eCoaching Tip 19 Feedback on Assignments: Hints for Being Timely and Efficient

July 14 2006 (Refreshed July 27 2012; checked Oct 4 2019)

eCoaching Tip 19:  Feedback on Assignments: Hints for Being Timely and Efficient

A frequently asked question about learning practices is “How do you give feedback in a timely and efficient way to many students?”

Here are a few hints on providing feedback on individual assignments that is usually private and confidential.  It is part of the faculty to individual student dialogue, shaping the growth of an individual, or the growth of a small duo or team.

Feedback in discussion forums is different.  It is public, open, and part of the course community dialogue as a whole. Both types of feedback play an important role in student’s learning.

Some of the characteristics of good assignment feedback are timeliness, process transparency, and the use of rubrics to guide expectations and processes. Here are a few thoughts on each of these.

Timely Feedback

  • First, always let students know when they will receive feedback from their assignments. There are two or three easy ways of doing this. When you remind them about the due date for the assignment, as in an announcement, you can include the expected turnaround time for them to receive your feedback. Or you can include the turn-around time in the assignment. Another technique is to make an annotation in the grade area of the course site for that assignment. If students go to the grading area to find the feedback, there will be a note as to when they can expect feedback.
  • You may wonder if there is a standard time for providing feedback for major assignments. As a rule, of course, earlier is always better, particularly if learners will be expected to revise or work with the assignment. Some rules of thumb suggest a day for each page of an assignment. Of course there are many variations on these policies, depending on your institution, particular course, content and students. A major variable is the number of students you have in one or more of your courses. Another variable is what is going on with your own life at this time. What is important is to be explicit and reaffirm the expected feedback time and process with your students. Posting a note about the expected feedback schedule is also a good opportunity to adjust the timeframe if needed.

 Process Transparency

  • Another good practice is to let your students know the process by which you will provide feedback. Will you be sending back a digital copy of their paper with tracked comments? Or will you be providing more of a holistic grade and comment by annotating an assignment rubric.

Using Rubrics

  • An excellent course design strategy is the use of grading rubrics. Rubrics provide clarity, guide student learning, encourage student awareness of excellent writing and communication, and can save grading and evaluation time. A rubric lays out the criteria and performance levels for grading; a rubric is also helpful as a checklist and planning tool for students. Part of a student’s assignment is to do the assignment with one eye on the rubric, as a way of self-assessment. Examples of rubrics are provided later in this ecoaching tip and in other tips as well. A grading rubric can help avoid many unwelcome surprises as learners generally can predict their own grade from the rubrics.
  • When creating or adapting a rubric, be sure to include all the criteria for the grading of the assignment. Will the grade be based on content, such as research, thinking, and insights?  Will the grade  include the presentation, such as writing, grammar, clarity, and citation accuracy? When developing a rubric, you can also link the requirements and criteria to the course outcomes to keep the students aware of  the purpose and goal of the assignment, and what skills they should be working on.

Feedback with Audio

  • You may want to consider providing feedback using audio.  Audio can be faster while also providing more subtle and expansive comments. However, it is also easy to ramble with audio, so it may take some practice.
  • Audio feedback can also be used for providing substantive feedback to the class as a whole. After grading all the assignments, you may want to talk about the assignments as a whole and comment back to the class, highlighting specific strengths and innovations demonstrated by students’ work. This is an additional opportunity to reinforce, praise, coach and direct. Of course, you can also do this same type of community feedback in the public discussion forum.

Individualizing Feedback for Your Students

Now let’s consider how to be efficient at individualizing feedback for your students.  This is a teaching responsibility that is akin to coaching and mentoring and can take a great deal of time. On the plus side, this is the most valuable feedback for students.

First, it is important to know your students, so that you can tailor feedback to your student’s “zone of proximal development” as defined by Vygotsky. This well known concept means our students are not ready to learn everything at one time. Our brains process information piece-by-piece and chunk-by-chunk.  It is similar to a journey, where each step takes you closer to the destination. As you review the student’s assignment and prepare your feedback, structure your feedback by targeting where the student’s ideas are coming from. Then you can hope to shape their thinking by reinforcing the strengths of their ideas, and guiding where the concepts can come together.

Hint:  Some faculty take the info from student’s intros in the first week and create a summary sheet capturing some of the key elements of a student’s background to guide in their feedback.  This is probably only really possible with smaller groups of students.

If you are using a holistic grading approach you may want to create a feedback/grading tool for yourself. This feedback tool will consist of the assignment rubric, with comments that address the more common problem or opportunity areas for feedback. These comments can reinforce the criteria in the rubric, and encourage students in their conceptual growth. This strategy is summed up as (1) holistic grading, (2) supported by a rubric, and (3) enhanced by personal comments.

Examples of a Rubric and a Checklist for Written Assignments

Two examples for evaluating a writing assignment follow. One is for a rubric; another is a checklist. Either tool can be used by students as they are preparing an assignment and by you to provide feedback on the assignment.

Example of a Rubric for Written Assignment

Here is one example of a rubric for a written assignment. In this example the final paper is worth 20 points.

  • The paper is well-organized, easy to understand, and well-written. The paper is presented well, with no major grammatical/spelling errors and citations are in accordance with APA guidelines. The paper is the right length, approximately XX pages. The paper includes a descriptive title, an introduction, a conclusion and appropriate sub-headings. (5 points)
  • The paper is responsive to the content of the assignment. It includes, for example, a summary statement, the research and rationale supporting your recommendations, etc. (13 points)
  • All tables and figures presented are thoroughly discussed in the paper. Additional resources are included, as appropriate, in the appendix. (2 points)

Example of a Checklist for a Written Assignment

Here is an example of a checklist that might accompany a writing assignment.  This checklist guides the students through the process of writing and evaluating their writing. This checklist was adapted from work (2005) by Linda Briskin from York University in Canada.

Directions to the student: Before you hand in your essay, use this checklist to ensure that your essay/assignment is complete. If you find problem areas, revise before handing in the assignment. This checklist is used as a reference point for grading your assignment.

  1. Do you have a clear introduction? Does it identify the thematic and organizational structure of the essay? Does it indicate the point of view you will argue?
  2. Have you organized the material effectively, that is, is the sequence of presentation appropriate?
  3. Is the presentation reader-friendly, that is, do you indicate clearly the transitions from one section/argument/theme to the next? Do you use headings and sub-headings appropriately? Have you eliminated any repetition of arguments?
  4. Have you made a persuasive argument to support your informed point of view? Have you addressed both sides of the debate?
  5. Have you used relevant source material? Have you carefully referenced all your sources, both direct quotations and paraphrasing?
  6. Do you have a clear conclusion?
  7. Have you included a bibliography?
  8. Have you corrected all typing, spelling, punctuation and grammar errors? Is your assignment the required length?


Briskin, L. (2005). Assigning Grades and Feedback Policies. York University, Division of Social Science. Canada. Retrieved July 29, 2012 from

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Note: These eCoaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized, expanded and updated  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips (2016) coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 2006 – 2019