From Feedback to Feedforward

I am a technology geek. Compared to most people, anyway. Compared to the true techno-geeks, though, I’m basically a noob. I do find myself fascinated with different emerging technologies for various reasons. First, if the technology just does something cool. 360° cameras for example. They do something cool, even though I have no immediate use for one in my personal or professional life. Second, if the technology makes my life better. Like my mobile phone. Alarm clock, music player, gaming device, etc. Third, if the technology helps me do my job better. Desmos, I’m looking in your direction.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will likely not be surprised that in this post I will be focusing on the technology that helps me do my job better.

I teach high school math; Algebra 1, Precalculus, Trigonometry, and Calculus. In the old days, you know, like a few years ago, when a student worked on an assignment they would turn the assignment in and then the teacher would grade it and they would get it back the next class. Or not.

Maybe the teacher doesn’t get to it right away. Maybe it takes a long time to grade. Maybe the teacher is absent. The student may get the assignment back the next class period, at best. In many cases, that doesn’t happen. But when it takes that long for students to get feedback on their work, they’re very seldom still interested in it. They’ve turned it in. They got more homework after that. They’re so over that assignment by the time they get it back. They’ve moved on.

If students aren’t interested in receiving the feedback you’re providing, they’re not learning from it. And if they’re not learning from it, why give it? Why spend time on it? But if they get that feedback immediately, when they’re still working on the assignment, it’s more meaningful to them. They’re still thinking about the assignment. They’re still concerned about how they’ll do on the assignment. They’ve still got that problem on their mind. They’re still interested in using that feedback to improve their learning. In this sense, feedback becomes “feedforward” because it guides the student’s actions moving forward.

So when I come across a tool that allows students to get instant feedforward on their work, I pay attention.

There are numerous tools out there that allow students to get either instant or near-instant feedback on their work. Google Forms, Formative, Kahoot, Quizlet, and Quia just to name a few. I don’t know which tool is going to work best in your classroom. I know which one works best in mine.

It should be noted that there are some types of feedback which cannot and probably should not be immediate. There are some types of feedback which require the keen and discerning eyes of a trained professional educator. But there are many circumstances which allow for high quality, instant feedforward. And if decreasing the time between submitting work and understanding how they did on that work leads to increased student learning, then checking some of these tools out is certainly worth your time.




Because the way I learned wasn’t working for them.


Screencastify Lite Tutorial

As an English teacher, I have spent endless hours revising student work only to have my students completely ignore it. I would take my purple ink pen (because red is too harsh) and mark grammar errors, identify potential stylistic improvements as well as praise unique ideas and well-supported arguments all with the hope that the next or final draft would show growth and learning.  Too many times, I spent far more time on my student’s work than they did. When we went 1:1 and students began submitting work digitally, my feedback was ignored even more so than when I returned work to them on paper.

While it would be easiest to dismiss their behavior and say, “Students just don’t care and are lazy.” The reality is no matter what a student’s attitude toward writing or school, it is still my job to help them learn the skills.  I knew it was time to take a serious look at the feedback I was providing to students because the way I learned was not working for them.

So, I analyzed what did work.  When I had to opportunity to meet with students one on one, they always responded with improvements and ultimately learning! But again, the reality is that there are not enough hours in the school-day and there too many standards to cover for this to be a viable option each time.  I examined the types of feedback that immediately elicited responses from students without my verbal prompting. My Bitmoji definitely got the most comments though generally about her outfit, hair, or phrase.  I do teach middle school after all. Instead, students best responded to and demonstrated learning from video feedback.

Using the Screencastify extension in Chrome, I am able to record my feedback for students and share it with them through a private YouTube link or in Google Drive. This has solved a few problems for me. First, it is difficult to digitally suggest edits in student writing without just making the changes for them. When I make the changes, students aren’t learning.  Second, this allows students to hear my voice and tone as I review their work. It becomes more like a one on one conference about their writing. While the back and forth interaction doesn’t occur during the video response, it initiates the conversation if for no other reason except that they are actually viewing the feedback. Most students’ first stop when they need to learn something is YouTube which tracks the number of views. Why not use that to your advantage to see if your students are watching your feedback?

