Better Feedback: Google Docs vs Paper

One very important aspect of the learning process is how feedback is used to help guide the learner to improve and grow.  We must focus on giving effective feedback otherwise we will not be continuing the learning process.  When the only feedback that we give is a grade or a percentage, that is not going to help the learner understand where they are in the learning process and how they should continue.  We should be striving to give feedback that is informative and helps to guide the learner onto their next steps.

There are many variables that can affect how effective feedback is for a student.  Some of those variables are affected by how we give them the feedback, whether it is on a paper copy or through a Google Doc.  
1.  Time
It is must easier to give timely feedback onto a Google Doc versus a piece of paper.  For the student to get the feedback that is given on a piece of paper, they have to wait till they are physically in the same location as the teacher.  Yet, if their feedback comes to them on a Google Doc, their feedback is instantaneous and depending on how the feedback is given, they will even receive an email notifying them of the feedback.  Using Suggestions or Comments features on a Google Doc will alert the owner of the doc that there has been a change to it, which will allow the student to see the feedback more quickly and be able to make progress on their learning at that moment instead of waiting until the next class.  
2.  One and Done
Many times when we turn in pieces of paper, we lose our connection to that paper and whatever was written on it.  We are “done” with it because it is no longer in our control and someone else has it.  The more time that it takes to get that piece of paper back, the less connected we may feel to whatever was written on it in the first place.  Students are going to feel more connected to the work that is done if they still have access to it at all times versus if they have turned it in and are now done with it until a later time. 
3.  Resources for Growth
One of the nice things about using a digital document is that we can easily include links to resources that will help the student continue their learning.  Not every student will need the same resources to continue and printing everything ahead of time would be a waste of time and paper.  Instead we can just insert a link into the Google Doc in order to send the student to the resource that we think would be valuable in them learning further.
4.  Type of Feedback
With paper you pretty much are limited to only writing out your feedback to your student.  Yet, with a Google Doc you have a lot of different options when it comes to the form that the feedback can take.  Kaizena allows you to leave voice feedback while other tools also allow you to create a video as feedback.  You could easily do a screencast of you writing out the feedback onto the Google Doc, saying much more than what the words on the document can say.  The use of Add-ons like Goobric allow you to insert rubrics into the Google Doc, something you can easily do with paper, but you are also able to adjust the rubric as their learning improves and record it in a spreadsheet automatically.  You can even differentiate the form the feedback takes according to the specific learning needs of your student.
5.  Collaboration
Collaborating on a piece of paper is like playing “hot potato” and anxiously awaiting for when the other person will be ready to hand it back off.  However, using Google Docs you can both be working on the doc at the same time and can see what the other person is doing while they are doing it.  You can even be in different locations and both be working on it at the same time.  You can even easily share it with others, both students and teachers, to get feedback from them.  We can not forget that peer reviews can be a very effective tool for some learners as their peers can give them a different type of feedback than we can.  
6. Organization
Using tools like Doctopus or Google Classroom, you can easily organize your documents making it even easier to give feedback.  No more searching through piles of paper and hoping to have them organized when you can have them automatically organized into folders through the use of Doctopus or Google Classroom.  It may be different for some people at first but by using folders and even color coding your folders, you can find ways to be better organized without needing some big container with lots of sections for the different assignments and classes.  No matter what you use, being better organized will always make it easier to give feedback to students in a timely manner.
Google Docs do give you more options to give effective feedback and does make it easier to remove some of the variables that can decrease the effectiveness of the feedback, it is all moot if you do not give effective feedback to begin with.  Grades and scores are tiny pieces of information that can not give as much feedback to a learner to continue with their learning as effective feedback that is tied to the essential learning that should be taking place.  Focus on where they are, where they need to go and how best you can help them get there and you will be able to give better feedback that should create a better learning environment for students.

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