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Feedback, Motivation, and Online Learning


Feedback, Motivation, and Online Learning

"Feedback is one of the more instructionally powerful and least understood features in instructional design” V. B. Cohen

This Research Guide is built to address the following questions: What types of feedback will improve student motivation in online writing courses and what will that feedback look like?

The sources in this bibliography provide a theoretical overview for how to motivate students in a variety of learning contexts. These sources also provide varied examples of feedback for the varied students and contexts instructors will encounter when teaching. Feedback and motivation are specific to each individual, but there are several core ideas about how, when, and where to give feedback and how that feedback can potentially serve as a catalyst for motivating students that can be applied to almost any student and learning context. Many of the sources on feedback in this bibliography directly correlate to how students are motivated since these two concepts are symbiotic. Many of these sources provide examples of feedback and studies that attempt to test and evaluate the quality and effectiveness of feedback and motivation. 


Articles and Books

Boud, David and Elizabeth Molloy Eds. Feedback in Higher and Professional Education: Understanding It and Doing It WellNew York, NY: Routledge, 2013.

This comprehensive text on feedback covers almost every area of feedback imaginable. But Brett Williams, Ted Brown and Robyn Benson’s chapter on “Feedback in the Digital Environment “ is particularly beneficial for individuals interested in providing feedback in online courses. There are also contributions from other scholars on topics ranging from emotions and feedback to multisource feedback. The book starts with a thorough overview of feedback research and where we are today with that research. This text examines how increased student diversity and learning environments make feedback a difficult theory to implement effectively. They note an argument that Adcroft makes about how “teachers and students each have their own mythologies of feedback which informs their beliefs, attitudes and behaviors in the feedback process” (4). This text attempts to define feedback in ways that extend our understanding of what feedback can be (student centered, takes place over time, leads to action).

Brophy, Jere. Motivating Students to Learn. 2nd Edition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2008.

This text explores the connections between learning and motivation. There are chapters and sections on goal theory and confidence theory. There are also chapters on intrinsic motivation and other methods for stimulating student motivation. In chapter three there is a section on feedback and motivation that emphasizes the value of keeping feedback positive yet didactic. To motivate students, they need to feel good about their work and growth but they also need to know exactly how to fix whatever it is that’s keeping them from achieving their goals in the class. This text, and chapter three in particular, point out how to tie motivation to “attributions of successes” (62). Motivation is tied to students feeling they can achieve the desired goal if they work hard enough, so feedback must connect and develop this notion to assist in the motivation process.

Espasa, Anna and Julio Meneses. “Analyzing Feedback Processes in an Online Teaching and Learning Environment: An Exploratory Study” Higher Education 59.3 (2010): 277-292. JSTOR. Web. 21 Feb 2014.

Anna Espasa and Julio Meneses conducted a study with 186 students from multiple disciplines about the role feedback played in their online learning experience. They discovered that students received three kinds of feedback: “interactive regulation (response to questions about course content); retroactive regulation (following an assignment); and finally, proactive regulation (after final assignment)” (283). When feedback focused on how to improve student work and “how to obtain further information on how to improve learning” we see two feedback components covered: verification and elaboration (284). The problem here is that feedback in other disciplines may not require the depth and complexity that is required of feedback in a writing course. The levels and role of feedback is unaccounted for in this discipline.

Handley, Karen et al. “Beyond ‘Doing Time’: Investigating the Concept of Student Engagement with Feedback.” Oxford Review of Education 37.4 (2011): 543-560. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb 2014.

In “Beyond ‘Doing Time’: Investigating the Concept of Student Engagement with Feedback” Karen Handley focuses on how students engage feedback, and she argues that there should be a new approach to investigating how feedback works and what makes it effective. This feedback approach should focus on how students engage the feedback they receive from instructors. She states “Yet it is quite possible that some feedback is unproductive not because of its content or medium or any other intrinsic quality, nor because of the nature of the immediate context, but because the inter-play between feedback, student and the social-cultural situation encourages a mindless or surface level response in the student” (546). So there is a complex dynamic to feedback.

Jones, Nigel et al. “Student Feedback Via Screen Capture Digital Video: Stimulating Student’s Modified Action.” Higher Education 64.5 (2012): 593-607.

In “Student Feedback Via Screen Capture Digital Video: Stimulating Student’s Modified Action” by Nigel Jones et al., Students were asked a variety of questions about the quality of feedback they received from screen capture digital videos and they all responded with overwhelming positivity. Over 75 students felt they got plenty of feedback, found the feedback useful, and preferred video feedback versus marks on a paper (600). Students uploaded their papers into the system and then instructors used video, audio, and text to provide feedback. This creates more ownership of the feedback and an obvious personalization. This article points out that students want their feedback to contain certain elements: “ease of understanding, direction to improve, clear and concise, well explained, rewarding, constructive criticisms, relevance, and solutions to learn from” (601). The quality of an instructor’s voice in the video can make or break the feedback. The voice must be positive and enthusiastic.