For me, video feedback improves productivity, but maybe not in the way that you would generally think. Usually, an improvement in productivity means that it saves time. In this case, providing video feedback isn’t always faster, it does make the time I spent more productive because students are actually using that feedback to learn.  

Screencastify Lite is a free extension that allows up to 10 minute videos, up to 50 videos a month.  Try it out, and see how your students respond.


Kristy Stephens represents Hebron Middle School.  In her 19th year, she teaches in a blended Social Studies/English Project Based Learning classroom.  She serves as an instructional technology coach and is an active part of eLeadNWI (Northwest Indiana’s Tech coaching group). She also serves on the Indiana Middle Level Education Association’s Executive Board of Directors where she has been a member for 6 years.

The Overwhelming Fascination of eLearning Conferences

One of the highlights of my summer always is attending the Lafayette Regional eLearning Conference. I have only missed one of the six, which was last year because my husband was hospitalized for his stem cell transplant. For countless reasons, I was so glad to get to go to this year’s and once again experience the contagious excitement for EdTech that the conference committee and presenters have. I study the session schedule for days leading up to the two-day conference to choose sessions that I am most interested in while also gathering tools and strategies to meet the needs of the K-12 teachers that I coach since my school corporation only paid for three teachers’ registration fee this year. As I read the session titles and descriptions, I check mark the ones that I want to go to. By the time I reached the end of the schedule, Sched counted 51 check marks counting the keynote speakers! Oh boy, did I have some narrowing to do to get it down to ten…actually nine since I presented Google Be Internet Awesome on the second day.

My mind has started to clear enough to start sorting my take aways from last week’s conference just in time for this blog post. At the top of the list of most memorable from this year is how to make book bits and a selfie center from eleven year old Olivia Van Ledjte (@thelivbits). I feel confident in saying that the majority of the 600 conference attendees would agree that #KidsCanTeachUs. She says her YouTube “LivBits” project is “the best project I’ve done in my whole life.” Liv Bits has resulted in many amazing opportunities for this girl and she is setting the world on fire. It all started just two years ago with a video that her mom posted on Instagram. Check out Olivia’s LivBits YouTube channel, website, or blog to see how her love of books and bullying experience has shaped her.LivBits

This year’s Keynote speeches by Josh Stumpenhorst, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, Joe Ruhl, and Olivia VanLedjte, in my opinion, were the most powerful compared to past conferences. From attending sessions about trending tools for makerspaces/PBL/STEAM, student motivation, Google Slides, video creation, flipped classroom, academic integrity & SAMR, and iPad for Literacy skills I soaked up several useful strategies and digital tools that sparked my motivation for increasing meaningful technology integration in my schools. After a bit more practice and research, I am looking forward to demonstrating and promoting interacting with Google Slides, Flip Grid, EdPuzzle, Clips, reaction videos, stop motion, GimKit, Metaverse, Edulastic, and the Draftback extension.

Even though it was a technology conference, the message was quite clear that having a positive student-teacher relationship is still more important in education than any standard or piece of technology. Hopefully you are registered to attend the nearest Summer of eLearning Conference. While they all have their own theme and features, I’m sure that you too will be wishing you could be in more than one session at the same time.

eKnowing Is Half The Battle

A number of years ago (2013?) I saw a flyer in my mailbox at school for a INDOE Summer of eLearning event in Valparaiso. Or at least I think it was in Valparaiso. I would probably remember that fact better if I had actually gone. I didn’t. But that’s ok. The seed had been planted.

The next year, however, I saw flyers for a two-day event at Lowell High School called engagED NWI and another at Chesterton High School called eLightenment. The registration fees were about $50 each for two days of conference sessions. That seemed reasonable. I filled out the proper paperwork and MSD of Boone Township, the district I am employed in, picked up the registration costs.

To this day, my decision to attend these conferences is one of the most important decisions I have made in my professional career. Let me be clear, it wasn’t that these particular conferences were so profound that they changed the direction of my career and teaching practices. They certainly began that process. But the type of change I am talking about is long-term.

