Tiered Feedback Serves Faculty And Students

It started out as a personal time management strategy, but now Dr. Lindsay Masland is teaching others a tiered feedback system she is using in courses designed with Universal Design for Learning principles.

When faculty redesign their courses to give students multiple ways of demonstrating their knowledge they often find grading assignments takes considerably more time, Masland said. As an assistant professor of psychology at Appalachian State, Masland experienced this with an undergraduate level educational psychology course.

With 100 students in each class, Masland said she had to find a way to provide appropriate quantitative and qualitative feedback to each student while keeping her own workload manageable. The tiered feedback system she developed not only met this goal but turned out to be extremely popular with her students.

"When you get rid of multiple choice tests and allow students to not only write a paper but to use other formats like making a video or designing a web site, you need a way to make grading more efficient,” Masland said.

Her solution was a three-level feedback system using rubric grading, annotated feedback and face-to-face discussion. At each level, the amount of feedback increases but the number of students decreases.

To support her Level 1 feedback, Masland develops strong rubrics for every appropriate assignment, spelling out in advance the learning objectives and listing examples of different levels of achievement. She uses Appalachian State’s on-line Moodle learning system for the rubric.

She acknowledges that setting up the rubric for the first time is the most time-intensive part of her feedback system. Once it is done, however, she is able to provide every student with quantitative feedback by simply clicking on boxes in the virtual rubric. She uses the comments section to supplement the quantitative feedback with additional qualitative feedback.

“I have found that there are a series of common errors,” she said, “and I have a Word document that addresses those errors from which I can simply cut and paste.” Masland said all of her students get Level 1 feedback, which consists of a scored rubric and cut-and-paste comments, for every appropriate assignment.

Level 1 is where I pick up the most time,” Masland said, “because I am not creating any new or student-specific comments. I’m just using existing info, either by clicking on the rubric or cutting and pasting existing comments from my documents.”

Level 2 is triggered when a student sends her an email indicating that they want more feedback or do not understand how to improve. Masland said 15-20 percent of students reach out to her for additional feedback. At that point, she revisits the assignment and uses the comment function in a word processing program to provide additional, line-by-line annotations. For projects that are not essays, she still provides written feedback via a Word document.

“Finally, for those who still need more feedback, I invite students to request Level 3 feedback which consists of a face-to-face meeting in which I walk through their work with them, line by line,” she said. “We also typically strategize very specific ways they can improve on subsequent assignments in this meeting.” Masland said this is usually done with one or two students each semester.

Masland said many professors don’t want to assign complex assignments to large classes because they think they need to provide Level 2 style feedback for every complex project or essay.

A strength of this system, Masland said, is that she matches her efforts to the students who most want and need help and thus are more likely to benefit from her comments. The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive and is often mentioned in their course evaluations.

“They feel like they are participating in their grading and that it is done with them, not to them,” Masland said.

Masland is currently leading College Star’s first project-wide virtual faculty learning community and is sharing her tiered feedback system with colleagues on several campuses. She also will be presenting her work at the National Institute for the Teaching of Psychology conference and the American Psychological Association annual convention.