This week:

  • I describe recent research on the question of how to time student feedback on assignments.
  • I highlight an interview from early 2020 that speaks to what teaching is up against, and why it matters.
  • I ask how you’re recharging your batteries during any time off from teaching this summer.
  • I share some recent articles on teaching you may have missed.
  • I thank you for filling out our recent reader survey.

Does Quicker Feedback Matter?

Instructors have long been encouraged to give students prompt feedback on their assignments. Doing so, the thinking goes, lets students adjust misunderstandings quickly and know when to seek additional help, improving their understanding. So, does it work?

That’s the kind of research question on teaching that’s normally answered by having a researcher bring an intervention to classrooms, or by approximating classroom conditions in a lab. A study accepted for publication in Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science takes advantage of a new research model designed to more closely resemble what educators really want to understand: If a bunch of instructors gave quick feedback in their own courses, would students benefit?

The paper, “ManyClasses 1: Assessing the Generalizable Effect of Immediate Versus Delayed Feedback Across Many College Classes,” is the first product of the Many Classes project, an effort by the eLearning Research and Practice Lab at Indiana University at Bloomington. Through the project, instructors try an intervention in the courses they are already teaching, across a variety of disciplines and institutions. That not only results in a large and diverse sample, explains Ben Motz, who directs the lab. It also accounts for the kinds of idiosyncrasies that crop up when practitioners try an intervention in the real world.

In this first experiment, instructors gave feedback in two ways — immediately, through their learning-management system, or a few days later — and tested its relationship to students’ performance on subsequent assignments. (The experiment was designed so that each participating student got each form of feedback some of the time.)

The results? Students performed no better after getting immediate feedback. In fact, the findings suggest that there may be certain classes in which students perform better after getting later feedback.

It could be, Motz says, that delayed feedback gives students a form of spacing, another chance to revisit the material.

In any event, Motz says, the findings ought to relieve some stress for instructors. “You won’t harm your students,” he says, “if you delay feedback by a few days.”

Cross-university research collaboration isn’t easy, with technical and logistical challenges on top of concerns about student-data privacy. Getting this first ManyClasses paper together, Motz says, took years. He’s working now on an app — a plugin to Canvas — that will streamline the project’s future work. It will also make large-scale research projects more feasible for other teams, and help individual professors test something out in their own courses, he says.

With the new plugin in place, the next ManyClasses project, which considers the benefits of retrieval practice, or pulling information from memory, won’t take nearly as long.

Don’t Despair

In March 2020, only a week or so before colleges started their shift to emergency remote instruction, The Chronicle published an interview I’d conducted with Kevin Gannon, the author and teaching-center director, about why teaching matters. His answers, I think, are even more relevant today. You can read it here.

Tell Us About Your Summer Plans

Everyone needs a break, and we hope you’ll get to take one from your teaching at some point this summer. We’re curious to hear how readers are recharging their batteries — or catching up on other responsibilities. Tell us your plans here, and we’ll share some of them in a future newsletter.

ICYMI

  • This fall, colleges will in many ways have two cohorts of first-year students, I explain in this Chronicle article.
  • You’ve probably seen the photo of a Stanford professor talking to a video wall of hundreds of students. Jeffrey R. Young tells the story behind it in EdSurge.
  • Lots of professors are looking to replicate the backchannel function of Zoom chat in their in-person teaching. Here’s a handy guide from the University of Guleph’s Office of Teaching and Learning (H/t @SaRoseCav)

Thanks Again

Thanks to everyone who filled out our recent reader survey. We love hearing what you like about the newsletter, and appreciate your thoughts on how we can improve.

A reminder: No need to wait for a survey to let us know what you think. We welcome your feedback anytime: Please feel free to email us, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

—Beckie

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