Online feedback: the need for student response and action

Professor David Carless

Professor David Carless shares some provocative thoughts on online feedback processes, feedback designs and the challenge of timing.

“The most important feedback principle is that students should be thinking about their work rather than the teacher just giving them comments”

(Kennedy Chan, Teacher Feedback Award winner, Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong)

For feedback processes to have an impact, they really need to be designed into the flow of the module so that students have opportunities to use comments to improve their work. In the online space, audio and video peer feedback around work in progress has been shown to be a particularly useful way of engaging students with standards, and supporting them in self-evaluating their own production more robustly. Peer feedback in online learning environments helps students feel connected to their classmates. When online students compose and receive multiple peer reviews, a sense of community is developed but only if teachers are able to motivate students to engage whole-heartedly. 

Collaborative writing enables peer feedback and is potentially facilitated by online environments. The use of wikis or Google Docs enable learners to receive timely feedback from multiple sources, and take action in revising work in progress.

The way modules are structured with final assignments submitted several weeks after the conclusion of the teaching is a major impediment to effective feedback processes. By the end of a semester it is too late for student action, and if the final grade has been awarded, only the most motivated students are likely to engage with any ‘hopefully useful information’ provided by teachers. The challenges of end-of-semester marking are also compounded by the multiple functions at play: awarding and justifying a fair grade; demonstrating respect and reciprocity for students’ efforts; offering commentary that may be helpful on future tasks; and providing an audit trail for external examiners and quality assurance purposes.

Although teacher transmission forms of feedback are known to be relatively limited because students struggle to decode or act on key messages, there are still some useful online possibilities. The teacher role in online feedback involves social presence and coaching. By showing care, enthusiasm and personal sensitivity, teachers encourage feedback exchanges to flourish.

Teachers can contribute their own audio or video feedback to highlight key issues, and support social presence. Our Faculty colleague, Tanya Kempston, for example, has a lot of experience in providing audio feedback to students. Using the same strategy over time and sharing it in CETL seminars allows practice to evolve. Nicole Tavares has recently been experimenting with video feedback which is generally popular with students. Video feedback should probably be short and to the point to minimize cognitive load; require some kind of agentic student response; and can be combined withscreencasting (Mahoney et al. 2019). 

screencast is a digital recording that captures actions taking place on a computer screen. By capturing what is on teachers’ monitors, screencasts can be used to show as well as tell the teacher response to student work. This is helpful for the student sense-making process because unless feedback connects with students, it has limited impact.

To be effective and actionable, feedback processes need to be designed within module learning activities. Without the potential for student action, any hopefully useful information provided by teachers at the end of the module is inevitably rather sterile. Teachers often complain about students not engaging with, collecting or downloading marked work. The main reason that teachers’ efforts at providing summative feedback are often not appreciated is that by the end of semester, it is ‘marking and grading’ rather than feedback. Advice at this stage might be usefully directed towards future assignments, more than the one that has been completed. 

Feedback processes are only effective if they involve shared responsibilities between students and teachers. And that needs the mutual development of feedback literacy: understandings and capacities to enact their complementary roles in maximizing the impact of feedback processes. 

“The generation of information to students about their work is one of the most time-consuming activities that teachers engage in. It cannot be justified if there is no explicit expectation that it will be specifically used”.

(Boud & Molloy, 2013).

Video feedback

Having attended an HEA webinar in April 2020 on ‘Moving Assessment On-Line: Key Principles for Inclusion, Pedagogy and Practice’ in which our colleague David Carless was an invited speaker, I was very much inspired by one of the main topics discussed by the panel on ways of supporting students during the pandemic by giving ourselves a stronger social presence. Video feedback was cited as one example of how this could be achieved. Since then I have begun building on what I was doing with audio feedback and experimenting with the use of feedback on video. 

This is what I have been trying out on a BA&BEd Year 4 Pedagogy course – 

1. Mark students’ work as I always do using the annotation functions on Moodle (e.g. colour codes, highlighting, ticks, smileys) in the ‘Assignment submission’ tab, ensuring consistency in the use of colours (e.g. yellow – impressive arguments/ideas; red – major limitations; blue – organisational issues; black – aspects concerning referencing);

Moodle assignment -> View all submissions -> Grade

2. Grade students’ work using the ‘Advanced Grading’ function on Moodle allowing for rubrics and descriptors to be added alongside each criterion;

To define a rubric, under Assignment administration -> Advanced grading -> Define rubric
Moodle assignment -> Editing settings -> Grade -> Grading method -> Rubric

3. Make a note of the key points to focus on in my feedback to be given to each student (as I think about what to prioritise, how to better stage the comments and how to word the feedback, beginning with the ‘stars’ before the ‘wishes’);

