On November 6, the Instructional Design team attended the day-long Northeast E-Learning Consortium Conference at Villanova’s Conference Center. This year’s theme focused on student engagement. The sessions included strategies and ideas for engaging today’s diverse students across a variety of course formats (traditional face-to-face classes, synchronous online class meetings, asynchronous online experiences, teleconference classes, and even gamified learning experiences)

This is the first post in a blog series on our key takeaways from the day’s sessions. Contact us if you would be interested in applying these ideas and strategies into your classes!


Dr. Fred Hofstetter, from the School of Education at the University of Delaware, was the Northeast E-Learning Consortium Conference’s keynote speaker. Dr. Hofstetter shared his strategies for engaging students in large online classes, though these best practices would be applicable for any course format or size. We’ll be addressing a few of these strategies throughout the blog series.

TeriCerasowithstudentThe first strategy we wanted to share was a technique for providing substantive written feedback to students during key points of the course to help them expand their mastery of the assigned knowledge and skills. This approach is based on Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development. In this way of thinking about learning, it is important to find opportunities to help students advance from what they can do with assistance toward increasing independence and self-sufficiency.

While it might seem daunting to regularly provide detailed feedback to all of your students, Dr. Hofstetter found that his replies to students could be grouped into a small number of what he calls “thinking patterns.” By creating a templated response for each thinking pattern and formatting the responses in a Microsoft Word document so that they are readily retrievable, he is able to quickly provide feedback to each student in his large classes (more than 100 students).

The prepared responses can be copied and pasted from the Word document into the feedback area in Canvas’s SpeedGrader (shown below). If needed, Dr. Hofsetter modifies a few words or phrases to address the needs of that individual student. He also addresses the student by name in the feedback area to increase the sense of connection between him and the student. By default, Canvas will notify students when they have a new grade or written feedback from their instructor. Dr. Hofstetter also makes it clear from the start of the semester that students are expected to regularly check Canvas for their feedback.

Students will see their instructor's feedback next to their submitted assignment on the right sidebar.
Students will see their instructor’s feedback next to their submitted assignment on the right sidebar.


If you would like to try this same feedback strategy for your courses, I have developed a Microsoft Word template to help you get started: Template for Organizing Feedback to Students. When you open the document, you will see a few draft responses to demonstrate how the format works, followed by placeholders that you can use to begin building your own responses. You can copy and paste these placeholders to add additional feedback responses and/or assignments.

To make the most of this document, click on the View tab in Word. Then, select to view this document in Print Layout and select to view the Navigation Pane. This creates a left side menu that you can use to quickly navigate to the responses you are looking for, as shown below.

Turning on the Navigation  Pane in MS Word gives you a clickable menu for navigating through your document.
Turning on the Navigation Pane in MS Word gives you a clickable menu for navigating through your document.


Will you try using this template? Do have suggestions that will improve this approach? Do you have other suggestions for providing effective feedback to students? Contact the Instructional Design team! We’d love to hear from you.


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