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Learning to Fly with Authentic Feedback

"Autonomy is what distinguishes between personal learning, which we do for ourselves, and personalized learning, which is done for us." - Stephen Downes

  • Why is feedback critical to learning processes?
  • Why should the learner be at the center of the feedback process?
  • Where within Schoology can personal feedback be shared and leveraged by learners?
  • What do paper airplanes have to do with personal learning and feedback?


On the second day of the SchoologyNEXT-19 conference, more than 100 adult learners gathered to build paper airplanes and discuss these questions. Here’s what we learned.

Those who’ve attended my sessions know I subtly push the envelope, taking some risk, in the hopes of the transfer of the unique experience to professional learning activities and classroom adventures. If we don't want passive "sit-n-git" in our classrooms, then we should design conference sessions and staff meetings to model the active learning we desire.

The content of this session was provided within a Schoology course and offered several days in advance of our 10:15 session. This strategy helped model a blended learning experience hosted partially within a digital learning environment; course design, aesthetics, and workflow were heavily considered. Our course activities and materials were tagged with learning objectives, in this case, ISTE-E 4 and 5.



The session also modeled the importance of active engagement, interactive play, and tinkering in our learning experiences. Even though the ballroom was set up with rows of tables and chairs, we threw caution to the wind and welcomed controlled chaos into our make-shift airport. The activities and procedures we followed are best suited to a ninety-minute session. Admittedly, one hour was not enough time to thoroughly process and discuss our experiences.

Attendees were each provided three 8 ½” by 11” sheets of printer paper, two white and one light blue. No time for small talk, participants had three minutes to look over the paper airplane resources and build their first white airplane. A volunteer (thank you, Arcadia Parson) was summoned to the front of the room to demonstrate her flying skills. Arcadia’s paper airplane performed a half-roll for approximately fifteen feet before nose-diving hard on to the floor.

Using a course-embedded Google Form, participants were asked to provide a letter grade for the flight. As you might guess, nearly two-thirds of the respondents gave Arcadia’s flight a “B”.”There were several “Cs” and a couple of “As”.”I asked her, “Looks like most of us believe your flight deserves a B, what do think about this grade?”

Looking down at her plane on the floor, Arcadia answered half-heartedly, “It’s OK.”


“Do you think you can do better?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“How will you improve?”

Arcadia said honestly, “I don’t know.” 

Many times, “I don’t know” is music to a teacher’s ears, the perfect answer! This response quickly establishes a baseline for inquiry and improvement. The follow-up advice is called prescriptive feedback and is essential for advancing learners towards mastery. We scribbled “B” on the side of Arcadia’s first plane. The tower then cleared airspace for everyone to take their first flight, then write a letter grade on the side of their first airplane.

The look on Arcadia’s face and her transparent response indicated we had not established nor communicated performance criteria. Subsequently, participants were asked to post suggested flight performance criteria on a Padlet wall. Through upvoting, four performance criteria were recommended to evaluate flight two, duration, stability, altitude, and landing.


Armed with self-selected performance criteria (diagnostic feedback) and a grading rubric, participants were allotted another three minutes to build their second paper airplane. Following a flight demonstration from Dr. Fuller, our participants held up fingers indicating proficiency for each of the four performance criteria, 3 - 3 - 2 - 4. Our pilots took flight and then wrote proficiency ratings on the side of their second white airplane, many 2s and 3s.

It was then Michael Stephens, a self-proclaimed TSA trouble maker, raised his hand. “What if I decide to game the system? I can roll the paper into a ball and get fours on at least three of the performance criteria!” Thanks to Michael’s clever assertion, our large group discussion took a deeper dive into learning, motivation, and agency. There are many students we know who try to win the game of school with more points and higher grades, but how effectively are we educating these learners? What do we really mean when we discuss achievement in the classroom?

With just the blue sheet of paper remaining, but with added information regarding flight performance, our pilots were provided another three minutes to build their next iteration of a paper airplane. Once again, airspace was cleared for takeoff, and more than one hundred turquoise blue planes soared across the room. Instead of a letter grade or points on a rubric, our pilots were asked to post either a short reflection video to the course media album or post thoughtful comments to a course discussion board. We discussed the merits of using a single point rubric to add personalization (diagnostic and prescriptive comments) to performance feedback. A single-point rubric template was provided to guide their reflections.


"We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience." - John Dewey


With time running short, there was still some heavy lifting to do. Our pilots were asked to identify places within Schoology where learners could have more agency, autonomy, and specificity with respects to performance feedback. The group was also challenged to make recommendations for future features if these personalized feedback opportunities weren’t readily available. Our pilots shared some terrific strategies for improving the quality of performance feedback, as well as, some interesting suggestions for making feedback more autonomous within Schoology.

Erica Leslie and Meaghan McGuire currently use the comments feature within the grade book, assessments, and assignments to leave individualized feedback to their students. Maureen Etter and others mentioned the ability to personalize feedback using audio and video comments. Recent research clearly supports the value of audio/video feedback to increase understanding and strengthen learning relationships.

Devonee Grams posted, “I would like to see the ability for students to use rubrics to give peer feedback. This would allow feedback from multiple sources and to get peer feedback and revise before a formal evaluation from their instructor.

One of my favorite posts was submitted by Jeremiah Johnston, “All of the training is directed to the educators and not to the learners. If we want students to use Schoology to the fullest, we need to train them on the functionality and benefits of the LMS instead of just having teachers with basic functionality knowledge/training just teaching students the minimum of what they need to know to navigate their individual courses.

Finally, Adam Babcock provided several exciting suggestions for personalizing feedback within Schoology, particularly with rubric functionality. “What about Schoology allowing student self-scoring?  Students should be able to see their impressions versus their teachers' assessment of their performance. I'd also love for teachers to have the ability to "Publish" rows one at a time. I used rubrics as one- or two-day lesson plans for PBL. As I revealed a new row, I connected it to the work I expected students/groups to complete. While we are talking about rubrics... we should be able to assign groups of students to a rubric.  OR... better yet, how about a rubric ROW is shared or assigned to multiple students? That way, I can use one of my oldest rubric designs (top three rows are a shared grade, and the bottom two rows are individual) for group presentations.

The theme shared by many others suggested finding ways or adding features to provide students involvement in performance evaluation. Self-reporting, peer editing, and parent access were all mentioned as ways to make feedback more autonomous and impactful. This tweet from Danielle Filas captured the collaborative and playful spirit of our session.


Schoology’s theme for SchoologyNEXT-19 was “advancing what’s possible” in schools and education. In just a short time, using some ingenuity and three sheets of paper, our pilots experienced first-hand the value of specific, personally derived performance feedback. Personalizing learning has quickly become the most discussed topic in modern education.

Will Richardson leaves us with this provocation as we prepare for takeoff, “Can we really call it personal learning if the assessment and feedback are standardized?"

Research and Related Reading 

photo credit: Neal3K Stearman Fly-By via photopin (license)

Cross-posted on Schoology Exchange, July 2019.


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