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Specific Tools to Improve the Feedback you Give

Learning management systems, such as Desire 2 Learn (D2L) and Canvas offer a number of ways to provide students with quick and effective feedback on their writing assignments. Below are a select number of feedback tools available on (or can be integrated with) D2L and Canvas. However, if you find that these, or any other forms of educational technology are not helping you as an instructor, use whatever method works best for you and your students. Using technology that is unsuited to your teaching style, or unnecessarily encumbers your pedagogy with extra steps, is wasteful and impedes your effectiveness as an instructor.


UW Google Apps

The University of Wisconsin has a license with Google to provide a special version of Google Drive to all University students, faculty, and staff.  This means you (and every one of your students) has a Google account associated with their NetID, all content accessed through this account is protected behind UW Firewalls; you can ask (and even require) students to use Google to submit assignments or to do projects.

Providing feedback in Google Drive is similar to most any other word processor (such as MS Word). However, you also have the ability to view the paper’s version history – so you can see when and how a student edited a paper from its conception to its finalized form.   Furthermore, just as with MS-Word, Google Docs make it easy for you to make suggestions, edits, comments, and revisions.

Hint for group projects: Google Docs are particularly useful for group assignments such as peer reviews.  As all docs are stored on the cloud, no individual student is responsible for the group’s paper. Students can therefore access and edit their group work simultaneously, and can even chat within Google Drive to coordinate their project.  The Version History function makes it easy for students to return to prior versions of their paper (in case something was accidently deleted by another student), and allows you to see that actual contribution of each student to the final project.

To learn how to give feedback using Google Apps, check out the Google Apps FAQ KB.doc[1]


Feedback with Word Processors: A Warning

You can use word processors (such as MS-Word) to give detailed feedback to students via comments or track changes. This can take much less time than writing out comments and you don’t have to worry about your penmanship.

However: Be mindful of your time when making comments via a word processor. For many, typing a word may take less time than writing it out on paper. However, instructors frequently remark that typed feedback can take longer than written feedback as teachers are often tempted to expand so much on the feedback they give in a typed document, they erase any time gained by typing.

Instead of typing out basic feedback on a word processor, use a rubric.  The rubric will allow you to cover most low-level problems quickly (grammar, punctuation), and thereby free time for you to focus on bigger problems with a student’s work (argument structure).


Feedback in Learn@UW

Learning management systems, such as Desire 2 Learn (D2L) and Canvas, offer you significant flexibility in regards to the types of feedback you offer your students. In shorter assignments, basic text-based feedback made during the grade recording process, may be sufficient.  Longer projects may require more robust forms of evaluation.  Desire 2 Learn and Canvas each offer their own unique, though similar, feedback creation tool that can be linked to an assignment.[2] D2L offers “Dropbox” and Canvas “SpeedGrader.”


For each student submission you have the following feedback options in both D2L and Canvas:

  • Text Comments – You can provide simple text-based comments by using the Feedback box in the evaluation screen.
  • Upload Comments Files– You can upload many different types of files (word.doc, pdf., audio file, video file) clicking on the Add a File (Attach) button below the Feedback box
  • Review Sessions – You can discuss the assignment with a student via an interactive online discussion via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. For more information see the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra KB.doc

Options Available Only in D2L Dropbox

  • Audio Commentary – You can include one or more 5-minute audio recordings in which you can detail strengths/weaknesses of the paper very quickly. To include audio feedback: When evaluating a submission in Dropbox, click Record Audio below the Feedback box. Then follow onscreen instructions.

Options Available Only in Canvas SpeedGrader

  • Audio Commentary – You can include audio recordings in which you can detail strengths/weaknesses of the paper very quickly. To include audio feedback: When evaluating a submission in SpeedGrader, click Media Comment below the Assignment Comments box in the right portion of the screen. Then follow onscreen instructions.
  • Video Commentary – Video Commentary can be a powerful method by which to link your feedback to a student’s work. For instance, you can use create a screen capture to walk a student through images of their submission while you verbally discuss their paper. Video can be easily created and integrated into a SpeedGrader file: Within a Dropbox evaluation file, click on the Media Comment button within the Feedback box, under Record Media, select the Web-Camera icon and then follow onscreen instructions to create the video.

Note: Providing Verbal and Visual Feedback is an excellent method by which to provide students with detailed feedback that is quicker to create and more impactful than feedback created in a word processor. Before you begin recording, I’d suggest coming up with a very brief outline of what you would like to say. Once you start, don’t stop, even if you stumble over a word. Your recording doesn’t have to be perfect to be impactful! Finally, impose upon yourself a five-minute time limit to be concise and not spend too much time on any one student.

For More




  1. Division of Information Technology. "Learn@UW - Grades Setup Wizard." University of Wisconsin - Madison,
  2. for more see teaching in d2l


Improving the Feedback We Give Our Students Copyright © 2016 by Lane Sunwall. All Rights Reserved.

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