An Analysis of the Relationship between Feedback Types and Student Retention in Online Higher Education

With the growth of online education, there is an interest in the ways that students master learning and curricular content in distance education settings. Such mastery is closely tied with degree completion and student retention (Scott, Bailey, & Kienzl, 2006). While higher education institutions are expected to create and enforce policies that increase student success (Johnsrud & Banaria, 2004), instructors are the ones responsible for delivering instructional content and assigning grades to evaluate student work. This study examines how faculty feedback influences student retention in an online doctoral program. 


Online students rely on instructor feedback as a means of improving and developing content mastery. Written feedback provided on assignments, assessments, and discussions is indispensable to the learning process. Instructor summative and embedded feedback enhances a student’s scholarly abilities and provides requisite knowledge to complete course and degree requirements. The purpose of this study was to evaluate types and content of instructor feedback. The researcher analyzed instructor feedback provided to online students from archived, graded artifacts gathered from 85 doctoral students papers. The types, frequency, and patterns of embedded and summative written feedback were identified. An analysis was conducted of frequency and types of faculty summative and embedded feedback on student papers. The majority of feedback provided was on writing conventions and not content. Further margin comments were more common than those inserted through track changes or highlighting. Finally, short comments were more frequent than longer notes to students. Further research should be conducted across different academic disciplines to determine findings are similar for graduate and undergraduate student feedback types.

This publication has been peer reviewed.
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Melanie Shaw, Scott Burrus, Karen Ferguson
Year of Publication: 
Journal, Book, Magazine or Other Publication Title: 
Journal of Online Higher Education
The Learning Institute
Publication Language: 
Boyer's Domain: 

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Scott Burrus

Additional content will be provided upon request.

Scott Burrus
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