ELT 7008: Activity 8 - Meaningful Feedback

Meaningful feedback does not come easily to some individuals. In the online learning community, and particularly in online discussions, meaningful feedback is essential in order to promote growth and learning. It is not only the instructor that is required to give meaningful feedback in online discussions, but students are required to do so, as well. Discuss the importance of meaningful feedback, the benefits that it offers to all students in the course, and the strategies that can be used to promote meaningful feedback in online discussions. Use at least three to five outside resources and references in your paper.

Feedback provided to learners goes beyond addressing the what and the how of learning by also communicating someone cares about what the learner has achieved and is a means to alleviate the sense of being alone in the learning environment (Bonk, 2010). Providing meaningful feedback is associated with the constructivist theory as well as a vital component of the online learning environment in terms of social presence. As mentioned by Ally (2004) "behaviorist strategies can be used to teach the facts (what); cognitivist strategies to teach the principles and processes (how); and constructivist strategies to teach the real-life and personal applications and contextual learning" (para. last). Chen (2007) noted:

in a constructivist learning environment, to successfully promote active and meaningful learning, the instructor has to commit a significant amount of time and energy to develop complex, problem-based learning tasks; arrange an open and resource-rich learning environment; provide ample opportunities for social interactions; form and norm groups; offer a cognitive scaffold, continuously monitor and coach performance; and encourage collaboration and interaction to gain multiple perspectives. (p. 74)

In order to create a sense of presence as part of a positive learning community to support learners to actively engage in the online environment the course must be designed to foster learner to instructor interactions as well as learner to learner and learner to content interactions. As noted by Chen (nd) in reference to online learning communities "exchanging experiences or opinions can make members feel closer and provide identity" (p. 119). Social presence is a key element which must be developed in order for online discussions to fully integrate course content with the learning activities. Garrison (2007) noted in reference to communication among group members that "it was only after the social relationships were established and the group became more focused on purposeful activities did cohesive comments begin to take precedence" (p. 64).

According to Parton, Crain-Dorough, and Hancock (2010) "social presence is critical for an instructor to establish in a course. Research shows that students who believe that a professor cares about them are more likely to connect with the material as well" (para. 1). The design of an online course based on the constructivist theory is critical for the success of learners and in reference to a three stage process to promote knowledge construction which Oliver and Herrington (2003) found to be an effective and efficient strategy to guide the design of web-based courses three activities must occur:
  • The design and specification of tasks to engage and direct the learner in the process of knowledge acquisition and development of understanding;
  • The design and specification of supports for the online learner to scaffold the learning and to provide meaningful forms of feedback; and
  • The design and specification of the learning resources needed by the learner to successfully complete the set tasks and to facilitate the scaffolding and guidance. (p. 13)

Online discussion activities which include feedback to learners from the instructor and feedback from learner to learner are two ways to foster social presence and promote the exchange of experiences and opinions within the online learning environment. It is also important for instructors to incorporate feedback from the learner to the instructor in order to enhance and improve course activities as the "instructor’s close and continuous monitoring and assessing students’ performance during the learning process and providing immediate feedback (or scaffolding) has a direct impact on the success of students’ learning" (Chen, 2007, p. 83). Meaningful feedback is an essential element given "student motivation is increased when they realize that faculty are interested in their success as learners (Hazari, 2004, p. 352). As mentioned by Parton, Crain-Dorough, and Hancock (2007) "students also were more willing to act on suggestions made by audio than text" (para. 3). In the research by Parton et al. the findings in reference to feedback provided by audio video indicated that "the actual primary benefit of the videos appears to be in developing the bond between instructors and students who reflected that the clips created an atmosphere of caring" (para. second to last). The need to include audio feedback is further supported by research conducted by Ice, Phillips, Curtis, and Wells (2007) as the "findings revealed extremely high student satisfaction with embedded asynchronous audio feedback as compared to asynchronous text only feedback" (p. 3).

