March 23rd, 2011

Improve Feedback with Audio and Video Commentary


While online discussion is generally deeper and more active than face-to-face discussion, even online discussions can eventually become a drudgery. Nobody likes reading long blocks of text online, yet discussion in an online classroom is text based.

One way to break the monotony is through audio or video-based discussion. The sound of a voice adds interest that is not possible in text discussion. Phil Ice (article referenced below) demonstrated the power of voice when he compared voice feedback on assignments to text feedback. He found a number of advantages to voice feedback:

  • Improved Ability to Understand Nuance: Students indicated that they were better able to understand the instructor’s intent. Students also indicated that instructor encouragement and emphasis were clearer.
  • Increased Involvement: Students felt less isolated in the online environment and were more motivated to participate when hearing their instructor’s voice.
  • Increased Content Retention: Students reported that they retained audio feedback better than text feedback. Interestingly, they also reported that they retained the course content to which the feedback was related better than with text feedback. These self-reported findings were supported by the fact that students incorporated into their final projects three times as much audio feedback as text feedback.
  • Increased Instructor Caring: Students interpreted the instructor as caring about them and their work more when they received audio feedback over text feedback. This difference was due to audio feedback coming across as more personal than text feedback.

Video takes this one step forward by providing a visual image along with the voice. A $100 webcam is all you need to start recording video and posting it to discussion.

One particularly good place to use video in the online classroom is during the instructor’s wrap-up at the end of each week. I use weekly video posts to provide thoughts on what I believe to be the most important insights to come out of week’s discussion. They are also an opportunity to give video shout-outs to students who made interesting points during the week.

Another option is to do video interviews with student on their thoughts concerning the discussion. These can be done with WeToKu, a free service that allows two people with webcams to record an online video on a split screen that shows both participants at once. Students especially like being about to see and hear another student online.

There is no need to worry about production values in creating these recordings. The lighting does not have to be perfect, and there is no need to edit out the “ums” and other comments. Just make sure to avoid the common mistake of looking at the keyboard rather than the camera. Talk to the camera like you would to a friend. Your language will naturally become more expressive than with text comments, and looking away briefly, rolling eyes, and other facial expressions go a long way towards adding interest. These are a lot of fun to make, and a benefit to all involved.

As usual, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and cries of outrage in the comments section of the blog.

Ice, P., Curtis, R., Phillips, P. & Wells, J. (2007). Using Asynchronous Audio Feedback to Enhance Teaching Presence and Students’ Sense of Community. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(2), 3-25.

A video discussion example from my class. Watch it here >>

Free Technology 4 Teachers, 47 Alternatives to YouTube. Go here >>

  • bgibson135

    Chris Haskell (CoolTeacher – Boise State) mentioned VT in a December podcast as one of his top 3 tools. I had looked at it previously, but for some reason, and maybe that was it's pricing structure, did not think much of it. However, upon a second look, VT seems to offer an innovative approach, with easy interface for creating text, audio and video comments upon a subject.

    Duke University tried a campus-wide pilot of VoiceThread and after a couple of years decided only a limited segment of students/instructors were using it. Penn State is currently running a VoiceThread project.

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