Tools for Getting and Giving Feedback

This academic year, I have had the chance to participate in the Graduate Faculty Reading Group. This group of dedicated faculty reads book selections related to teaching at the graduate level and then we meet about once a month to discuss the book as well as general teaching practices and techniques.

This semester we are reading Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham and one of this evening’s discussion topics focused on how to support students’ progress by providing them with regular and specific feedback throughout the course. In order to give that feedback, you need to know where students are in their learning.

The group suggested the following tools and some ways that they can be used effectively in all types of classrooms. I thought I would share them here in case other faculty members are looking for similar solutions.


Socrative: Are your students constantly on their smartphones in your class? Instead of them being a source of distraction, Socrative allows students to use their phones or laptops to answer questions about course topics to help keep students on task and engaged. Their aggregated answers are immediately updated online, so both you and your students can see the results. If your students don’t have smartphones, Poll Everywhere is another option, which allows them to text their responses from almost any cellphone.

For online classes, Wimba includes a polling functionality that allows you to create true/false, multiple choice, and fill-in-the blank questions for your Wimba room. You can immediately share the results with the students. This document (PDF) shows how to set this up.

Some uses for these tools include:

  • Ask comprehension questions so that you know if students are following along.
  • Find out what students already know about a certain topic.
  • Survey the class’s opinion about an interesting question or dilemma.
  • Ask a surprising trivia question to pique interest.
  • Ask students to complete an “exit ticket” about what they learned from the session and what questions remain to help inform future learning needs.


A backchannel is a place where students can converse and ask questions while you are giving a lecture or leading a discussion. You can monitor this “side conversation” and bring points into the main discussion when relevant. Some students may feel more comfortable asking questions in this format. This format also allows students to help field questions from their peers so that everyone stays on track. (For more information, see 7 Things You Should Know About Back Channel Communication by EDUCAUSE.)

Twitter can be used for this purpose (see this blog post for tips on using Twitter in higher education classrooms). I like Titanpad because it can be easily archived and exported, and students don’t have to create an account.

Feedback on Writing

You may be aware of Turnitin as a tool for checking for plagiarism and helping students’ improve their ability to cite sources. It also includes the GradeMark tool which checks for grammatical errors, provides links to resources to improve writing, and includes tools for making electronic annotations on students’ papers. The following resources provide more information on using Turnitin:

Do you have other tool recommendations for getting and giving feedback? Post them as a comment below.

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  1. Thanks Jess. Great ideas. However, I am reluctant to encourage students to use smartphones during class. Its like opening the flood gates.

    1. Hi Greer: I totally understand the reluctance, especially if you already have a policy prohibiting cellphones and cellphone use is not currently a problem in your class.

      As a follow-up to this post, I’d be very interested in hearing from any instructors that have experimented with these feedback tools and that would be willing to share any lessons learned, tips or ideas for managing students’ cellphone use when they are not being used for the coursework. We could post any of these recommendations here.

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