Asynchronous learning 2: Marking coursework online

2006
Asynchronous learning 2: Marking coursework online

Writer, teacher and teacher trainer Damian Williams offers some top advice on how to give effective written feedback to your students when marking coursework online. 

If you read my previous article on effectively managing online forums for your students, you’ll know just how important asynchronous learning is. It both gives students the chance to learn independently and provides teachers with the opportunity to offer their students lots of extra learning opportunities. 

Coursework is another effective form of asynchronous learning – and giving useful written feedback on this coursework should be a central part of your online teaching skill set. 

While it’s no real substitute for face-to-face, synchronous feedback sessions, by keeping a few things in mind, it can still be very effective. 

Here are some tips for giving written feedback:

1. Give as much feedback as you can

I tend to write everything I can think of that might be useful (or just interesting). Remember that when you’re giving feedback face-to-face, things will arise naturally from the conversation, which will take you down other, related avenues of discussion related to the task at hand. Try to pre-empt these by thinking about what your participant will find difficult to grasp. Give examples of everything you can, as well as possible avenues for further exploration.

2. Balance your response

While it’s important to give as much feedback as possible, remember to balance both constructive criticism and praise. I often find it useful to give as many suggestions as I can. Then when I’ve finished, I go back through the work and look for opportunities for praise, too. This is easy to forget when helping learners achieve success, but it’s also important to build their confidence in what they can do, as well as what they need to do.

3. Don’t tell them exactly what to do

Remember, feedback, as well as being a useful evaluative tool, is also an opportunity to encourage further learning and discovery. Instead of telling participants exactly what to do, give them ideas of possible routes to follow up, and encourage them to think about what the results might be.

4. Be prompt, and if you can’t, let them know

Once the participant hits ‘submit’, they’ll be waiting for your feedback, and unlikely to be able to do much more until they get it. Try to respond as soon as you can. And if you can’t, let them know you haven’t forgotten them and when you’re able to return it. 

It’s good to have some basic rules in place for this at the start of the course, too. For example, on the last course I worked on, we had a window of seven days to return marked work, and this was made clear to participants at the start of the course. Likewise, if they submitted work after the start of that window, it was made clear that they’d be pushed to the back of the queue, as it were.

5. Compare and standardize

If you’re one of several tutors on a course, make sure there are systems for standardization in place. You may wish to choose one participant’s piece of work that you all mark, then compare grades and/or feedback, before you continue to mark that piece of coursework. Informal comparisons are useful too. Make a point of talking to other tutors regularly, to discuss your participants and how they’re doing. A separate tutor’s forum is invaluable in this respect.

Discover more resources for teaching and learning online. 

We hope you found these tips on giving feedback and marking coursework online useful. Do you have any questions or doubts? Or perhaps you have some other great tips for teaching online. Let us know in the comments!

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