eCoaching Tip 76 Feedback in Discussion Posts – How Soon, How Much and Wrapping Up

April 12 2010

eCoaching Tip 76  Feedback in Discussion Posts – How Soon, How Much and Wrapping Up

When do your students want feedback?  When it is good to give feedback?   What are the three most important goals of feedback?  These are some of the questions that we discussed at the webinar on March 30.  The archive of the session is available for anyone who missed it or to revisit certain sections.

Most Pressing Question about Feedback

The most pressing questions in the webinar revolved around how and when to provide feedback in the discussion postings.  Apparently this is a course area that students in general desire more feedback on earlier and more frequently.  At the same time this is an area where striking an appropriate balance can be tough. Some faculty shared that they feel that jumping in too early with feedback  “dominates and skews the dialogue.”  Other faculty shared that it is hard to know just what to say when. There was agreement that the goal is to achieve a balance between too much and too little feedback and presence in the discussion forums.  Part of the overall strategy is to provide enough reflecting and thinking time early in the week’s postings so that learners can really think through what they think and why.  Everyone agreed that we miss the opportunity to simply “nod our heads” or say “keep going” or simply “good” and then invite another to comment.

After much discussion some of the comments from the faculty seemed to suggest a cycle of feedback that corresponds to key time points in a discussion posting. See what you think about this approach and if it would work for you.   Check out the archive for the full discussion.

One Model of a Feedback Cycle During a Discussion Forum

In the early part of the discussion week the goal might be just simple acknowledgement feedback.  Simple acknowledgements let the students know you are present and that you are aware of what thinking and sharing is going on.  This can mean feedback such as, “Scott, thanks for getting us started this week.”  Or “Christina, thanks for stating your position so clearly. You might also think about extending your thinking to a similar, or related pattern in X’s thinking.” Or “Andrew, keep thinking along these lines and also think about how this experience might relate to X or Y or to Scott’s thinking.”

In the early days of a posting week the goal is to find ways to let your students know that you are listening and considering their thinking and the questions or difficulties that they may be having in completing the readings or the postings.

As the week progresses, possibly in days three to five the goal of your feedback might expand to encourage the students to be listening to each other, and to note similarities or contrasts in the thinking or experiences of others.  Your feedback at this point is to gently channel or shape the learner’s thinking and their expression of that thinking. Remember that it is often effective to include requirements in your rubrics for learners to provide feedback to one another on their thinking.  This helps to create a participatory sustained conversation, rather than just turn-taking of isolated unrelated postings.  This point of the cycle is a good time to question, challenge, suggest. It can be a good time to suggest patterns within a concept with a link to a current happening or event.

Many of the webinar participants seemed to agree that the practice of providing significant “expert” feedback is best done later in the week.  At the same time, it is important not to wait so long that the expert feedback does not serve to shape and channel thinking and provide time for reflection and integration of the core concepts and significant groundings.  As always, it is the learner who must be doing the work of thinking and integrating and there must be time for this.

Feedback to Wrap Up a Discussion Forum

The last part of the discussion forum often best includes a posting from the faculty member in his/her role as the course expert and facilitator.  This post serves two purposes.  First, it serves to ‘wrap up” and summarize the thinking and ideas generated by the group as a whole.  In some courses this discussion wrap can be done by students either individually or as a team.  Or each student can post a  “thought thread” that they are taking forward.  The second purpose of a course wrap — and this is best done by the faculty member  — is to provide a transition to the next set of learning experiences.

Value of Rubrics for Feedback

A related topic on feedback for discussion postings that came up in the webinar was rubrics.  Faculty generally agreed that rubrics are very efficient and effective.  While rubrics can initially take a little time to develop, they can then be readily modified for other assignments.

It is hard to overstate the value of rubrics (1) in codifying the criteria and standards for an assignment thus making grading easier;  (2) in communicating the academic and professional expectations of an assignment or project, and (3) providing a tool for self-review and peer-review.  Rubrics can range from a simple three-point rubric for discussion postings to more complex rubrics for projects and for emphasizing specific skills such as critical or innovative thinking.

