Teaching Online by Feeding Up, Back, and Forward

Step 1: Feed Up

While teaching online often seems like a big difference from teaching in a face-to-face and brick-and-mortar environment, it provides opportunities for creativity when designing learning experiences for the online environment. Therefore, as we embark on this new endeavor, I would like to frame how we think about teaching, especially in the online context, through the Feed Up, Back, and Forward method by Fisher and Frey (2009). The authors created this new approach as a means of building in the feedback we give students into a larger framework. This Feed Up, Back, and Forward method was created for the traditional classroom, but is very applicable to the approach we use in designing courses online.

As we think about teaching in the online learning environment, we need to pause and think about the purpose of the assignments and assessments we create for our students. Often as instructors, we assign a discussion board, quiz, paper, or journal because that is what we are supposed to do, not thinking about the rationale of the assessment and if it accurately reflects our students’ understanding. Therefore, as we begin to decipher the role of assessments within a course, ask these two questions:

1. Does the assessment encourage students to explore and question?

2. Are the assessments having students apply real-world application?

Depending on how we answer the aforementioned questions, will determine our next step. Either way, let’s take the next two steps together. If we said yes to the two questions above, then kudos we are on our way to designing assignments that will feed up and provide students the opportunity to be inquisitive and responsive. However, if we said no to either or both of those questions, then we will want to stop and go back to what is the purpose of this assessment? When thinking about the rationale for an assessment it is often best to ask, “Is this a formative or summative assessment?” Chris Zook (2007) described these two types of assessments best: “formative assessments… evaluate how someone is learning material” and “summative assessments… evaluate how much someone has learned”.

When thinking about formative and summative assessments, it is important to keep in mind that formative assessments are often considered “low stakes” assignments. Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center notes that as instructors these help us quickly identify gaps in students understanding and provide opportunities to give students feedback. Often these lower stakes assignments can be a quick online journal response or a discussion board post.

On the flip side, the goal of summative assessments is to evaluate how much and what material the student learned, these are the “high stakes” assignments. It is important with these assignments to think back to what the course objective and goals are and find ways to measure student understanding. These higher stakes assessments often come in the form of a final paper or project and exams. When thinking about creating these assignments in the online learning environment, remember it is important to keep in mind that each assignment is feeding up to a larger process.

As we think about what assessments we want to design, and how they are going to purposefully reflect student comprehension, here is a list of resources to help:

1. “Student Assessment in Teaching and Learning” by Michael R. Fisher, Jr.

2. Online Discussion Doctor by Seattle University’s Center for Digital Learning & Innovation

3. Designing Effective Discussion Questions by Stanford University’s Teaching Commons

4. Putting Your Exams Online by Brock University

Finally, remember that as we are creating these assessments and assignments, we are wanting each to feed up into the entire process. That means purposefully designing each as a means for yielding accurate student comprehension because, as we will see in the next blog post, that creates an avenue for providing directed and personal feedback for each student.


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