Futile or Fruitful? Analyzing Students’ Use of Assignment Feedback

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Brief Abstract

For assignment feedback to have value, students must read it. While reading feedback doesn’t promise learning, unread feedback has no impact. Data from 10,000+ artifacts was analyzed to understand conditions in which students are most likely to access assignment feedback. Conclusions offer effective strategies for increasing attention to gradebook comments. 


B. Jean Mandernach, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching at Grand Canyon University. Her research focuses on enhancing student learning in the online classroom through innovative instructional and assessment strategies. In addition, she has interests in the development of effective faculty evaluation models, perception of online degrees, and faculty workload considerations. Jean received her B.S. in comprehensive psychology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, an M.S. in experimental psychology from Western Illinois University and Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Extended Abstract

The value and impact of feedback is undisputed. Research has clearly established the value and importance of assignment feedback for promoting student learning, satisfaction, and engagement. Detailed feedback is essential for: 1) correcting students’ conceptual errors, and 2) solidifying understanding. While timely, relevant feedback is essential in all educational contexts, the importance of assignment feedback is increased in the online classroom where an instructor’s feedback to assignments provides one of the key avenues for individualized guidance. But for feedback to have any impact, students must read it. Simply put, students cannot gain anything from unread gradebook feedback. While the issue of unread feedback is troublesome from a learning perspective, it also presents a dilemma for instructors who are investing a considerable amount of instructional time to prepare feedback that may never be read. Research finds that online faculty often spend 40% of their instructional time providing assignment feedback. Thus, if the feedback is not being read, this is dedication of limited instructional time that receives no return on investment. Presentation overviews LMS data on over 10,000 student artifacts in which data is analyzed according to the rate and timing at which students access gradebook feedback in the online classroom. Further, we explore manageable, effective strategies for increasing students’ attention to assignment feedback.


The value of feedback for enhancing student learning in the online classroom is clear; so are instructors’ ongoing concerns that students fail to read or utilize the feedback that is left for them. Advances in our LMS now provide a feature that shows if gradebook feedback has been viewed by the student as well as documenting when the feedback was viewed (in terms of delay between the feedback being posted and it being accessed by the student). In the present study, we overview behavioral data on students’ accessing the feedback in relation to discipline and course level. While an indication that a student has viewed the feedback does not tell us how effectively they are using this information (that is a question for future research), failure to access the feedback is a clear indication that the feedback has no potential for improving student learning. While this is troublesome from a learning perspective, it is equally problematic when analyzing the impact of the instructional time invested to create feedback that is not being read. The analytic data on student’s accessing of feedback will be examined in relation to qualitative data from online instructors exploring how they use the “student has viewed feedback” feature of the LMS to inform and foster effective teaching and learning. This data and feedback come together to support a range of manageable strategies that instructors can implement to increase students’ attention to gradebook feedback. Presentation offers concrete suggestions that instructors can implement in the online classroom to promote the effective use of assignment feedback