By Jennifer McGrath, Vice President of Academic Affairs

I’ve been asked how I effectively motivate my students to earn high assignment submission rates.  I always have the same response: it is all about the grading and feedback.

We’ve all been told how important feedback is to students. Feedback really is important, but what makes feedback effective is how quickly you give it AND how you deliver it. In my 14 years of online teaching, I’ve learned a few things through lots of trial and error. I don’t do anything special in the class regarding discussion, class wall posts, or announcements (don’t get me wrong – they are important). What I focus on is a quick turnaround time and meaningful feedback.

Jennifer McGrath's Submission Rates 8-10-15

Jennifer’s submission rates for the August, 2015 module.

What is a quick turnaround time? I know this may sound like a big expectation, but I aim to grade within 2 days of submission. If you wait until after the due date, that may be too late.  

For example, take a student who submitted her week two work on Tuesday of week two. You then grade her work with everyone else’s…on Wednesday of week three. This student does not receive her feedback until EIGHT DAYS after she submitted her work. I don’t know about you, but I have a difficult time remembering what I did yesterday, let alone eight days ago.  

If grades are submitted a while after the student completed the assignment, he or she may glance over the feedback and grade. However, the information will mean almost nothing because the student has already moved on. Not only does the immediacy of feedback make it more meaningful, quick turnarounds with grading also help in a few additional ways:

  • Motivates students to continue for instant gratification and reinforcement
  • Shows you, as their instructor, are motivated by and invested in their success.  If you show you are invested, your students will more likely be invested as well

So let’s say you are now committed to grading every day or every other day, enabling students to receive feedback quickly. That’s a start, but more is needed. The feedback you provide is just as important as the speed at which you provide it.

Many people see feedback on an assignment as a one-time event. You as the instructor bestow your wisdom on the student by pointing out what is missing or incorrect from the submission.  Maybe you state “great job” or “good work.” You give them the info, then you are done.  

Have you ever considered feedback as a continuous conversation? Meaningful feedback can open the opportunity for a discussion. Not only can you provide information about what is “right” and “wrong” in the submission, you can ask them questions or provide some information about yourself so they can apply what they have learned. You can “keep it real” by being lighthearted and friendly in your message.  

For example, I had a student a few weeks ago write an essay that included information about the musician Bruno Mars. In my feedback I wrote that I loved Bruno Mars, and the song she mentioned is what motivated me to buy his latest album. I asked her if she had any of his albums. Sure enough, she sent me a quick message saying she did, and that she even saw him in concert. Think about moving beyond presenting knowledge to your students through your grading (although that is also important- we do want our students to learn after all!), and consider making a connection with them at the same time.

Speaking of connections, feedback can take place outside of the grade book. It can be given through text messages, phone calls, or email. It doesn’t have to relate to a specific assignment, either. This feedback helps make those connections with students and builds rapport. When students feel you care about them, they will do amazing things for you! It doesn’t need to be extensive for this purpose. Maybe in your Friday proactive texts you just give a few words of praise:

JM Text Convo 1

Those few words made a connection between the student and me. This was week four – I’ve texted her every previous Friday with no response. This week I added how she was doing in the class…and she immediately opened up. Students open up with constructive feedback, too – not just praise:

JM Text Convo 2

Reminding the student that you care, even though his or her performance needs improvement, can open up the door for meaningful conversation.

I didn’t always put forth this effort, and that was reflected in my course outcomes. They were satisfactory, but not stellar. These are my secrets to success. A quick turnaround time with grading and paying special attention to feedback (both formal and informal) can go a long way!