Based on a constructivist approach to learning it is clear from the literature reviewed and the work of Oliver and Herrington (2003) as well as Swan and Shih (2005) instructors must take the time to develop and design activities which provide meaningful feedback and create a sense of social presence. A thorough review of the literature is essential to fully understand why instructors must provide meaningful forms of feedback to learners. Fish and Lambadue (2010) wrote a succinct literature review on the importance for instructors to provide quality feedback to learners a well as highlighting a technology-based solution to visually and aurally communicate meaningful feedback to learners.

Instructors need to take the time to design courses to support learners to engage in the online environment which begins with the very first contact the learner has with the course (Bonk, 2008; Oliver & Herrington, 2003). Chen (nd) stated "if newcomers can feel comfortable, they have a willingness to share their ideas or experiences; thus, his learning community is formed in the right way" (p. 122). To accomplish a sense of presence and initiate a positive first experience, instructors will want to consider the following strategies:

  • Post a welcome announcement in an area within the content management system designed for all students to read - even better is to post a video announcement so learners connect visually and aurally with the instructor (Ally, 2004; Bender, 2003; Parton, Crain-Dorough, & Hancock, 2007);
  • Direct learners where to find required information for the course including expectations for assignments; due dates; how and when feedback will be provided; how to seek additional assistance - course content related and technical; list of resources; netiquette (Bender; Bonk, 2010; Ally)
  • Design an ice-breaker activity for learners to informally meet the instructor and other learners as the first activity which includes non-course related topics - post first to promote learner postings (Ally; Bonk; Bender; Chen, nd)
Instructors as well as peers need to provide meaningful feedback to emphasize the importance of the activity and team collaboration (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004). Conrad and Donaldson (2004) stated that "an engaged learning environment, peers often have the best perspective on whether their teammates are providing valuable contributions to the learning community. . . . The key to effective peer feedback is that it be constructive and encourage improvement" (p. 27). As Bender (2003) noted "giving feedback draws on the highest level of thinking" (p. 180) thus as instructors design online discussion activities the following strategies serve as a guideline:

  • Provide information and acknowledgement feedback (Bonk, 2010: Graham, et. al. in Hazari, 2004)
  • Use well-designed rubrics (Bonk; Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Hazari; Gaytan & McEwen, 2007; Swan & Shi, 2005)
  • Use audio when possible - phone calls, Skype, or audio visuals (Bonk; C of A Online, 2010; Ice, Curtis, Phillips & Wells, 2007; Parton, Crain-Dorough, & Hancock, 2007)
  • Establish clear deadlines for the activity and feedback - (Bonk; Hazari; Ko & Rossen, 2010)
  • Create dynamic and controversial subject lines - get learners attention (Bonk;Hazari)
  • Establish clear guidelines - use of external resources, inclusion of examples, introduction of new perspectives, content limitations as succinct is better (Bonk; C of A Online, 2011; Palloff & Pratt, 2005; Hazari)
  • Respond to the entire class as appropriate to guide the discussion as needed - not everything is graded (Bonk)
  • Respond to individuals timely and provide constructive advice (Bonk; Lehman & Conceicao, 2010)
  • Let learners know when you will be out of communication - give them a timeline when to expect your return
  • Provide a tool for learners to comment and evaluate themselves and other learners on a weekly basis - formative, diagnostic, and summative assessment environment (Palloff & Pratt; Raban & Litchfield, 2006)
  • Peer feedback should use short paragraphs based on notes, be read before sending, maintain professional communications, and state reasons for the feedback (Palloff & Pratt)
  • Acknowledge receipt of assignments and submissions (Bender, 2003)

It is critical to incorporate meaningful feedback into the online course as feedback is essential for a successful online course experience and to keep the whole system running as meaningful feedback promotes learners to strive to succeed and results in learner satisfaction (Bonk, 2010). Several tips and strategies serve to assist instructors in the design and development of online courses:

Using Audio Feedback in your Teaching - Case Study

Providing Feedback by Curtis Bonk

Conducting Effective Online Discussions

References and Resources

Ally, M., (2004. Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In T. Anderson, F. Elloumi (Eds.), The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.). Retrieved from http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/ch1.html

