Interactions and Feedback

The Best Choice .... according to the experts

Garrison, 1990 – "It has been found that students who interacted regularly with their instructor and with other students were more motivated and had better learning experiences."

Oliver & McLoughlin, 1997 – "Communicative interactions can be used to engage learners, to cause them to reflect on and to articulate ideas. Interactions encourage and facilitate cognition and play an important part in promoting learners' intellectual operations and thinking processes."


  • Students should not have to wait until after failing a midterm exam to find that they aren't learning what the instructor expects them to learn.
  • Instructors do need to be available and therefore need to have a sensible plan for interacting with students and providing feedback.
  • "few chances to interact with the instructor limits students' ability to clarify and negotiate instructional goals, explore alternative methods, or construct meaning within in a social context based on personal knowledge" (Garrison, 1993).

Instructor-Student Interaction

When speaking of "interaction" and communication, researchers define several types of interaction.

Basic Information

The type of interaction on the Web site refers to learner-instructor interaction. The goal of the section is to make instructors consider how they can manage and regulate interaction with students so that interaction is not excessively time-consuming.

 Leaner-instructor Interaction in a course should:

  • Stimulate and maintain the learner's interest
  • Motivate the learner to learn
  • Provide counsel, support and encouragement to each learner
  • Provide timely feedback to learners to make sure that learners are making progress

Due to the busy schedule and multiple responsibilities of instructors in higher education, they cannot be available at all times to students. They may not have enough time to look at, use, grade, and give feedback for each activity. Therefore, there much be a plan for learner-instructor interaction.

General Large Class Tips

To encourage more interaction even in larger classes, try the following

  • Walk around the lecture before class begins. You can even help handing out notes.
  • Note if you will be staying a few minutes after class to answer questions.
  • Address questions to specific groups of students (e.g. freshmen, people living off-campus).
  • Provide an inbox (a real box or a virtual discussion area online) for student questions outside of class. You can also allow for anonymous submissions.
  • Appropriately praise questions students may ask (e.g. "Good follow-up" or "Yes, that's a typo...good catch").
  • Create a seating chart to learn student names.
  • Upload lecture notes into ANGEL or other course space. This ensures that students have all data points, graphs, quotations or citations mentioned in the class.
  • Avoid reading from a script (unless you are pre-recording audio for an online presentation). Many instructors use bullet points as mental ticklers of what they want to say in full.

Ideas for communicating course logistics

This table lists questions students commonly ask and how to answer them with less effort

Methods to Communicate to Students
Method Benefits How to do it?
Project Instructions

Students have fewer questions on how to do course work if expectations are explained in advance.

  • Use the syllabus to spell out assignment parameters
  • Write clear assignment instructions
  • Use scoring guides (i.e. rubrics)
  • Create an online FAQ for students which they can consult before sending you a question.

Students have fewer questions about how they will be graded if expectations are clear and consistent.

  • Distribute scoring rubrics or guides
  • Explain rationale for lost points in returned assignments
Due Dates

Clarifying due dates will decrease student anxiety and may decrease the percentage of late assignments to track.

  • List all due dates in the syllabus
  • Repeat due dates in the actual assignment, a Course calendar, ANGEL dropbox or message board assignment.
  • Remind students of due dates before major assignments are due.

Ideas for managing student feedback on assignments

It's important for students to receive feedback on how much course content they have understood, yet grading a large number of assignments can be daunting. Here are some tips to manage the load:

Methods to Manage Student Feedback
Method Benefits How to Simplify?
Fact Check Exercises

Students typically need to master basic facts before thay can move to more advanced analytic topics

  • Low-stakes, self-scoring quizzes in ANGEL.
  • Short in-class polls or quizzes.
  • Require quizzes to check if students have read material
Discussion Board Assignments

Student posts should be monitored to ensure assignments are progressing as expected.

  • Use a simple check/check-minus grading system for most posts (like in a class discussion)
  • Summarize your comments instead of replying to each student
Weekly Assignments

For many courses, students need feedback before a midterm, and few students do practice assignments unless they are graded.