4. (With the help of technology afforded by Zoom) Record my overall 3 – 5 minute comments for each student aurally with the ‘video’ on;

5. ‘Pause recording’, switch off my ‘video’, ‘share screen’, show the ‘Assignment submission’ tab on Moodle with my marking and grading of the student’s work, pull out the annotation bar on Zoom and take out the ‘spotlight marker’, ‘resume recording’ and walk the student aurally through his/her lesson plan and essay on the screen, pointing out (with the ‘marker’) and elaborating more specifically on the aspects I was referring to in my ‘talking head’ video, suggesting room for improvement, sharing my ideas on alternatives/possibilities, identifying systematic referencing/linguistic issues if found, and making recommendations on the next step(s) forward;

6. (In the process of Step 5 above or afterwards, whichever is more appropriate) Click into the assessment criteria (‘Advanced Grading’) sheet to show the student the rubrics and to guide him/her in understanding the grading alongside each criterion;

7. End with a word of encouragement, an invitation to discuss any uncertainties with me and a reminder to view their next submission as an opportunity to act on the given feedback.

8. Save the video-recording and upload it onto the same space as a ‘feedback file’.

Scroll down to the bottom of the right column of the assignment grading page.

9. Rename the ‘Assignment submission’ tab ‘Feedback on Assignment’, ‘show’ (unhide) the tab and the student will be able to find the annotated essay, marking rubrics and grading, and video feedback all in one place.

Here’re some of the Year 4 students’ voices on how they found the video feedback:

“Thank you so much for the video feedback! I love it and I really appreciate the effort and time you have put into recording the video! I think it is a brilliant idea to do video feedback especially for students who may not want to read through lengthy paragraphs of comments… it is a very good resource for us as we are learning to give feedback to students as well. And I like it that the video is so detailed as you go through our essay bit by bit, addressing which part we did well and which part we can improve on.”

“Thank you very much for your feedback!! I’ve watched the video on the day you posted it! I think video feedback is very effective… I can watch it for many times and make adjustments anytime. For instance, I stopped in the middle to give myself a break! Haha. Also, I stopped when I wanted to jot down some notes or when I was not very clear and wanted to listen to the same point again. Besides, I really appreciate that you have included your face in the video… I feel like you’re really talking to me so I can concentrate better… I think it is very useful that you have shared the screen and I could easily understand where you’re referring to and which part you’re talking about! Thanks a lot for the detailed feedback which definitely enables us to learn how to write a better lesson plan and essay as well as the skills to deliver feedback to our future students! :)” 

“This is the first time I got a video feedback and it is probably the most detailed one I have got in my university life. It is highly encouraging and supportive… I think I benefit much from listening to the specific comments, especially on content and language use, as you scroll down the paragraphs and point out exactly where we could improve. Not many teachers give feedback on the sentence level but I do believe it is sometimes vital in terms of brushing up on the clarity and coherence of a rather long piece of written work. Paying attention to the wording really invokes deep reflections of the content so this is also a rare opportunity for me to re-examine my habit of essay writing… The content is rich and I will definitely refer back to it when I do the next assignment.”

“I definitely think it made understanding the whole thing a lot easier. Especially during Zoom times, having a video and being able to refer back to it will definitely help with our progress in general. Another thing I liked is the way you gave us alternatives to our mistakes rather than merely pointing out what’s wrong. Personally, I think that’s really important because having the correct/suggested answer makes me think of what’s missing from my part, you know?… You also explained the marking scheme which was super helpful to make me understand the markings.”

Part of my intention of recording this video feedback is to reinforce what we are discussing in our Pedagogy course on ‘giving students quality post-task feedback’. I hope that the feedback could – to some extent – serve as a model of what our student-teachers will be practising in their upcoming micro-teaching with real secondary school students on Zoom. I’m glad to see this being acknowledged by the students.

From my perspective as the teacher, I find the students demonstrating a much higher level of engagement with the feedback on video (compared to written feedback). I’m pleased to see them reacting positively to it, taking the initiative to interact with me on the given feedback, asking more in-depth questions and, on the whole, showing greater depth in their reflections. My exchange with quite a number of them is still ongoing and this has led to increased learning opportunities and a closer rapport between us. All this has made my first trial with video feedback fruitful, rewarding and illuminating.


Boud, D. & Molloy, E. (2013). Decision-making for feedback. In D. Boud & L. Molloy (Eds.), Feedback in higher and professional education (p.202-218)London: Routledge.

Mahoney, P., Macfarlane, S., & Ajjawi, R. (2019). A qualitative synthesis of video feedback in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 24(2), 157-179.