Baker, C., & Edwards, J. (2011, August). A holistic approach for establishing social presence in online courses & programs. Retrieved from

Bender, T. (2003). Discussion based online teaching to enhance student learning: Theory, practice and assessment. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Bonk, C. (2008, March). YouTube anchors and enders: The use of shared online video content as a macrocontext for learning. Paper presented at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA), New York, NY. Retrieved from

Bonk, C. (2010, August 1). Providing feedback [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8XGFPkSDjw&list=PLB6672E016DCDEB5B&index=5&feature=plpp

C of A Online, University of New South Wales (2010, October 26). Using audio feedback in your teaching - case study [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/user/COFAonlineUNSW#p/u/23/s0d-fzUmZ28

C of A Online, University of New South Wales (2011, February 22). Conducting effective online discussions [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxzipYOGaoE&feature=related

C Harper. (2007, September 8) Formative vs summative feedback [Web log post.]. Retrieved from http://kurihapa.blogspot.com/2007/09/formative-vs-summative-feedback.html

Chen, S. (2007, Spring). Instructional design strategies for intensive online courses: An objectivist-constructivist blended approach. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 6(1), 72-86. Retrieved from http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/issues/pdf/6.1.6.pdf

Chen, Y. (nd). Building an online learning community. University of Washington. Retrieved from http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/scholar?q=cache:gTVRJYy5fqkJ:scholar.google.com/+online+conversations+versus+face+to+face+conversationsand+academic+courses&hl

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. (2004). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, CA:

Fish, W., & Lumadue, R. (2010, Winter). A technology based approach to providing quality feedback to students: A paradigm shift for the 21st century. Academic Leadership Live The Online Journal 8(1). Retrieved from http://www.academicleadership.org/article/A_Technologically_Based_Approach_to_Providing_Quality_Feedback_to_Students_A_Paradigm_Shift_for_the_21st_Century

Garrison, D. R. (2007, April). Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching presence issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 11(1) 61-72. Retrieved from http://sites.google.com/site/galexambrose/my-log/communityofinquiryarticlereview/2007JALNOnlineCommunityofInquiryReview.pdf

Gaytan, J., & McEwen, B. (2007). Effective online instructional and assessment strategies. The American Journal of Distance Education 21(3), 117-132. Retrieved from http://edtech.boisestate.edu/elearn/assessment.pdf

Glogoff, S. (2005). Instructional blogging: Promoting interactivity, student-centered learning, and peer input. Innovate 1(5), 1-5. Retrieved from http://studentcenteredlearning.pbworks.com/f/Instructional+Blogging.pdf

Hazari, S. (2004, Winter). Teaching tip: Strategy for assessment of online course discussions. Journal of Information Systems Education 15(4), . Retrieved from http://ldt.stanford.edu/~educ39105/paul/articles_2005/Strategy%20for%20Assessment%20of%20Online%20Course%20Discussions_Hazari.pdf

Ice, P., Curtis, R., Phillips, P., & Wells, J. (2007, July). Using asynchronous audio feedback to enhance teaching presence and students’ sense of community. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 11(2), 3-25. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching online: A practical guide. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lehman, R., & Conceicao, S. (2010). Creating a sense of presence in online teaching: How to 'be there' for distance learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Oliver, R., & Herrington, J. (2003). Exploring technology-mediated learning from a pedagogical perspective. Journal of Interactive Learning Environments, 11(2), 111-126. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco: CA; Jossey-Bass.

Parton, S., Crain-Dorough, M., & Hancock, R. (2010, January). Using flip camcorders to create video feedback: Is it realistic for professors and beneficial to students?. The International Journal of Educational Technology and Distance Learning, 7(1). Retrieved from http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_10/article02.htm

Raban, R., & Litchfield, A. (2006, December). Supporting peer assessment of individual contributions in groupwork. Paper presented at the 23rd Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from

Swan, K., & Shih, L. (2005, October). On the nature and development of social presence in online course discussions. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 9(3), 115-136.Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=