  • Provide an answer key for simple problems, and grade only harder problems.
  • Require answers that require research, yet are easy for instructors to scan (e.g. a specific number, derivation or fact).
  • Incorporate easier exercises into a class session to assess comprehension and provide variety in the class session.

Student-Student Interactions

Another channel of comunication is student-to-student. Encouraging students to interact with each other can make classroom atmosphere friendlier and allow students to explain concepts to each other (sometimes a student will be able to put a different twist to a concept that is still accurate).

Simple Tips

  • Break students into impromptu groups or pairs to solve more complex problems in class.
  • Break up large classes into smaller online discussion sections so there's a cohort who knows each other.
  • Create a policy to allow students to communicate with each other to get help on assignments even if they are required to turn in their own formulations.
  • Use intro-surveys to determine if students are "experts" in related areas. For example a linguistics class may want to know what dialects or languages students natively speak. A geology class may want to know what geological regions students grew up in.

More Student Involvement

These techniques allow students to become even more active members of the classroom.

Methods to Increase Student Involvement
Method Benefits How to do it?
Student Mentors: A higher level student may be able to tutor
  • Students may find another student less intimidating
  • A student mentor may have an alternate explanation that is more "relatable"
  • Use undergraduates who have already taken the course.
  • Encourage more experienced students in class to answer basic questions.
Learning Teams: Students are assigned to small groups to work on problems together.
  • Students are in a smaller cohort and may feel more motivation to attend class
  • Students work together to interpret content instead of listening to one instructor's interpretation
  • Assign permanent teams early in the semester.
  • Make sure team members have a chance to get to know each other before high-stakes team work begins.
  • Make sure grade includes individual performance portion as well as team participation.
  • Clarify expectations including how conflicts can be addressed.
Student Discussion Leaders
  • Student discussion leaders must read material more in-depth to prepare questions.
  • Students are exposed to multiple perspectives in analysis.
  • Student leaders may ask questions in an original way.
  • Assign Leadership tasks on a rotating basis
  • Require students to respond to discussion leader questions.
  • Encourage additional questions from non-leaders.
Replace Lecture with Student Presentations
  • Students can practice their presentation and management skills.
  • Students learn to analyze content readings instead of just the pre-digested lecture.
  • Instructor can monitor content presentation, but not have to create a full set of lecture notes.
  • Students present main points in the lessons or readings.
  • Assign topics to students on a rotating basis.
  • Provide guidelines on how you want presentations to be structured.
  • Be available to answer questions from student presenters.
Peer Reviews: Students critique project work of others
  • Students get feedback from multiple perspectives
  • Students learn how to adjust projects for multiple audiences.
  • Create a peer evaluation rubric for students to use.
  • Make quality of critiques part of the critiquer's grade.
  • Allow students to respond constructively to critiques.



Dwyer, C.(2003). Engaging students. Retrieved May 14, 2003 from Pennsylvania State Angel Web site:

Garrison, D. R. (1990).  An analysis and evaluation of audio teleconferencing to facilitate education at a distance.  The American Journal of Distance Education, 4(3), 13-24.

Garrison, D. R.(1993). A cognitive constructivist view of distance education: An analysis of teaching-learning assumptions. Distance Education, 14(2).

Moore, M. (1989).  Editorial: Three types of interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2),1-7.

Oliver, R., & McLoughlin, C. (1997).  Interactions in audiographics teaching and learning environments.  The American Journal of Distance Education, 11(1), 34-54.

Richardson J. & E. Ting, E. (1999) Making the most of interaction: what instructors do that most affect students perceptions of their learning. Retrieved May 14, 2003 from:

Sutton, L. A. (1999). Interaction.
Retrieved May 14, 2003 from:

University of Maryland (2005) Personalizing the Large Class.
Retrieved Nov 10 2006 from:

Additional Links

Large Classes

Improve Discussion

Learning Teams & Peer Learning