Engaging students through technology enhanced Feedback
Teachers’ written commentary on student assignments is a fundamental element of instruction in almost any discipline. However, it is unclear what impact the feedback has on students. Consequently, teachers face fundamental questions for which no ready answers are available: Which components of commentary are most helpful, and how are they most effectively delivered? How can students’ uptake of commentary be optimised, and how can teachers be most efficient when providing commentary?
Giving and receiving feedback with Edword
Edword is an assignment feedback tool that provides answers to these questions; it quantifiably improves the quality and efficiency of commentary and its uptake and measures previously unobserved aspects of learning. Edword is an online platform to which students can upload written assignments of any kind set by teachers.
Teachers can then add commentary to the text. These comments can be written individually as done in many traditional teaching settings, but Edword also enables the rapid application of prewritten comments from comment sets. These comment sets can address any aspects of written work in any discipline. They can be prepared by teachers working individually or shared between colleagues in teams.
Because they can be adjusted and augmented, a comment set can evolve as individual comments are added and improved. The quality and level of detail that can be delivered within the time available for commenting on assignments is thus substantially increased.
When the student opens the commentary, the most important comments, selected by the teacher, are presented first and repeated comments bundled so that the student sees every instance of the same comment in the assignment. This allows the teacher to optimise individual students’ uptake of their commentary. Edword enables further optimisation by measuring two aspects of students’ engagement with the comments: the time the student spends with each individual comment is automatically recorded, and the student gives one of three responses—helpful, neutral, or unhelpful—to each comment. These data points are automatically collated by comment and assignment to provide a fine-grained evidence base for further adaptation of comment sets and commenting practice to the specific requirements of programs and disciplines.
Successful pilot project
Edword’s suitability for use with UZH and ETH students was tested in a pilot project between February and May 2020. Writing instructors from the English unit of the Language Center of UZH and ETH Zurich (LC) attended a LET Refresh Teaching event at ETH on 4 September 2019 where selected EdTech startups from the Kickstart Accelerator program presented their tools; here, they were introduced to the Edword online writing assessment tool. Seeing its potential, four writing instructors collaborated with LET and ran a pilot project to test Edword in their courses comprising 167 students in all. The instructors created and shared comment sets containing a total of over 350 specialized comments. The participating students were surveyed online about their experience with Edword at the end of their courses (response rate 32%). Some 87% said they preferred commentary via Edword over traditionally delivered comments.
Potential for broader application at ETH
The feedback processes in Edword can be used to provide highly nuanced and sophisticated commentary for any kind of written assignment, and comment sets can be adapted to the demands of any discipline. The comment sets can be written centrally or developed collaboratively or individually, and the uptake of commentary is monitored in detail. Further test groups can demonstrate the range of academic contexts in which Edword is applicable. Please contact Melanie Walter if you are interested in trying out Edword in your ETH course.