What made these experiences so profound were the ideas I was hearing. Ideas very few people were talking about. That I knew of, anyway. It turns out that other people had been talking about these ideas for quite some time, in fact. I just wasn’t in the loop. At engagED NWI, for the first time I had heard someone talk about how schools can and why they should be utilizing social media to share their own stories. At eLightenment, @jgrigs79 and I sat in the back of a packed (as in, “probably violated the fire code”) classroom listening to @jmattmiller talk about using back-channels to get feedback from everyone in the class instead of just the ones who raise their hand.

A few engagED NWI, other Summer of eLearning conferences, and Google for Education Summits later and attending summer conferences had become a habit. I was hooked. More importantly, shifting my instructional practice to meet the needs of the students in my classroom had become a habit. Engaging in meaningful conversations with educators around the region about improving teaching had become a habit. Habits I highly recommend picking up, by the way.


For starters, you should consider going to eVillage at Washington Township High School in Valparaiso, IN. The eVillage conference will be hosted by East Porter County School Corporation on Thursday, June 14, 2018 and Friday, June 15, 2018. Keynote addresses will be given by Adam Welcome and Kim Strobel. There are around 70 different session proposals being considered for administrators, elementary teachers, secondary teachers, and STEM fields. This year’s theme is “Stay Connected” and there’s no better way to stay connected than to learn with and from the people you work with every day.

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And, as an added bonus, Mike Patterson, a Regional Program Manager from the Google Chicago office, will be offering a workshop each day on one of Google’s newest programs: #GrowWithGoogle. East Porter’s very own Christie Campbell will be presenting alongside Mike Patterson as he features some of the work she has been doing in her class with Applied Digital Skills.

In addition, consider any of the other Summer of eLearning events. There are 19 of them, so there’s probably one near you.


eVillage – Summer of eLearning 2017 – a presenter’s story…

Let me rewind to last school year… I just started as a Technology Integration Specialist and there were moments that I could not figure out why I thought this was a good path for me.  I HATE speaking in front of people.  Kids… all day.  You put me in front of my peers and I stand there, with giant eyeballs wishing I could disappear.  Just ask Janna.  We will get there though.

So, here I am, trying to do my job, but trying to avoid huge crowds.  And now understand that I am blessed to work with the one and only Janna Carney Moran.  Loves a crowd. Prefers a mic.  She often spoke of the conferences she’d be presenting at or the ones she had already conquered like a master.  Then she started to ask me.  Do you want to present at blah, blah, blah conference?  I always quickly responded with – NO.  No way.  Stand in front of amazing professionals and have them review me afterward?  No thank you.

Now I’m part of this incredible group called eLeadNWI.  This is a group of really talented educational tech professionals.  If you don’t know them, you should. They present at conferences, belong to other amazing organizations, have an intense social media presence… you see where this is going.  Part of this group is then planning an amazing conference – eVillage, Summer of eLearning hosted by East Porter County School Corporation. I was super proud to be a part of launching a conference.  This was a first for me.  I helped with some behind the scenes stuff, did some graphics and enlisted my husband to create a playlist.  Those were areas I could and was thrilled to help with.  But then the question came again from Janna.  Or was it that I saw my name signed up for a session that I was co-presenting with her?  Actually, make that TWO.  Yeah.  That’s how that happened.  I had an instant stomachache.

I agreed.  I was going to present for the first time at a conference.  So let the obsessing begin.  After creating a very detailed 73 slide Google Slides presentation with screenshots and research and examples and… I decided I should try it out on a real audience.  Who better than my husband and 9 year old son?  Sit down, people. It’s time.  I begin AirPlay to my Apple TV and they begin to pretend to be audience members.  I’m talking and practicing. My husband is nodding and smiling.  My son is staring through me wishing he could play video games.  I’m still talking and practicing and I’m not very far in.  I must have been looking at one of my screens for a bit too long because I look up and they are both dozing off.  Give it a few more slides and now they are completely ASLEEP.

I panic. I’ve bored the first two people to see this presentation so much they were began dreaming of being somewhere else! I immediately text Janna for support, but she of course is incredibly entertained.

Well, I’m not off to a good start…

Fast forward to the actual conference – I walk in to eVillage.  I’m greeted by kind people and see so many volunteers hustling to start this event.  The teamwork that was happening was outstanding. Seeing the behind the scenes efforts made me appreciate what was happening even more.  The many many hours Diana Gill put into the conference, thinking of every detail, was coming together before everyone’s eyes.  All of these people were volunteering for education!  Volunteering to provide teachers with such an amazing learning opportunity.  My heart was full.