Kim, Loel. “Online Technologies for Teaching Writing: Students React to Teacher Response in Voice and Written Modalities.” Research in the Teaching of English 38.3 (2004): 304-337. JSTOR. Web. 21 Feb 2014.

In “Online Technologies for Teaching Writing: Students React to Teacher Response in Voice and Written Modalities” Loel Kim suggests that video or written feedback on papers is dependent on teacher quality. The study examines 39 first-year college students’ preference for a mode of feedback. Many students could not decipher between the F2F instructor or the online instructor, so the feedback suggests students are reading online texts and information in very different ways than in F2F courses. Kim assumed students would prefer voice feedback in lieu of written feedback on their writing in online courses, but this was not the case. The article suggests “students must not only understand but also agree with and accept a given response in order to make use of it” (306).

Students wanted more positive comments that gave them examples for fixing their issues and explained why something is good or bad, and the comments need to avoid trying to control student writing. They also point out that “liking” the instructor and “instructor credibility” are two significant factors that shape how students digest feedback. Student motivation and feedback may be dependent on building some kind of personal relationship (at least know something about them beyond their name) with each student so that our feedback carries more weight. This article also suggests that certain instructors may be better with certain types of feedback because of their personality or teaching style.

Shah, James Y and Wendi L. Gardner. The Handbook of Motivation Science New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 2008.

This is a great book for applying motivation theory to online teaching and learning in writing courses. There are articles/chapters from dozens of scholars, from all over the world, covering every aspect of motivation science imaginable. In Chapter 20, “Feedback Processes in the Simultaneous Regulation of Action and Affect,” Charles Carver and Michael Scheier write that “behavior is a continuous process of moving toward (or sometimes away from) goal values, and that this movement embodies characteristics of feedback control” (308). This directly connected to understanding the connections between feedback and motivation.

Shute, Valerie J. “Focus on Formative Feedback.” Review of Educational Research 78.1 (2008): 153-189. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb 2014.

In “Focus on Formative Feedback” Valerie J. Shute examines formative feedback, “defined as information communicated to the learner that is intended to modify his or her thinking or behavior to improve learning” (Abstract). Shute determines that we need more research and data that define patterns and consistencies within feedback. She notes that formative feedback “can reduce uncertainty about how well (or poorly) the student is performing on task” and “decrease the cognitive load of the novice learner” (157). Providing certain types of students with specific, highly-supportive, feedback can ease the tension and stress that can inhibit student learning, especially in writing courses.

Shute also mentions an idea called “goal-directed feedback” and this is important to my focus because it is tied to motivation. I also really like it as a feedback style. This feedback approach provides progress reports rather than specific feedback on specific tasks (160). Shute writes “to remain motivated and engaged depends on a close match between a learner’s goals and his or her expectations that these goals can be met” (160). So this type of approach to feedback may offer the best connection to conditioning student behavior and increasing motivation. Shute notes “Feedback can be a powerful motivator when delivered in response to goal-driven efforts” (162). To create feedback that is goal directed, we need to cater and personalize the feedback. This requires a personal investment in learning about your students.


Digital Sources

The Higher Education Academy Website

The Higher Education Academy has the most comprehensive website for feedback with 30+ links and resources strictly devoted to feedback. The website provides smaller articles and pieces on how to organize feedback as well as several different forms/rubrics to generate and deliver feedback. 

Link to Website

Frano, Caitlin. “Strategies for Providing Effective Feedback in Online Courses.” Webinar Video. Youtube. Blackboard Innovative Teaching Series, 19 Nov 2013. Web. 20 February 2014.

This video is part of the Blackboard Online Learning Series, and this particular Webinar Presentation was given by Caitlin Frano of Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies on November 19th 2013. This video is a 50-minute interactive discussion/lecture with the teachers that are attending this online seminar. Frano provides a plethora of really great information in this video, emphasizing the value in pointing out what students are doing well in instructor feedback. She suggests balancing out the delivery methods for feedback, and she goes through how to use visual PDF’s and private YouTube channel links as an example. Many of the seminar attendees are writing teachers asking questions about online feedback in composition and other writing courses. But there are instructors from all disciplines present, asking questions that are important and relevant to understanding how feedback works in online environments. She works through ideas like peer review, rubrics, discussion boards and prompts, and other blackboard tools that we see in Canvas and other online teaching systems.

Link to Video