Digital Toolbox: Giving feedback

At a Glance 

  • Use Blackboard assignment tools (Assignments or Turnitin) to leave written or audio feedback on students’ written work or submitted files, especially if you want to pre-load comments that can be used over and over. 

  • Use Blackboard tests and quizzes to create automated, reusable quizzes that allow students to review key concepts over and over. 

  • Use VoiceThread to leave feedback on student presentations or asynchronous class discussions created and facilitated in the VoiceThread environment.  

  • Use Teams for Education to provide formative, just-in-time feedback to help students revise and polish their work. Use Teams for Classroom to accept large or unusual file outputs (such as zipped files or larger video files).  

Feature Comparison

Feature Blackboard Assignments Blackboard Quizzes Teams for Classroom Voicethread
Rubric grading Yes; rubrics can be visible to students or only to graders.  Available for several assignment types, and some test questions Yes: Essay, Short Answer, and File Response test questions  Yes; not recommended No
In-line feedback Yes (for assignments, SafeAssignments, and Turnitin Assignments) Yes, individualized per question  Yes, via comments in shared files Yes, via comments
Voice feedback Yes Yes, individualized per question Yes, via video conferencing Yes
Delegated grading & feedback Yes Yes No No
Peer & self-assessment Yes No No Peer assessment via comments
Blind grading & feedback Yes Yes No No
Video feedback No No Yes, via video conferencing Yes
Group assignments Yes No Yes; not recommended Yes
View assignments in progress Yes Yes Yes; not recommended Yes
Automated feedback No Yes No No, though automated participation grading is possible

A Closer Look

Good feedback has a powerful effect on learning. Students benefit from feedback that is specific and timely (Goodwin & Miller, 2012).

Feedback such as "great work!" or "almost there!" doesn’t provide students with a clear direction on how to improve, revise, or move forward.  Students are more receptive to specific feedback that has been tailored to their work; it may be difficult for a student to discern where to spend efforts revising from a list of general feedback to the whole class.

Feedback should also be timely. Learning does not happen in a black box between input and output. Rather, students need opportunities to practice targeted skills and receive feedback on how to improve their performance before they can be expected to perform on a summative assessment such as an exam or a final paper.  

Providing specific and timely feedback to students adds a time-sensitive and time-consuming component to teaching, but certain tools and technologies can help. 

  • Using technology to give specific feedback – Annotation tools and video chat clients are systems that enable you to highlight specific aspects of student work as you provide feedback.
  • Using technology to give timely feedback – Using appropriate technology can help you provide prompt feedback to students, or even to automate feedback for student self-checks.
Diagram of feedback process: Begin with Input (introduce new materials, ideas, skills); then Practice & Feedback (as many times as desired); and lastly Output (assess student performance)

How do I decide which tool to use? 

The following list of feedback systems are ordered based on their setup requirements. Some feedback systems are quick and easy to set up, but they may be limiting in terms of what you can do with them. Other systems take more time to prepare and deliver, but they afford opportunities for different kinds of richer feedback.

Tool 1: Blackboard Assignments

Setup: quick and easy

Blackboard assignment tools (Assignments or TurnItIn) are best used for students’ document submissions for individual or group assignments.  

Feature How it's specific How to make it timely
Annotation Use these tools to provide inline feedback on specific aspects of their paper.  Mix a combination of prepared feedback for common issues (copied from a Word document or other place) alongside feedback unique to a student’s work 
Rubrics Well-developed rubrics can make grading more objective and allow for customized comments on each rubric indicator.  Rubrics save time evaluating work since point values and feedback is already built into the instrument.  
Voice Adding a voice element to augment your written feedback adds a personal touch.    Voice feedback can be recorded directly in the Feedback editor
Multiple Draft Acceptance Easily compare drafts of work to see how students revised and improved their work.   Quickly turn around feedback on different drafts of an assignment without having to designate separate grade columns and submission links for each draft.   
Source Similarity Checks Make similarity reports visible to students so they can examine each similarity case and determine for themselves if they’ve misrepresented their use of a source.   Similarity checks in both SafeAssign and TurnItIn generate within minutes.  


Tool 2: Blackboard Tests & Quizzes

Setup: takes time, but fairly easy

Blackboard quizzes allow you to create self-check assignments that require little maintenance once they are deployed.  

Feature How it's specific How to make it timely
Unlimited attempts Let learners self-check and decide how many times they need to review key ideas and concepts.   Learners will know right away whether they are correct need to review key ideas and concepts again.  
Pre-prepared responses Pre-prepared feedback for each wrong response in Blackboard can inform students of why their selection was wrong.   Review your quiz feedback settings to reveal correct/incorrect answers and feedback at specific times or immediately.  
Customized responses For more complex questions, manually generate responses to learners.   Review your quiz feedback settings to reveal correct/incorrect answers and feedback at specific times or right away. 


Tool 3: VoiceThread

Setup: takes time, somewhat complex

VoiceThread interfaces with Blackboard and integrates with the Blackboard grade center. Use VoiceThread for assignments that have heavier multimedia components or to facilitate asynchronous video or audio discussions (like discussion boards but with video or audio). Instructors who choose to use VoiceThread with their students benefit from taking an ‘all-in’ position wherein VoiceThread is used multiple times and as a mode of facilitating classroom communication activities. VoiceThread is a robust multimedia tool and probably isn’t appropriate for one-off assignments.  

Feature How it's specific How to make it timely
Comments Leave a unique (or several) comment on students’ work or students’ responses to your VoiceThread (VT). Comments can be private, even in a public VT.   Record your video and audio comments directly in the VT tool.  
Student comments Direct students to leave comments on each other’s work in VT.  Add onto student comments with your own feedback to give multiple perspectives while avoiding duplication.  


Tool 4: Teams for Education

Setup: optimal configuration can be time-consuming and somewhat complex

Teams for Classroom is a computer-mediated communication tool and learning environment that can be used to provide feedback to students synchronously and asynchronously. Instructors who choose to use Teams with their students benefit from taking an ‘all-in’ position wherein Teams is used multiple times and as a mode of facilitating classroom communication activities. 

Feature How it's specific How to make it timely
Chat, video chat, & recording Use the chat and video conferencing features to just-in-time feedback to ‘pull students out of ditches’ that impede progress on their work.  Record responses or post common feedback in general channels to disseminate to the entire class quickly.  
Channels Create channels for students to share their work with the class and get public, peer feedback.  Channels are easy to create and organize in a Team.  
Shared documents Use the annotation and review features that are well-known in MS Word to collaborate and mentor students on drafts of assignments.   Save time emailing and keeping track of multiple draft submissions in Blackboard by moving mentored projects and papers to Teams.  

What do I do if my students aren't using my feedback?

It is frustrating to discover that students haven’t been reviewing the feedback you’ve left for them. Maybe they can’t find your feedback, or they’ve failed to incorporate your feedback into their revisions. They may assume you aren’t providing feedback at all. We recommend you create a low-stakes training activity to ensure your students know how to submit their work to the tool you’ve selected and that they can find the feedback you’ve provided. We also recommend you set expectations for how students should make use of your feedback.