Hearing the music, eating yummy food and watching the crowd file in, I was getting really excited.  I was getting nervous because I realized I was going to have to present to some of this crowd really soon.

I’ll save you from the boring details that occurred right before the presentation that include Janna talking me out of my panic, having a food in my teeth, trying to find floss for the food in my teeth and staring at Janna with eyes of panic for the first 7 slides of the presentation.  The workshop happened and it was awesome.  Thank you for the support, Janna.

What I realized was that the people that attended eVillage were just as awesome as the people putting the conference together.  How lucky we all were to learn from each other.  I continued to be amazed at how many talented teachers and coaches we had in this area that were willing to share their knowledge and learn from others!  What a great environment.

Why did I tell you this really long story?  To share with you the amazingness that is eVillage.  Should you attend?  Absolutely!  Here’s why:

  • It is filled with amazing educators!
  • There are over 100 sessions from more than 50 presenters!
  • You will get to experience two really awesome keynote speakers, Adam Welcome and Kim Strobel!
  • You can taste the Twitter famous #stawberrywater!
  • They feed you.  Twice.  With great food.
  • Google will be there!  Yes.  Google.
  • Did I mention the cost is only $35 days for two days of learning?!
  • I’ll be presenting again with Janna and I might have food in my teeth.

You haven’t gotten your tickets yet???  Do you really want to miss this? What are you waiting for??  Get your tickets!

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How our SWAT Team Got Started

It all started with an Hour of Code.

I have been in my role for three years now, and when I was first getting started, I really relied on what I saw happening to guide me as a new technology coach.  (Shout out to the #INeLearn community!) Hour of Code was one of the programs that I was excited to initiate in the schools. That first year, at the secondary level, we offered an Hour of Code to all of our middle school students and gave the activity as an option to all of our high school students.  It was through this that I started to see a need we weren’t yet meeting for our students.

Motivated by the excitement of the students, I started having conversations with the admin team about what I had learned about Hoosier Student Digital Leaders and how we might create a student tech team in the district.  Without me knowing, a group of students at one of our middle schools had been doing the same thing.  The students and I met, joined forces, and created what we now call the SWAT Team at East Porter County Schools.  Our team is a district team with three chapters, one at each of our middle/high schools.

At the end of last school year, we had a call out, named our team, and designed t-Shirts.  SWAT, by the way, stands for Students Working to Advance Technology. Our very first event was a trip to the Valparaiso Barnes and Noble during which students explored drones, makey makey, bloxels, etc. while chatting in the cafe.  That summer, Barnes and Noble asked the SWAT team students to demonstrate the tools at our very first Summer of eLearning conference. The students had an absolute blast and were a huge part of the success of our conference.

At that point, we started to really pick up some steam and we had a better idea about what we wanted to accomplish.  This year has been a lot of fun. In the fall, a few of our high school SWAT members traveled to IUPUI to participate in a mobile app challenge.  Some of our middle school members attended the Fall HSDL event. This coming Saturday, we are looking forward to attending the HSDL Spring event in Indianapolis.  Our high school SWAT members participated in a “coding marathon”, spending a day learning from field experts and solving problems through coding. All of our middle school SWAT Teams are trained to use WeVideo and have reached out to offer assistance to any teacher wanting to use the tool.  Recently, the SWAT members are beyond thrilled to be planning our very first drone race this coming fall.

Reflecting back on building our SWAT Team, here are five things to consider.  

  1. Find your People.
    1. Find a group of students interested and get the word out.  Be creative about when you can carve some time out to meet.  We don’t have a class and I am a district admin, so many of our meetings are lunch meetings.  Sometimes we meet to plan, and other times we meet to explore and learn. If we are working on a larger project, we meet after school.
  2. Reach out to the HSDL Community.
    1. Michelle Green facilities the Hoosier Student Digital Leaders program.  Beyond the events available for students, there is a HSDL advisor network that can put you in contact with all of the HSDL advisors in the state.
  3. Let students take the lead.
    1. Students designed our shirts, named the team, and share interests that drive our group.  One of our chapters decided we would eat lunch together every Friday, so we made that happen.
  4. Empower student projects.
    1. All of our ideas have been sparked by student ideas.  We have a lot we want to accomplish, and that list of things has been created by the students.  Recently, teachers and admin have been requesting items for the SWAT team to tackle, too.
  5. Find some funding.
    1. The items that we have purchased for the SWAT team have graciously been funded through grant monies.  We do have a list of possible fundraising ideas as part of our plan B.


