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Best Practices | Providing Feedback to Students

One of the most important elements in any course is providing students with formative and summative feedback about their performance and progress. Consistent, ongoing and detailed feedback can have a positive effect on student success in online courses, specifically with regard to increasing student self-confidence, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Self-confidence refers to a student’s belief in him or herself, while self-efficacy refers to a student’s estimation that they can succeed at a specific task or tasks within a given domain. According to Tina Stavredes in Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success, “self-efficacy influences the effort that learners put forth, how long they persist at a task when confronted with obstacles, and how they feel about the task” (p. 63). Both self-confidence and self-efficacy directly contribute to a student’s overall self-esteem: “If students can relate their effort with their success, their self-esteem is positively affected” (Chakraborty & Nafukho, 2014).


When creating feedback for students individually and as a class, you can build student confidence by stressing effort over ability, as effort is something within the students’ control (Stavredes, 2011, p. 160). This is an important concept in providing supportive feedback and direction, as the feedback that is communicated to students can be either a key motivator or discouragement (Stavredes, 2011, p. 160). Specific, concise, and actionable feedback goes beyond simply posting a grade or level of achievement, and instead offers students personalized strategies for activating prior knowledge, improving performance, and/or maintaining success.


While online learning can have many advantages, including improvements in students’ computer skills and extended time for students to think critically in order to apply knowledge to practical scenarios, online learning also comes with challenges (Chakraborty & Nafukho, 2014). One potential challenge of online learning is the reduced interaction between and among the students and course facilitators (Chakraborty & Nafukho, 2014). There are typically four types of interactions that take place in both online and face-to-face courses, including: student to instructor interaction, student to student interaction, student to content interaction, and student to technology interaction. Strategies for facilitating these types of interactions vary within online and face-to-face courses; regardless, these types of interactions have a significant impact on students’ engagement in the course and with the course content. Chakraborty and Nafukho (2014) note that the “content and level of interactions [influence] learning climate positively.”


One of the many benefits of providing personal and detailed feedback to students in online classes is the ability to enhance and strengthen the student to instructor interaction and relationship. Students typically value constructive feedback from their instructors, as the feedback can be perceived as a means of establishing interpersonal and social relationships within the course. This is especially beneficial for students who may be reluctant or uncomfortable with approaching instructors who may feel isolated in the online environment.


Providing feedback that is timely and relevant is also key for empowering students to use the feedback to not only evaluate their current performance, but also to incorporate into their future performance. Delayed or untimely feedback can result in students not valuing the feedback process or the feedback itself. The same can be said for offering students generic, impersonal feedback. The investment of time is almost always a concern for faculty when it comes to grading and constructing feedback for students. Effectively using technology to assist and enhance the feedback process can be a successful time management strategy. In the article Teaching Today’s Online Students, Errol Craig Sull (2014) points out that a solid integration of technology with the course materials can keep students engaged, particularly if those students are tech savvy and are accustomed to the immediacy of technology.


Consider the formats in which you offer feedback to students. While written feedback is the traditional method used by most instructors, it can sometimes be time consuming and can run the risk of failing to make it clear to students how exactly to improve their performance or shift their ways of interacting with the course materials. Additional challenges for students trying to decipher written feedback are unintentional vague statements, illegible handwriting, or a lack of cohesion within the feedback. Written feedback can be enhanced or improved upon by combining or replacing it with audio, video or screencast feedback.


Recording audio feedback using a free, open-source recording tool like Audacity is an easy way to verbally review students’ work as you are grading it. The audio files can be exported to .mp3 format and delivered to students through the learning management system. Audio feedback can assist students with reviewing their performance on assessments, as the verbal cues and stresses in intonation help point toward areas on which students should focus. Merry and Orsmond (2008) found that “students appreciated audio feedback because it was perceived as being of good quality, was easier to understand, had more depth and was more personal that written feedback. Staff found audio feedback particularly valuable to explain complex ideas…and consequently more [student] understanding could be gained from the spoken word” (as cited in Crook et al., 2012, p. 387).


Video feedback can be equally as successful, as it combines the voice inflection cues of audio recordings with the ability for students to see the instructor’s facial cues and body language. Video feedback can easily be recorded directly in Canvas then published to YouTube. It should be noted that a best practice for uploading feedback videos to YouTube is to make sure that the videos are marked as unlisted so that they cannot be searched for on the site. Screencasting with video and audio using programs like Screencast-O-Matic (free) or Camtasia (license required) can further enhance feedback by combining the verbal and body language cues with an on-screen recording of the student’s actual work, which can be helpful for pointing toward areas of weakness and strength. Both video and screencasting files can be exported to .mp4 formats and provided to students through the learning management system.


In a study on the efficiency of providing video feedback to students, Crook et al. (2012) found that not only did students find video feedback to be “easy/clear to understand in comparison to normal methods of feedback…[students] suggested that the feedback was more extensive, informative, the key points were better emphasized and that it aided their visualization of the task through demonstrations and/or diagrams” (p. 391). In this same study it was found that “in general, video was found to take a similar amount of time [for instructors to create] to other methods of generic feedback provision” (Crook et al, 2012, p. 390). It should be noted that for students requiring accommodations, additional steps like captioning or providing a transcript may be needed to make sure their audio, video or screencast feedback is accessible.


This is not to say that audio, video or screencast feedback should replace written feedback, but rather that these types of feedback can enhance the overall feedback process which directly impacts instructor presence and student performance. Based on the assessment being evaluated, one or more types of feedback, including written, audio, video and screencast feedback, might be utilized in order to communicate which areas of their performance students should focus on or prioritize.


Stavredes (2011) suggests that “ongoing feedback can help learners build confidence by communicating specifically what they are doing well, as well as how they can improve performance.” Stavredes advises that detailed feedback should include:

  • Specifics about areas of the assessment(s) in which the student excelled
  • Specifics about areas of the assessment(s) where the learner needs improvement
  • Actionable directives for continued or improved performance
  • Positive reinforcement (p. 197)

Additionally, Crook et al. (2011) suggest that the process for generating detailed feedback aim to:

  • Engage students so that they can make use of the feedback 
  • Make efficient use of instructor time 
  • Return feedback to students in a timeframe that enables them to incorporate the feedback for success in future assessments

Regardless of the type of feedback being provided to students, it is important to communicate the purpose of the feedback and the process through which it will be delivered. This will help provide direction to students about how to interact with their individual feedback so that they can get the most out of it while potentially contributing to instructor presence and student self-confidence, self-efficacy and self-esteem. If you have further questions or curiosities about constructing and delivering feedback to students, please contact CIRT for assistance.



Chakraborty, M., & Nafukho, F. M. (2014). Strengthening student engagement: what do students want in online courses?. European Journal Of Training & Development, 38(9), 782-802. doi:10.1108/EJTD-11-2013-0123


Crook, A., Mauchline, A., Maw, S., Lawson, C., Drinkwater, R., Lundqvist, K., & ... Park, J. (2012). The use of video technology for providing feedback to students: Can it enhance the feedback experience for staff and students?. Computers & Education, 58386-396. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.08.025


Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Sull, E. (2014). Teaching Today's Online Students. Distance Learning, 11(2), 49-52.