A simple rubric from Boettcher & Conrad, 2010 for getting you started in using one for discussion posts follows:

As a quick reminder, arubric is a scoring system that is usually set up as a matrix with the two or three desired characteristics in the left-most column and a three-point scale for each of those desired characteristics in the next set of three columns. In the example here, the rubric includes measures of time (when and how often postings are posted), quantity (a length appropriate to the discussion topic), and content (resource related, thoughtful, and substantive) that factor into the points earned.

Another measure often used in rubrics is format, which includes adherence to appropriate written English. In our webinar discussion many faculty commented on the need to provide feedback on what is basically professional writing standards and accuracy. This is such a fundamental professional skill that it might be worth some coordinated action to address.  Links to other rubrics, such as for podcasting and blog entries were included in ecoaching tip #75 earlier this spring.

Three Purposes of Feedback

It is tempting to think of feedback in the context of assessing or grading.  However, the purpose of feedback is more multidimensional. In fact, the goal of feedback is to help learners grow in their knowledge, in their expertise, and is thus forward-looking.   Here is a three-point summary of the purposes of feedback.

  • Convey the sense of caring, relationship support and “being there”
  • Guide the development of skill, knowledge
  • Guide metacognitive and life-long learning competencies

As we were discussing the need to provide feedback on professional writing standards Jim Wolford-Ulrich suggested mapping feedback on students’ writing to these three purposes. Providing feedback on what is standard written English shows that you care about and wish to support the student’s professional competency.  Secondly by encouraging self-assessment and peer review faculty can help guide a student’s development as a skilled writer.  By providing resources for good writing and keeping expectations high, faculty can encourage awareness and life-long competency in writing.

Other requests and comments had to do with making it easier to provide feedback within Blackboard.  Mark Prestopnik (, the SLPA faculty support assistant, is available to help with strategies in this area.  Also a tip on setting up forums for feedback How to Grade Blackboard Discussion Board Forums developed by the Learning Technology Center at Duquesne is at


Thanks to all the faculty who participated and shared their thoughts and insights on feedback. A special thanks to G. K. Cunningham who teaches the Intro to Grad Study in Leadership and Mona Shields, who is teaching a course on building effective teams this spring for sharing their effective practices.

This tip only hints at a few of the ideas from the webinar. The discussion in context is richly rewarding, as are the many resources at the information area of the webinar site.

Reminder:  The archive for the webinar – Feedback: Guiding, Mentoring and Communicating with Learners– is at the organizational link for SLPA faculty webinars.  More hints on course wraps and feedback are in the ecoaching library at

Request: Suggestions for webinar topics are always welcome.  Also, if you of you have favorite rubrics that work well that you would like posted in the webinar area, please send them along.

Selected References

Boettcher, J. V. E-Coaching Tips E-Coaching Tip 59 (#1 Summer 2008)   “Are You Reading My Postings? Do you Know Who I am?” Simple Rules about Feedback in Online Learning.  Retrieved April 8, 2010 from

Dunphy, J. Giving and receiving feedback. Sloan Communication. Retrieved March 19 2009 from

Ericsson, Anders K.; Prietula, Michael J.; Cokely, Edward T. (2007). The Making of an expert.  Harvard Business Review (July–August 2007).  Retrieved March 22, 2010 from Making of an Expert.pdf   Excellent focused article providing summary of expertise and what It means for teaching and learning.

Mory, E. H. (2004). Feedback Research Revisited.  In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology (2 ed., pp. 745 – 784). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Mahwah, NJ.  Comprehensive summary of feedback research.  Well-organized discussion of the many variables and uses of feedback in learning, such as such as information load, timing, and types of outcomes being studied. Retrieved March 22, 2010 from

Valentin Razmov, Effective Pedagogical Principles and Practices in Teaching Software Engineering through Projects, IEEE Frontiers in EducationConference, October 13, 2007.   Retrieved March 22 2010 from

Sharratt, G. (2010) Supporting self-assessment for learning. Washington State Kappan, 4(1), 11-14.  Retrieved March 21, 2010 from  This link is for an entire issue; the article is on pp. 11-14.

Wolford-Ulrich, J. Resources on Giving and Receiving Feedback.  A Supplement to the Brown-Bag Lunch Presentation Given at USIS on 22 July 2008.

Note: These E-coaching 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 and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by