Using UX for Instructional Design

As instructional designers, we often focus on the design: the appearance, the structure and navigation, and the resources. However, the learning process also requires feedback. Feedback is, essentially, the response to the learner question, “am I doing it right?”

For teachers of writing, providing feedback is often an emotionally- and time-intensive process. Feedback for writers is more than marking grammar and syntax; it’s responding to critical thinking, encouraging development, and providing strategies.

And many instructors question whether students review the feedback they’ve created.

As a writing instructor, I wanted to know how learners react to and act upon instructor commentary. My dissertation employs UX research strategies to explore usability and learner satisfaction. 

If you have a few hours and want to read my dissertation, the dissertation PDF is available for viewing. If you only have an hour or so, you may want to view the PDF of the presentation (with speakers’ notes) .

Screenshot of presentation title “Evaluating the UX of Instructor Feedback: An Exploratory Analysis”


How are instructors currently providing feedback to students (what media, content, and style)?
The majority of instructors (national and English 2311) who participated in the study reported they are using digital written commentary or handwritten comments for student feedback. Few use audio, video, or other methods at all, and when they do, it is sometimes or rarely. From the instructor-evaluated submissions collected as part of this study, English 2311 instructors noted design issues most frequently,10 though higher- and lower-order concerns are typically addressed equally. Instructor comments ranged from one-word corrections to brief explanations. Individual styles varied as far as tone, with generally neutral or positive comments.
What experiences with and expectations for feedback do students have?
Students who participated in the survey and in user testing have mostly received handwritten feedback, with some experience with digital embedded text and conferencing. They have little to no experience with audio or video response. This population prefers handwritten comments to all other media, though they consider digital embedded text and instructor conferencing to be nearly as effective.
How do students typically interact with feedback?
The study revealed that Blackboard’s Review Submission History screen was not a familiar interface for participants, so it is difficult to ascertain whether the access to and subsequent interaction with feedback was “typical.” As would be expected, test participants moved sequentially through their instructor’s comments. Many considered the individual comments to be a “to do list” for correction, but in prioritizing their to do lists, they tended to make choices based on their analysis of audience needs and expectations. Test participants found the (often perceived) instructor’s tone to be a major factor in how they received the feedback. Comments that were interpreted as attacking or negative elicited defensive, even resistant, responses from students.
How might the medium of the feedback impact its usability (how effective, efficient, engaging, error tolerant, and easy to learn it is for students), and why?
The findings from this study indicate that Blackboard—the medium used by English 2311 instructors—impacted the usability of feedback for test participants. Difficulty with access and navigation affected efficiency, effectiveness, and even engagement.


Best practices based on analysis of findings:

  • Whether offering criticism or praise, be direct and specific, and provide the rationale for the evaluation.
  • Be aware that tone can be misunderstood.
  • Consider integrating multiple media options for response.
  • Anticipate the potential practical impediments to achieving pedagogical goals and implement strategies that allow students to overcome these impediments.