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PassNote is a student feedback tool designed to assist instructors in composing research-based messages that motivate students to academic action. Our goal in creating the tool was to address concerns several instructors brought to our attention related to the difficult task they had in composing effective feedback messages related to course performance for students based on best practices.1
The research we found was extremely specific in helping us come up with criteria that were most likely to motivate students. Some words worked better than others and writing shorter messages increased the chances students would read them.2 Comments that did not provide specific resources were less effective.3 As we investigated the research, a pattern for success became more clear. We followed this pattern in the construction of our library.
Another concern we have looked to address was to try to provide a library that would inspire individual responses as much as possible. This would help keep the messages unique and spare students receiving the same messages. By providing “snippets” with [insert departmental resources here] opportunities for customized information, we hope messages inspired by PassNote will stay fresh and inspiring for students to read and apply to their academic performance.
When PassNote is used in conjunction with analytic tools such as Course Signals and Blackboard Retention Center, instructors can send messages in mass to the group of students who fit customized criteria. Even students in very large courses still can receive messages related to their course performance and can be directed to campus resources such as tutoring, library services, or even their instructor’s office hours with just a few total messages being sent. For example, an instructor can use Course Signals to tell them which students are in danger of not receiving a passing grade and send them a message composed with help from PassNote directing all students that fit this criteria to resources the instructor feels would benefit them most. Instructors using Blackboard’s Retention Center can target students who have missed an important due date and send all of them a message encouraging them to use strategies to help them keep better track of due dates and perhaps direct them to resources that might help. PassNote’s extensive collection of campus resources can help keep instructors informed what is available outside of their own department.
PassNote is a free and open resource available to anyone on or off Purdue’s campus. http://www.purdue.edu/passnote/
For additional information about PassNote refer to: EDUCAUSE Review Online
 Chickering, Arthur W, and Zelda E Gamson. 1991. “Appendix a Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 47: 63–69. doi:10.1002/tl.37219914708, p. 66.
 Patricia E. Gettings, Joseph Waters, Abigail Selzer King, Zeynep Tanes, and Matthew D. Pistilli, “Message Testing and Self-Efficacy in Course Signals: Formative Evaluation to Identify Effective Communication Strategies,” Paper presented at the Southern States Communication Association Annual Conference, Louisville, KY, 2013, p. 14.
 Gettings, Waters, King, Tanes, and Pistilli, “Message Testing and Self-Efficacy in Course Signals,” p. 16.
I took a cohort program for my master’s and had the same instructor for 4 or 5 courses. Each assignment was an essay. On every essay I got exactly the same feedback – absolutely no comments on grammar or specific ideas, but rather the generic “Nice job. I enjoyed reading this. A-.“ To this day, I have no idea on why “Nice job. I enjoyed reading this. A-“ rather than “Nice job. I enjoyed reading this. A+“ (which the student who sat next to me always got). (This feedback was especially sad when considering that this was a masters in adult learning. But that’s another story.)
Feedback to students can guide students, but in different ways. Here I would like to focus on three types of feedback: Feed back, feed forward and feed up (not to be confused with “fed up” – which is what I was in my master’s program).
- Feed forward (FF) – feedback that explains how to improve future assignments
- Feedback (FB) – ipsative feedback on current compared to past performance
- Feed up (FU) – feedback that explains why this (the assignment or assignment details) is important
If we identify our purpose(s) when we provide feedback, we can support students in learning and applying from both the assignment and the feedback!
FF – “Organizing your essay will help your readers. If you follow the sequence of what is asked in the assignment this will help you both ensure that you cover all elements and organize your thoughts more.”
FB – “On your last assignment I noted that you changed ‘voice’ often. Here you are consistent and your essay is much easier to read because of it!”
FU – “You do not seem to have a firm grasp on the differences between the behaviorist and constructivist theories. Understanding this is important because workplaces will want you to develop training based on these.”
Multiple choice exam examples:
FF – “In order to improve your performance on the upcoming [assignment/exam/group project], please review the [notes and materials/resources] posted in Blackboard.” (Purdue ITaP, 2013)
FB – “You are doing a better job studying. Your improvement is great!”
FU – “Understanding the basics of Excel which we cover here will be critical to your success in your accounting class.”
Here’s the whole model:
(Somewhat based on Hughes, 2012)
Is feedback important?
I remember the feedback I got 15 years ago in my master’s program because it was so bad. It did not inspire me or help me improve.
Good feedback may not be as memorable long term, but research has shown that it can help students improve not only what they know, but how to study and how to apply their learnings.
