Many instructors find it difficult to get a sense of student engagement and comprehension when teaching online. If you have previously relied on a quick room scan to pick up subtle, non-verbal cues like wandering eyes or looks of confusion, it can be very disorienting to suddenly lecture to a screen. Even when students have their videos turned on, the experience is not the same. In response to this challenge, instructors have turned to a variety of video conferencing tools to engage their class in real time. Collaborative whiteboards and polls are particularly effective tools in this regard and have received a great deal of attention in our teaching and learning community (and rightfully so!). A less discussed tool is the set of feedback icons available in many conferencing platforms like Blackboard Collaborate and Zoom. Here we discuss the best ways to make use of these tools to achieve quick, just-in-time feedback from your class that can meaningfully improve student learning and classroom experience.
What are feedback icons?
Feedback icons are small buttons students can use to signal basic feedback during a video conference. Typically, these will display next to students’ names in the meeting participant list and in some cases will appear on student video tiles. You can also see a class tally in the participant list, so you’ll know how many students are using each icon at once. The icons themselves include “yes/no” or “agree/disagree” options and requests for the instructor to go slower or go faster. Other selections may appear as well. You can visit the following links for an overview of how to access these icons in Blackboard and in Zoom.
For additional help locating feedback icons and viewing student responses in Zoom, view this quick demo from CEETE. You are welcome to use or adapt the student instruction slides shown in this video by making a copy here.
Introducing feedback icons
Many students are accustomed to employing emojis in their texts with friends or on social media; it may seem natural to assume they would use them readily in the classroom context as well. In reality, just as we need to scaffold verbal discussions in the classroom, so too must we scaffold the use of non-verbal feedback.
Start by telling your students why and how you’d like them to use the feedback tools in your video conferencing platform. For instance, explain that gathering in-the-moment feedback during lecture or discussion can help you respond to student learning needs. This simple act of transparency can have significant impacts on student engagement and success. More practically speaking, many students will not use these icons without prompting or permission.
Next, demonstrate where to find and how to use these tools. This is a critical step that will ensure broader participation and avoid future confusion. For best results, make use of visuals to help orient students more quickly. Sharing your screen or adding a few instructional screenshots to the start of your lecture presentation can work well. Note that student’s screens may look somewhat different from yours depending on a variety of variables including the type of device students are using, the size of their screen, and their status as participants rather than hosts of a given meeting.
Finally, before making use of feedback icons during class, ask students to select a response as a test run. If you notice students not using the icons, you can reach out to them in the moment (or have a TA do so) or you might let the class know you’ll be following up later with folks who weren’t able to participate this time around. If for any reason a student is unable to locate the feedback icons or if their feedback does not come through, you can still invite them to share brief responses in the Chat box.
Using feedback during class
You can invite students to use feedback icons spontaneously during class to signal confusion or comfort with your content, but don’t expect high participation from this. Instead, try one of these three types of prompts:
- Comprehension checks: Ask students if they feel confident in their understanding or use the yes/no feedback to pose a comprehension question to the class. This works especially well when you want a quick sense of students’ engagement – for a deeper dive, polls and whiteboard annotations work well too.
- Speed checks: Not sure if you’re moving through content too quickly or lingering too long on a concept students already understand? Pausing to ask for “faster/slower” responses gives you helpful immediate feedback (you can ask students to use the “yes/agree” icon if the current pace is working well for them).
- Mood/”temperature” checks: At the start of class, you might ask students how they’re feeling about a recent exam, lab, other class event, or life in general. This may seem too personal or too informal at first, but students have reported increased engagement and wellbeing when instructors show genuine interest in their experiences.
What would this actually look like?
To see some examples of how an instructor might introduce and use nonverbal feedback icons in a remote classroom, view a quick demo here.
Have further questions or suggestions on how to make use of these tools? Email CEETE at firstname.lastname@example.org.