Remote Learning: Different Kind Of Feedback That’s Actually Sustainable

As of right now, there’s no plan for what school looks like in the fall. Even if we were told one thing tomorrow, though, I’d take it with a grain of salt. Whatever fall teaching ends up being, it’s reasonable to expect there to be *some* level of asynchronous remote teaching, if not completely virtual. Reducing burnout in what might be an entirely new teaching environment should be on everyone’s mind. A change to providing feedback* is crucial. **Content-based feedback, NOT corrective. Don’t waste time on that**

One feature of providing input live during class is that all students receive it. Similar to batch quizzing that maximizes time and reduces burnout, the teacher does something just once that everyone in the room experiences, regardless of how many students there are. For example, the teacher can ask a question like “who thinks that…?” and instantly see hands raise, students nod, and/or hear responses. When providing feedback, such as reacting to the responses, addressing them, and/or restating one or two, everyone in the room hears that feedback at the same time (i.e. with 3 or 30 students in class, it’s still just one statement). This is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of input and interaction during live teaching:

Even students not directly being addressed receive the input just like everyone else!

Students can literally just sit there and acquire language. Of course, no one in education wants to admit that because it’d go against typical obsession with engagement (despite being able to observe non-verbal reactions, right?). Granted, participating in simple ways definitely increases the likelihood of acquisition, so interaction is encouraged, but it’s still true: students can, and do sit there, and acquire just as much as their talkative peers! There’s actually an elusive study on this that several people have memory of being referenced, yet none seem to know the mysterious source! Basically, one group of students watched a video recording of a class, just observing the interaction, and tested as well as the group actually interacting. I have no details beyond that. If you know of this study, please comment with the source. Of course, we do have all the data from Story Listening that Beniko Mason has been collecting, too, which shows that students acquire from listening alone, with no follow up activities.

25 Classrooms
So, in the classroom, the teacher does just one thing, and all students experience it. Asynchronous remote learning is different. Consider a class of 25 students. Even the most basic interaction becomes 25 classrooms instead of one! Instead of reacting once, the teacher reacts 25 times, and students only receive their individual feedback. A typical way to do this is commenting on a Google Classroom assignment that was turned in. In fact, during these past COVID months, we were asked to do just that. Students responded to certain questions and statements in a Google Form, and each teacher was expected to read and give feedback directly to the student. I can report that it was incredibly time consuming without much benefit. Looking to the fall, that’s unsustainable. Time to re-imagine that with a different kind of feedback.

Different Kind of Feedback
Sure, the teacher could type, or record themselves responding to a student’s interest one-by-one. Good luck with that. Not only is that inefficient, but the result tends to be anything but personalized feedback, copying and pasting whenever possible to save time. After all, what might have taken just one minute now takes 25 minutes!

Instead, the teacher could wait until all responses are submitted, and then type or record themselves addressing 2-3 specific ones just like they would in class. The result is still one thing the teacher does, and when sent back to the whole class, all 25 receive that input.

So, how else can we re-imagine input asynchronously?

4 thoughts on “Remote Learning: Different Kind Of Feedback That’s Actually Sustainable

  1. Hey Lance, not sure about the study on students watching video recording of a class, but as I was reading through your post, I remembered a study done by O’Connor, Michaels & Harbaugh (2017):

    O’Connor, C., Michaels, S., Chapin, S., & Harbaugh, A. G. (2017). The silent and the vocal: Participation and learning in whole-class discussion. Learning and Instruction, 48, 5–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2016.11.003

    Basically the study sought to answer whether active, verbal participation in whole-class discussion has an effect on learning outcomes. Using an in vivo approach, O’Connor, Michaels, Chapin, and Harbaugh (2017) compared direct, lecture-based instruction in math classes to a whole-class discussion approach and then analyzed learner participation measured through number of words spoken. While it found significant impact on the condition or type of instruction on outcome measures (learners engaged in dialogic discourse tested significantly higher on immediate and written tests), no relationship was found between the degree to which learners verbally contributed and test scores. This suggests that silent students can learn just as well as vocal students in group discussions. O’Connor et al. (2017) stress the importance that a student’s mere presence in a class does not necessarily lead to learning. Rather, they highlight the fact that throughout the course of the study teachers cultivated an environment of active engagement; thus, silent students, though not verbally contributing, were generally not disaffected but engaged in the conversation. Although the data was obtained in a math course, the results can easily transcend subject domain, especially in light of the nature of language acquisition (i.e., SLA is slow, piecemeal, and emergent and therefore willingness to contribute does not necessarily measure implicit knowledge). When considering multimodal affordances that elicit student participation (e.g., gestures, voice inflection, translated words on the board), we can trust that all students are benefiting from dialogic interactions, not just the ones that verbally respond to teacher elicitation. Hope this is helpful.

    • Wow that’s fantastic, thank you! I agree that studies like this really can help look at the big picture. Just think of how much impact more studies like this would have on the *kind* of engagement administrators and observers were both looking for and expect from learners. Big change.


    • Instead, the teacher could wait until all responses are submitted, and then type or record themselves addressing 2-3 specific ones just like they would in class.”

      So the “feedback” is just part of the next class/assignment. If you’re asking how we ensure that students attend class or do assignments at home, I don’t pretend that we have control over that. Instead, we can just set expectations that they do so and encourage that kind of independence.

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