Timely feedback in online education: Are student expectations realistic?

Leopold Bayerlein
University of New England

Armidale, Australia

Contemporary online activities are often associated with instant feedback/information tools akin to real-time progress tracking for online shopping or the instant help facilitates via one-on-one chat spaces. Students currently enrolled in tertiary education programmes in general, and tertiary online education programmes in particular, are digital natives with extensive online experience and the ability to distinguish high-quality feedback/information processes which lead to the provision of timely information from ‘antiquated’ processes.

Although tertiary education providers have committed considerable resources to the creation of study materials that are engaging and attractive, the processes used to provide students with feedback on learning activities and assessment tasks often reflects traditional (pre-online education) notions of timeliness. Students are likely to perceive a subject (or a lecturer) as being unresponsive because the timeliness with which feedback is provided does not match their other online experiences.

This paper discuses the development and implementation of two timely feedback tools in a tertiary accounting subject with an online teaching focus. In addition, the paper provides evidence of the extent to which the tools developed have increased feedback timeliness, as well as the extent to which these improvements have been acknowledged by students. The final part of this paper discusses the existence of a trade-off relationship between the provision of detailed/insightful feedback and the provision of more timely feedback. The results of this study indicate that students appear to be more concerned with feedback timeliness than feedback quality, and the features of contemporary online activities outside the education sector are identified as one potential reason for this finding.