While we don’t have this down to an exact Science and I face some challenges due to the structure of our district, starting simple with these five takeaways can help you build a student team from the ground up.  

Every time I meet with the SWAT members, I am reminded of why we do what we do every day.  Personally, this has been a great way to connect with students since I am no longer in the classroom.  I really feel like we are just getting started and I am excited to see what our SWAT team dreams up next!

If you would like to come see our SWAT Team in action, please consider attending the eVillage Summer of eLearning Conference in Valparaiso on June 14 and 15.  At the conference, the SWAT Team members will be running a WeVideo station, flying drones, demonstrating products available through Barnes and Noble, and helping out in general.    


Celebrate the Unexpected

Two years ago I had the privilege to work with teachers and students at Forest Ridge Academy in Schererville. They have been 1:1 for a number of years, and I was going to help their 8th graders learn some tips and tricks in Microsoft Office. I honestly thought that I would be showing them more technology and that I would be the ‘outside expert’, but I definitely had some ‘surprise and delight’ during my visit.  As I walked into the first classroom, I could not have been more delighted at what I saw. It was something a number of our own teachers at Marian Catholic have been working towards, but some of these Forest Ridge teachers already had it in place – Flexible Seating. There were tables, stools, bean bag chairs, even a fold-down desk just outside the doorway. It was such a welcoming and comfortable environment to learn in. I watched as one class of middle school students walked into class and found a comfortable spot near the whiteboard. The teacher explained what they would be doing for the day, and after they knew their task(s), they found a place to begin their work.  I could see the room was arranged to accommodate single, partner, or group work while requiring a minimal movement of furniture.

I visited Forest Ridge again last year for a question and answer time with their teachers regarding the integration of technology using mobile devices. So many times I walk into a school to discuss tech integration and the school leadership has no real strategic plan – they are just waiting for someone to tell them how to do it. During this visit, it was the initiative of the teachers that impressed me. They had done their homework, they had prepared questions as it pertained to their school and their students, and I knew this was not going to be a cookie cutter PD session.

At the end of the session, I was asked: “What are some good conferences to attend this summer?” What??? Someone wanted to get out of their building to learn and grow? I was so excited by that question. I was already presenting for a 2nd time at Summer Spark in Milwaukee, so I knew what a powerful experience that conference can be. Two of their teachers signed up, and we had an amazing time with educators like Kevin Honeycutt @kevinhoneycutt, Marlena Gross-Taylor @mgrosstaylor, Joy Kirr @JoyKirr, Chuck Taft @Chucktaft, Michael Matera @mrmatera, and so many more.

This year I one of those teachers sent me a direct message on Twitter, ‘We’re sending 5 teachers to Summer Spark this summer’.  I was so excited by the growth mindset. Too often we have professional development and we can’t wait for it to be over, but these people want to go back for more! I’ll be returning to Forest Ridge in a couple weeks, and I hope I can convince the teachers who can’t travel to Milwaukee, to join us at EVillage Summer of eLearning June 14-15 in Valparaiso. I love having a conference at the beginning of June. It introduces us to new ideas and gives us the entire summer to plan how to effectively use them with our students. Please encourage your teachers to experience these conferences with their friends. 

During the dreaded 3rd quarter of school when there is no sunshine, the days seem to just blend together, and our students start to experience cabin fever, it is so great to see teachers with that growth mindset and a passion to constantly improve their lessons and classrooms. I know there are more of us out there, and I love to connect with you on #INeLearn where we share so many great ideas and resources. Please remember, as we move into 4th quarter and toward May, we can encourage this type of positive outlook by reminding ourselves to “Make the days count, don’t count the days” – anonymous.

Sean Scanlon is the Director of Instructional Technology at Marian Catholic High School and a graduate of Purdue Northwest. You can find him on Twitter at @polonerd