Instant Feedback with Google Docs

Meaningful feedback can have a substantial impact on a student’s progress, with feedback ranking as #10 in Hattie’s list of influences on student achievement (Hattie, 2012).

Research has also found that effective and useful feedback is dependent on a number of conditions: that the learner needs it, is willing to receive it, and has time to use it (Sadler & Royce, 2010).

One of the hardest things to do as a teacher is provide feedback that is going to have an impact on the students they are working with. Traditional feedback methods - such as written comments on student work - do provide some information, but this often occurs well after the students are finished with the work, when students are less likely to revisit it or make changes.

How can technology improve the feedback process?

This was one of the action research questions that Macgregor Primary School year 6 teachers Renee and Nicole used to guide their work with students in 2015. Nicole and Renee (as well as Ben from Richardson Primary School and Chelsey from Fraser Primary School) found that with some simple adjustments, giving their students feedback has become easier, and much more meaningful.

Using Comments in Google Docs

Using Comments in Google Docs means that feedback can be provided instantly. Online documents like Google Docs allows multiple users to access a document in real time, which is ideal for collaboration and feedback.

When students receive feedback during a task, they can act on it immediately. Renee and Nicole found that delivering feedback through Google Docs meant that it could be more detailed and personalised, and that students could act on it straight away. Which they did, making adjustments on the spot to improve their work. This made the editing process much more streamlined (and much less painful) for the students.

Feedback can be as simple as some spelling/punctuation adjustments,
Nicole goes into detail with her feedback to a student.

or cover a range of areas:

Ben from Richardson gives a student some feedback.
The other good thing about doing this in Google Docs is that students receive the feedback immediately, on the document that they are currently working on, right next to the part of the document that is receiving the feedback. Removing any ambiguity about the part of the document that needs to be addressed can be very comforting for students.

Feedback and teaching resources

The other great thing about giving feedback in an online platform like Google Docs is that you can provide additional resources that the students can access instantly. Nicole and Renee found that giving students links to instructional videos based on a specific skill or problem really helped their students. Online resources like Khan Academy and YouTube provide video tutorials on an infinite range of topics, from simple topics like 'when to use capital letters' to 'elements of a short story'. Providing the link in the comment gives the students a resource that they can use any time they need it, and it also means that teachers can spend more time actually reading the students’ work and providing the feedback rather than giving several ‘mini-lessons’ on the individual pieces of content.

Peer Feedback

Google Docs also gives students the opportunity to give feedback comments to each other. Providing students with an authentic audience in their peers is highly motivating, as students at Fraser Primary School confirmed when we spoke to them.

Studies have shown that peer feedback is only effective if it is considered and constructive, which is a skill that needs to be developed (Hattie, 2012, p. 150). Fraser Primary teacher Chelsey has spent some time coaching students about good feedback and developing this skill with her students.

Once these skills are taught, giving students the opportunity to practice it in a Google Doc means that they can practice it with support from Chelsey if needed. With the teacher in the space too, they can monitor the feedback and make sure that it is going to be useful for the student receiving it. The students at Fraser Primary love seeing their peers' comments on their work, and are very proactive about making sure everyone gets some feedback.
Students at Fraser Primary School give each other feedback

Using the Comments function in Google Docs is a simple way to get started with the Docs app. If you'd like to learn how to use the Comments tool, you might like to check out these YouTube videos.

Hattie, John. Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge, 2012

Sadler, D Royce. "Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal." Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35.5 (2010): 535-550.