different challenges, not the least of which is finding the balance of how best to use face-to-face time versus online time.

No matter the circumstance, I would submit that a strong, early teacher presence in online or blended courses is the single most valuable strategy you have at your disposal to steer the course and students towards the kind of results and goals you hope to achieve.

Having just begun teaching one of my online courses anew with the semester turnover, I am reminded of just how important all of this remains. I have been logging considerably more hours in the discussion threads in the first couple of weeks. It simply makes a huge difference – invaluable.

Assessment: From Formative to Summative & Back Again

Photo: Laboratory

A Beaker of Summative, A Beaker of Formative
Laboratory – cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by tk-link

I admit that I am a fan of what I only know to call a meta-lesson, when content or concept reflects back on itself and the experience is more than a representation or illustration but is the lesson.

One of my favorite examples of this kind of thing is Francis Christensen’s explanation of cumulative sentence, using a cumulative sentence.

The additions placed after it move backward, as in this sentence you are now reading, to modify the statement of the base clause or more often to explain it or add examples or details to it, so that the sentence has a flowing and ebbing movement, advancing to a new position and then pausing to consolidate it.

I just love the cleverness of doing things like this. An even more elaborate version would be John Hollander’s extraordinary text Rhyme’s Reason. I am sure that there is a term for the phenomenon that is a better articulation than my wobbly attempt, but I don’t know it.

Reviewing the Module

Similarly, Dr. Bernard Bull has crafted a module on formative and summative assessment wherein completing the lesson requires the use and application of both kinds of assessment.

For some quick clarification, here is a short example of the two contrasting types:

Formative Assessment is a label for a range of informal and diagnostic methods to improve teaching and learning activities during the experience. They typically involves a variety of potential feedback, as well as additional opportunities for improvement. It is assessment for learning.

Summative Assessment is a label for more formal methods of monitoring achievement of desired outcomes and accountability at the end of teaching and learning experience. It may involve qualitative feedback but feedback may also be limited or simply some kind of score. It is assessment of learning.

Examining a Summative Assessment

For the open course, badges have served as the main summative assessment for each unit or module. The fact that the badge serves as a credential of achievement and demonstration of the understanding a lesson or module’s content makes it summative in nature. Of course, as established in the lesson any summative assessment can be made into a formative one with ease.

While I did not need to repeat any submissions, I suspect that were anyone to falter in meeting the criteria for a badge they would be afforded a subsequent submission. In fact, the feedback provided in the badge management service Credly suggests a recursive, even formative, aspect to essentially summative tasks. Certainly time has its limitations for repeated review, but everyone managing the badge review has been extraordinarily responsive and kind.

Thus, the primary summative task to achieve the badge for this particular module is reviewing the lesson itself. Yet, this analysis is immediately made formative by nature of the second instruction that requires soliciting “feedback on [the critique] from someone in the face-to-face world.”

Additionally, as with every badge opportunity in the class, students are encouraged to share their thoughts with the online community set up for the course on Google+ or their personal learning network on Twitter. All of these suggestions to “consider” are ways to gain valuable, quick feedback to further and fine-tune understanding.

Moving from Summative to Formative Assessment

Still, in the ways mentioned, nearly every summative assessment presented in the course is easily modified into a formative one with only the slightest of modifications. While this interplay and overlap between the two types of assessment can be slightly confusing with only superficial understanding, a review of the concepts, especially the explanations in the introductory and Wormeli videos, can quickly clarify.

Formative Feedback at Work

Already built into the module are number of types of formative feedback. Upon completion and submission for the badge, Instructor Feedback is made available in Credly. There is an invitation to seek Peer Feedback by sharing with the Google+ community and additional an PLN. Another recommendation is soliciting feedback from “someone in the face-to-face world,” which qualifies as Outside or Mentor or Advisor Feedback. This does not leave many forms of feedback left to be added only deepened or enhanced.

One missing type is Computer-Generated Feedback. Adding a quick review task for the videos or readings to serve as a check for understanding could be put to use with a set of questions or quiz that was automatically scored.

While the actual development of the lesson critique to be submitted for the badge could be considered a kind of Self Feedback, it might be a bit of a stretch. So another missing type is Self Feedback. Adding some kind of final reflective component could enhance the Self Feedback aspect and remove all doubt that it is part of the module.

Also, requiring some kind of collaboration between participants in the course could be a way to ensure Peer Feedback. In general, soliciting Peer Feedback has always been a recommendation more than a requirement for a badge. Another possibility could be the typical “respond to two peers posts” method that has become a staple of so many online learning experiences, albeit one in need a refresh.

The Outside Advisor Feedback I received helped me refine and clarify my analysis. I gave the my reviewer the protocol that I used for the Peer Feedback module and badge, which guided their feedback and targeted it more specifically. This made the need for establishing greater clarity of terms for someone unfamiliar with the context of the course, assessment, or concepts, which would be helpful to an reader that happened upon the page.