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Planning Your Time to Provide Feedback on Assignments

“Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback. Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses.”  Chickering & Gamson.

Thinking About Time

Students crave and deserve prompt, meaningful feedback about their academic assignments. However, providing feedback quickly can be a challenge for teachers. In project-based courses, student success may depend on timely guidance with sequential assignments.

As I plan courses for the semester, I think about how I will use class time and grading time.

  • I consider the alignment and weigh the relative value of assignments in course outcomes.
  • I change the course assignments to reflect a realistic relationship between student learning and time (my time and student time).
  • I develop efficient assignment grading strategies (rubrics, templates, checklists).
  • I incorporate peer feedback activities.
  • I use automated feedback from online quizzes and games.

And yet, there are still many high-level constructed assignments for which students need individual feedback. Some of us still do all the grading for our assigned courses. Others have teaching assistants or graders to support their courses.  Regardless of whose time will be used for providing feedback, as Doug Robertson says, “Do the math.” Below are examples of how I think about the time needed to grade assignments.

  • 20 students x 3 long paper assignments per student x 45 minutes average grading time per paper = 45 hours of grading time in one course over the semester. That might be reasonable if the course does not require extensive teaching preparation time.
  • 120 students x 8 short written assignments x 10 minutes average grading time per assignment = 160 hours of grading time for one course over the semester. In that case, the hours just to grade these short assignments would likely far exceed the workload time assigned for the entire course. That is not likely to work out well. Unless you have an assigned grading assistant, consider redesigning the evaluation and assignment plans.
  • 60 students x 2 large project assignments x 1 hour average grading time per project paper = 120 hours of grading time. Note that you would need to block out 30 hours/week for 2 weeks to grade each set of project assignments, and you would need to do that twice during the semester—just for one class.

Scheduling Time for Feedback and Grading

Once I’ve scheduled the assignments for my courses, I block out the grading time on my calendar. So if I estimate that will need about 30 hours to grade a major paper for the students in one course, I block out times in my calendar for several days of grading after that assignment is due. I’m not rigid about grading only at those the times. I change my schedule to accommodate other work, but having the time for grading appear on my calendar helps me to stay mindful of what I value.

Planning time in my semester schedule for prompt feedback means that I can appreciate what students have accomplished, provide students with thoughtful responses to their efforts, and give helpful recommendations for further developing their work. Behaving in a way that is congruent with my values about prompt feedback makes my work as a teacher more sustainable and more enjoyable.

Chickering, A.W, & Gamson, Z.F. (1987, March). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. AAHE Bulletin.
Robertson, D. R. (2003). Making time, making change: Avoiding overload in college teaching. New Forums Press.

Submitted by:
Debbie Hagler, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, CNE, CHSE, ANEF, FAAN
Clinical Professor & Coordinator, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
College of Nursing & Health Innovation, Arizona State University

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