Passing note on Passnote:
By the way, writing appropriate feedback can be hard. At Purdue, we created Passnote to help. This is a very easy-to-use tool which has a selection of feedback notes which you can select and edit to make your feedback to each student individualized! And you don’t have to download or sign-in to use it. Take a look: http://www.purdue.edu/passnote/
Hughes, G. (2012). Ipsative assessment: comparison with past performance. Higher Education Academy Workshop and Seminar Series 2012. Retrieved June 15, 2014, from http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucgbarg/OU_workshop_files/TWO37-GH.pdf
Purdue ITaP. (2013). PassNote. Retrieved June 15, 2014, from http://www.purdue.edu/passnote/
There is an electronic device on campus that can greatly improve student participation, with none of the distractive elements of laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. You may have heard of it from your colleagues, or happened to see it demonstrated in an IT/Education workshop.
What is it? I>clicker. And we believe it can work for you. (more…)
Developing A Questioning Strategy
Many of the seminars I attend focus on the strategies instructors can employ to engage students in their own learning and enhance their learning outcomes. The appropriate use of questioning strategies by instructors is a method that can facilitate this process. Research highlights the importance of instructors being able to ask questions that engage students and allows them to expand, clarify, and justify their answers. Nevertheless, instructors often do not receive any training in the use of questioning strategies.
Below are some of the questioning strategies instructors use to engage students:
Instructors Ask Closed vs. Open-ended Questions
Closed-ended questions require a single answer, such as “yes”, “no”, or a brief phrase, and do not invite an elaborated response from students. For example, this question is an example of a closed ended question: Was Purdue University founded in 1869? The answer is yes. In addition, closed-ended questions can be used wrap up discussions, obtain more information from students, or help groups reach consensus. Examples of these kinds questions include: Have we covered everything?, Does everyone agree this is the best choice?, or Is the class ready to move on?
- Pros: May require little time to develop and grade. There is one correct answer. Not ideal if the goal is to stimulate in-depth thinking by students.
- Cons: Questions may not provide students with the opportunity to explain that they do not understand the content or have an opinion about a topic. These questions may also discourage students from thinking on their own or expressing their real feelings. In addition, students can answer without knowing anything about a topic.
Open-ended questions do not have a single correct answer and leaves the formulation of the answer up to the individual. When open-ended questions are posed, students have the opportunity to be creative, structure their response in a manner that best suits them, and develop critical thinking skills. These questions usually begin with “What”, “How”, or “Why.” Some examples of open-ended questions include: What kind of information were you looking for?, How does this information related to our goal of…?, and What suggestions do you have for…?.
- Pros: These questions encourage students to share their ideas, concerns, and feelings; facilitate the development of enhanced levels of cooperation and understanding among students; and help faculty support diverse ways of student learning.
- Cons: It is sometimes difficult for faculty to formulate an open-ended question in such a way that students understand the type of response that is expected of them.
Instructors Utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy to Guide the Development of Questions
Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework that describes three domains or types of learning: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956). The cognitive domain, pertinent for this discussion, focuses on the development of a hierarchy of thinking skills important in the learning process. The levels of learning found in the cognitive domain can be used by instructors to develop questions that enhance the development of critical thinking skills in students. The grid below provides a glimpse of the types of questions that can be posed to students during the learning process.
Instructors Integrate A Four-Question Technique into Their Discussions
I recently read an interesting Faculty Focus blog post authored by Dr. Maryellen Weimer which described the use of a four-question set that could be used to engage students with course content and promote deeper ways of learning. The strategy was developed and used by Dietz-Uhler and Lanter (2009) in an introductory psychology course. Students were asked to analyze, reflect, apply, and question the content they read. The following question prompts were used:
- [Analyze}:“Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea…they learned while completing this activity.”
- [Reflect]: “Why do you believe that this concept,, research finding, theory or idea…is important?”
- [Apply]: “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.”
- [Reflect]: “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?” (Dietz-Uhler & Lanter, 2009, p. 39)
These researchers found that students performed significantly better on a quiz when they were able to answer the four-question set prior to rather than after they had taken a quiz. A benefit of using this strategy is that it can be applied to learning environments that tend to be lecture-based as well as those that promote active learning.
Some Tips on Developing A Questioning Strategy
- Ask a mix of questions (from all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy)
- Create a classroom climate that invites student questions
- Plan your questions in advance (noting when you will pause to ask and answer questions)
- Create questions that help students link important concepts
- Frame questions in language students understand
- During class discussions, ask one question at a time
- Rephrase the question if it seems unclear to students
- Asking Questions to Improve Learning (St. Louis University)
- Bloom’s Taxonomy Guide to Writing Questions (University of Georgia)
- Open-Ended Questions (University of Twente)
- Questioning Techniques (Academy of Art University)
- The Six Types of Socratic Questions (University of Michigan)
- Writing Objectives Using Bloom’s Taxonomy (UNC Charlotte)
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition, New York : Longman.
Bloom, B. & Krathwohl, D. (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives. The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. N.Y.: Longman Green.
Dietz-Uhler, B. and Lanter, J. R. (2009). Using the four-questions technique to enhance learning.Teaching of Psychology, 36 (1), 38-41.
Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview, Theory Into Practice, 41(4), 212-218.