To optimize online learning, commitment to exchange feedback is important. It does not only diminish students’ loneliness, difficulty to concentrate, and trouble to engage but also enhances learning achievement and promotes the 4Cs.
As part of the effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, schools across the world at all levels of education have been closed. Consequently, by April 30, 2020, more than 1.2 billion students in 182 countries were affected. To enable students to keep learning from home, distance learning is implemented in which online learning is the most dominant chosen alternative. Online learning is basically not new. Since its emergence in the late 1980s, the number of students taking online courses keeps rising. In 2018, more than a quarter of all college students in the US took an online class. Online learning had also been common in various classes in universities worldwide before the coronavirus outbreak.
The sudden switch to online learning, however, makes many courses seem like a forced product, even a product of panic. Being not well-planned, they are merely a traditional class moved to the digital environment. Consequently, many students, particularly those who take online learning for the first time, find it hard to follow. Many of them even find it even more stressful than traditional classrooms. A student at Lafayette College found it hard to stay focused on her newly online classes. According to some students in Indonesia, a traditional classroom may have been tough, but it is so much more manageable and less stressful because classmates are there to interact with. The benefits of having friends, however, are taken out in online learning. Some students in a US university also experienced the same as shown by their responses to the online learning implementation, “I felt distracted.” “I didn’t like it.” “It was hard to engage.” “I didn’t get as much out of it.” Kolodner states, “For many students, the switch from the classroom to studying at home is mostly a disorienting inconvenience. They miss their friends, their freedom, and learning from a human being instead of a screen…”
We do not know yet when the coronavirus pandemic will end. Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture plans schools will reopen in mid-July 2020. To use keep on learning effectively during the stay at home, online learning should be optimized. One of the best ways is to increase online feedback, i.e. a process in which students make sense of information about their performance and use it to enhance the quality of their work or learning strategies. Commitment to exchange feedback is very effective to avoid students' difficulty to focus, loneliness due to having no friends around, and trouble to engage.
A student can receive feedback from the teacher or other students (peer feedback). In online learning, feedback could be delivered through audios, videos, or texts. Feedback can also be shared synchronously (e.g. through videoconferencing) or asynchronously by writing on the discussion forum available in a learning management system. Exchanging feedback does not only create interaction and engagement (and thus avoid loneliness) but also enhance learning achievement, promote the 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity).
How does feedback create interaction? In a traditional classroom, students have immediate interpersonal communication through verbal and nonverbal interaction with their teacher and friends. These elements could not be found in an online learning environment but should be replaced with online interactions that can be conducted through texts, audio, or video, and the most frequent online interaction is carried out to share feedback. Recent research shows that for online students’ interaction with instructors and classmates is extremely needed to support their learning experience. Another study reveals the learner-instructor and learner-learner interactions as key factors in high-quality online programs. By sharing intensive feedback, students become engaged in the learning process, and their loneliness or feeling isolated will diminish.
Feedback also enhances students’ learning achievement. Feedback provides learners access to information about their performance. Feedback can be an expression of appreciation or encouragement, like “Well done!” or “Good job”. Some feedback provides tips on how to do something, how to access reading material, and how to best write certain things. Some other feedback asks for clarification or shows mistakes and suggestions to correct them. Receiving feedback, therefore, helps students recognize mistakes and eventually develop strategies for tackling their weak points. Feedback also let students know whether they actually have mastered the material or not. Feedback is an invaluable element to increase online learning achievement. Recent research shows immediate feedback has a positive impact on student achievement. Knowing that they make better achievements, they will have a greater level of engagement and motivation.
Students in online learning also get another invaluable advantage through giving and receiving feedback, i.e. increase of the 4Cs—the learning and innovation skills that are highly needed in the 21st century. The absence of direct physical interaction in online learning requires students to communicate effectively and clearly, anytime they share feedback. To make their ideas conveyed well, whether they are communicating through audio, video, and texts written in the discussion forum of the class, they should try to make their expression clear and succinct. It could be actualized by using appropriate dictions, grammatical sentences, appropriate punctuation marks, etc. Thus, while giving or receiving feedback, students also develop their communication skills.
It is naturally true that the cut and thrust into online learning environments make students miss the face to face classroom discussion. However, it does not mean that students cannot collaborate—to work together to achieve a common goal. Online forums available in online learning even increases the opportunity to collaborate at anytime and anywhere. Students now can share feedback not from their instructor and peers but also experts, and other individuals from all over the world. This, therefore, can increase cultural diversity. What is more, by using the asynchronous forum, feedback could be shared anytime and anywhere. Online feedback opens a wider door for collaboration.
Anytime students are going to give feedback, they need to think deeply or even research so that the feedback is relevant and can expand or give a better understanding of the point they are responding to. For instance, a student who suggests something to improve his friend's work should have made a preliminary analysis, assessment, research, and reconstruction. Without this, his feedback will not be meaningful and useful. In this case, he has entered into the teaching phase of learning, and the best indicator of one’s mastery of a topic is when he can teach others about it.
Conversely, a student who receives feedback from others will be able to analyze his own weakness and is able to correct it. The possibility to share feedback asynchronously enables students to have extra time to think. This enables them to think reflectively. In short, by sharing feedback that requires students to analyze, research, and assess information to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their idea or work, they are thinking critically. And since thinking is like a muscle, the more students practice it the stronger their critical thinking will be.
Giving and receiving feedback also hone creativity. When someone is going to give feedback to other people's ideas, he should first try to see from the viewpoint of the owner of the idea. On the other hand, a person receiving feedback from others should also try to see from the givers' point of view. The ability to understand other people's point of view is certainly an effective way to develop creativity. In addition, when a student develops his ideas or works based on someone’s feedback, he is combining the idea or work he has got with new elements obtained from the feedback to create a different or new idea or work. It is creativity, right? What is more, since feedback is also shared among students (peer feedback), by giving and receiving it, students help each other increase their learning mastery.
Which is more effective for a student, teacher's feedback or peer feedback? Since the objective of receiving feedback is not merely to get suggestions for correcting something but also as a process to develop the 4Cs by evaluating a statement, questioning a conclusion, detecting the weaknesses and the strengths of an idea, peer feedback is often more effective. A teacher's feedback tends to be accepted by students without any question because a teacher is considered an 'expert'. A Teacher's feedback usually ends a discussion. Thus, peer feedback is more advantageous to use during the learning process and let the teacher comment only if the discussion is 'overheated' or deviates from the topic.
To conclude, amidst the COVID 19 outbreak, online learning is the best alternative to keep learning going on. To optimize online learning, commitment to deal with feedback is important. Feedback does not only diminish students’ loneliness, difficulty to focus, and trouble to engage. It also enhances learning achievement and promotes the 4Cs. Thus, if so far you cannot yet effectively learn through web-based learning, enhance your commitment to give and receive feedback. It will make a difference!
Is there any point in this article you can use to boost your online learning? Do you have some other ideas to increase online learning achievement? We’d like to hear from you. Please write your experiences or views in the comments section below.
Author: Parlindungan Pardede (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Author: Parlindungan Pardede (email@example.com)