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Promoting Strong Feedback Cultures

Tim Amidon and Colorado State University’s English department invited Jeff Grabill, Bill Hart-Davidson, and Melissa Meeks to contribute to the “Raising the Bar” series hosted by the Reinvention Collaborative. The Reinvention Collaborative seeks to bring the scholarship of teaching and learning to conversations about transforming curriculum. They invite disciplinary experts to share their work in a format that faculty and administrators from across fields might put to use in creating a better undergraduate learning experience. Our team is grateful for the chance to share our work.

The full video is below. The outline includes time stamps to jump through the presentation. Also, you can view the slides with notes that include additional resources.

Raising the Bar: Promoting Strong Feedback Cultures
in Online and Hybrid Teaching Environments

0:00 Introduction by Steven P. Dandaneau, Ph.D. (Executive Director, The Reinvention Collaborative; Associate Provost, Colorado State University)

1:09 Introduction by Tim Amidon, Ph.D. (English, Colorado State University)

2:03 Introduction by Bill Hart-Davidson, Ph.D. (Professor; Associate Dean of Graduate Education at Michigan State University and co-inventor of Eli Review)

3:23 #5 Plan engagement and feedback, not content delivery

10:03 #4 Practice, not stress test

  • WAC Clearinghouse. “What makes a good writing assignment?
  • Transparency in Learning and Teaching. Assignment Examples
  • Hart-Davidson, Bill and Melissa Graham Meeks. “Feedback Analytics for Peer Learning: Indicators of Writing Improvement in Digital Environments.” Improving Outcomes: Disciplinary Writing, Local Assessment, and the Aim of Fairness, edited by Norbert Elliot and Diane Kelly-Riley, MLA, 2020, forthcoming.
  • Question to Test Implementation of Principle:
    Could a struggling student improve?

16:14 #3 Leverage peers

29:36 #2 Be present and know when to shut up

31:07 #1 Describe-evaluate-suggest

  • Hart-Davidson. “D-E-S
  • Graham Meeks, McLeod, Hart-Davidson, Grabill. “Feedback and Improvement
  • Question to Test Implementation of Principle:
    Are students getting better at giving feedback?

Question and Answers

36:41 Send your 3CQ feedback (a compliment, a comment, a connection, a question) to @billhd and @melissagmeeks on Twitter or [email protected]

37:24 3CQ: I really like Describe-Evaluate-Suggest. Are there teaching strategies that go beyond?


MGM: Prevention–telling before students do–has little impact. Habit is stronger than caution. Interrupting activity after something has happened has more impact. Model strong comments and rewrite accurate comments that weren’t D-E-S together in class. Build vocabulary for talking about writing by making a list of hedges “As a reader I noticed that. . . ” and “you might consider . . . .”

BHD: MSU Extension is offering arts and humanities, including songwriting. They are adapting describe-evaluate-suggest to talk about an activity where students are developing beats.

42:06 I like anything that mentions Vygotsky. D-E-S seems to connect to teacher feedback. What kinds and how much practice do faculty need to reach the top of the stairs in giving feedback to students?

BHD: It rarely occurs to faculty to budget time in their course to teach students to give better feedback. It’s not clear where this instruction fits in the curriculum. It makes sense to give it at least one day. In studio art, the first few days are all about how to talk about your art and participate in a studio. So, I try to make all my classes into a studio.

MGM: There’s a distinction between “less bad” peer review versus helpful feedback. Helpful feedback takes 5 rounds of feedback:

  • 1st Exposure: Prevention can’t overcome baggage and habits. This is “forming.” Intervene heavily on improving feedback. This is “storming.”
  • 2nd, quickly thereafter. About 60% will do D-E-S at least once.
  • 3rd. Everyone who is going to become a helpful reviewer is on the path. This is the first stair of raising the bar on helpful feedback. This is “norming.”
  • 4th & 5th is the performing stage

BHD: In the studio model, what’s most important to me are the handrails and mirrors. We want to be as inclusive as we can.

44:59 Q: How does the practice routine play out in online classes?

MGM: We recommend a weekly pattern. The curriculum decision is how the small bits of writing stack up.

51:10 Q: How do you convince students to do a little bit of work most days of the week rather than a lot of work at the last minute? that this isn’t a lot more work?

BHD: The first intervention is to get them to be honest about their time investments. How long are you going spend writing drafts, giving feedback, and making revision plans? Let’s put that on the calendar in intervals that will be successful.

MGM: It’s also about helping students understand being in class felt like fluency (oversimplified: “I understand the words coming out of your mouth”) whereas the kinds of formative peer learning exercises we’re discussing are develop mastery (oversimplified: “I can produce those words on my own”). High fluency environments like discussion encourage the Dunning-Kruger effect where you overestimate your own knowledge. High mastery environments feel worse because there aren’t as many fluency cues, which is why designing peer learning to build intellectual community rather than set students on flaw finding missions is critical.

BHD: In this fitness feedback metaphor, reduce volume, but keep intensity about the same.

57:54 Q: How do you approach curriculum design? What are the strategies for moving away from 4-5 assignment framework to a more intensity practice model?

BHD: Five very different papers in one term is like asking students to learn 5 concertos rather than to get one really good for the recital. So, the strategy is to find the specific learning goals within an assignment or genre and asking students to spend more time on those rather than simply adding another assignment. The parallel is for instructors to spend more time on debriefing, applying some top sight to peer learning to teach muddiest point.

MGM: When you are changing a syllabus you love into something that provides enough practice for students to get better, there are two strategies:

(1) Where have struggling students fallen off the rails? You know it after reading dozens of the papers. What’s the thing you tell everyone 3 times? That’s the thing to practice.

(2) What’s the skill underneath the performance? In a literature review, often first drafts are “source and then source and then source, and then sourse.” But, if you assign Bill’s concept map activity, students know the relationships between sources before they start to compose paragraphs.

1:01 Amidon closes

Promoting Strong Feedback Cultures was published to the Eli Review Blog in the category Professional Development.

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