How can you give feedback to students in large classrooms?

It is difficult to teach courses with high enrollments (more 200 students per semester) for many reasons. Giving feedback to students can be especially challenging. It is almost impossible to communicate one-on-one with students. I find that my feedback seems to be as valuable as the assessments they take. These courses raise the question: How do we provide meaningful and rich feedback on such a large scale?

For the past few years, I have been teaching Introduction to Statistical Analysis (STAT 2120), at the University of Virginia. With around 500 students each term, it is a lot to teach. Students typically submit 60 assignments to the class. It is a blessing to have more than a dozen students as graders, and two graduate students. However, it can be time-consuming to grade hundreds of assignments for students.

These are the three strategies that I use in my course. They make it more enjoyable than boring. These strategies are all about giving students useful and detailed feedback regarding their work.

1. You should think strategically about which types of assessments you use and how much feedback each one really needs.

You don’t have to give detailed feedback on every assignment or task. Strategically matching the level of feedback you provide to each type of assessment or learning task will allow you to limit your time spent providing detailed feedback only to those assignments that are most important.

My course offers three types of learning feedback to students:

(1) Quick tests to understand. Sometimes, after a lecture or reading assignment, I want to check that students understand the concept. Is their understanding correct? This is why I will give them short quizzes that have five to ten multiple-choice or select all questions. These assessments are completed by many students in 5 minutes or less. They also get immediate feedback about whether or not they answered each question correctly.

These brief assessments don’t require me to explain the correct answer to students. It is the responsibility of the students to understand their mistakes and correct them. This can be done by students reaching out to a colleague, a teaching assistant or me during office hours. This encourages students to communicate with one another and with course staff. It also reinforces the idea of each student being responsible for their work.

(2) Recognizing error patterns. For longer quizzes and problem sets at the end of chapters, I want to help students recognize the types of errors they may be making so that they can correct them as quickly as possible. This feedback will include a scoring rubric showing the correct answer, explaining the various mistakes students make and how many points were deducted for each.

(3) Holistic Feedback. I prefer to provide more specific feedback for projects and heavier assignments. This is possible because I am able to give feedback on other types of assignments, which saves me time.

2. Students can submit assignments in groups if they wish.

Students can work together to submit one project or piece for evaluation. This has many benefits. This helps students to learn how to work together on assignments and tasks, which is a valuable skill for the workforce. It also gives them an opportunity to learn from one another. It also benefits instructors and course graders because we can spend more time providing detailed feedback to each group than giving surface-level feedback on three to five times the number of submissions.

Students are required to keep track of the results of flipping coins many times. This is one of our group activities. Students work in groups to predict the outcome. For example, they can predict how many heads or tails will occur and how many heads are in a row. They can then combine their flips to save time and not spend as much time flipping coins. The students then discuss their predictions with each other and come up with a final group conclusion. Every person is exposed and learns from many ideas. They also get the chance to draw appropriate conclusions based upon the questions. The graders have the option to dig a bit deeper when giving feedback. Grading 120 submissions is much easier than grading 500.

3. Automate the feedback and grading process with an automated tool.

Grade scope is a Turning tool that helps with STAT 2120 grading. It allows us to give all three types of feedback.

Grade scope, for example, automates the scoring for student’check for understanding‘. It also uses machine learning technology to classify student responses by type of error. Additionally, it allows instructors to give holistic feedback by using rubrics throughout work.

We don’t have to rewrite feedback hundreds of times to students with the right technology. The tool makes it possible to give feedback less often, which allows us to spend more time with students helping them develop course ideas and interacting with them. The human element of grading and feedback is not being replaced. Instead, the automation helps to amplify it so we can spend more time with students and help them synthesize course ideas.

In my large course, one of the most important questions I struggle with is: How can we make it more meaningful for students? While it can be difficult to give feedback and administer exams in large courses, these technologies and strategies have helped me improve my course experience without sacrificing the substance.

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