New Feedback Service ‘Loops’ in Students

Oct. 22, 2019


University of Arizona students have a new way of getting helpful feedback on their writing. In an effort to expand its services and reach more students, the THINK TANK Writing Center added an online service this fall called Feedback Loop. Students can upload a document through the center’s scheduling system and receive helpful comments in the margins from a trained writing tutor.

“Feedback Loop allows us to offer feedback on a student’s writing in a format that’s both instructive and convenient,” says THINK TANK’s Nick Cenegy, Assistant Director for Writing Support. “We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from students and faculty so far.”

The system is pretty simple and handled entirely remotely. A student selects an appointment date and time. As they fill out some basic information, they also upload a document. At the time of the appointment, a tutor reviews the document for roughly 45 minutes, and leaves feedback and suggestions in the margins. At the conclusion of the session, the tutor re-uploads the document, and provides some summative notes. The student receives an email with a link to download the commented document.

“I like being able to go over the whole piece and form an understanding of the writer’s voice, and then develop wide-scale comments that address the specific work as well as their overall skills,” said Nataly Gruender, a writing center tutor and senior English and Creative Writing major.

Like the Writing Center’s face-to-face appointments, the suggestions that the tutors offer during Feedback Loop sessions help students understand the writing techniques in a low-stakes environment. Tutors are trained to identify major patterns in a student’s writing, rather than comment on every single error. The Feedback Loop format also allows them to link out to external resources, such as helpful articles, websites, YouTube videos, or describe their own unique way of remembering a particular concept.

“Since the Feedback Loop sessions aren’t face-to-face, explaining writing concepts is much easier, since I am able to link out to in-depth explanations that the student can refer back to long after the session is over” Gruender said.

This style of remote tutoring is often referred to as “asynchronous.” The asynchronous model is new to THINK TANK, but is common practice among many writing centers throughout the country. Research in the writing studies field credits this format with offering stable feedback that students can read and re-read. It also helps to convey the value of incorporating a review stage into the student’s writing process. Since each tutor comments only on a handful of issues in the writing, students are encouraged to apply the feedback, and resubmit their changes to Feedback Loop again.

This expansion of Writing Center services was made possible by the approval of the University’s Strategic Plan late last year. It is part of a comprehensive set of initiatives designed to support the success and retention of undergraduate students.