January 8th, 2016

Flipping Feedback: Screencasting Feedback on Student Essays


screencasting feedback

Last semester I was faced with a larger-than-usual senior composition class for English majors—which of course also meant a larger-than-usual feedback load. With a new baby at home, I was more than a little concerned about finding the time to do it all. Fully aware of the research (e.g. Ferris, 1997; Hyland & Hyland, 2006) that favors more detailed feedback on student writing (seems “awkward: reword” just doesn’t cut it), I could not in good conscience consider reducing the quality or quantity of the feedback I usually give. Moreover, my feedback would typically include holding “writing conferences” (one-on-one consultations) with students—usually during office hours. But this was a big class, and there are just so many hours in a day.

I knew something had to give.

Having already tested the limits of the physical word, I turned to the virtual one. I had learned anecdotally of professors who sent audio podcasts of their feedback along with their written feedback, which seemed like a nifty idea. But, I thought, what if students could actually watch and hear me in a video as I go over their papers? If possible (which it is), that would approximate the kind of feedback experience I aimed to offer students without constraining it to a particular time or location.

Screencasting (recording and narrating actions performed by the instructor on a computer screen) did that and much more for me and my students. Below I describe the process and the resulting benefits.

Which software did I use?

After looking around a bit, I settled on using Screencast-O-Matic installed on my PC computer, but I know that Quicktime and other packages can work just as well.

What was the feedback process?

Students would submit their completed take-home writing assignments electronically. Especially for shorter assignments (e.g. fewer than three pages), I would only briefly skim over the text, and then launch Screencast-O-Matic to record my feedback in real time. In other words, students would see all highlighting, corrections, or suggested changes happen as I was making them on their Word documents. In effect, students would hear me “dialoguing” with them as I narrated what I was doing, why I was doing it, and what I was thinking throughout the feedback process. I would then return the marked-up document to students via email, along with a link to the (private) YouTube upload. To understand the written feedback, students would need to watch the video. For demonstration purposes, I created this short screencast of me providing feedback on a fictitious paper: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSZhNWCwSjA])

What did the students do with the feedback?

I recorded screencasts for all first drafts, and students were then required to submit a second draft. And that’s where the flipped part comes in. In most cases students would watch the screencasts before class, sometimes attempting a redraft at home, other times waiting to come to class to ask follow-up questions. On other occasions, particularly with feedback on longer essays, I was unable to get the screencasts back to students until just the night before class (Did I mention we have a new baby at home?), in which case the students would actually watch their videos at the outset of class on their various devices (kind of like having multiple versions of me talking to the students simultaneously about their papers), followed by in-class re-drafting.

What were some positive takeaways from the whole exercise?

Screencasting did more than simply allow me to maintain my usual feedback standards: in some respects, the virtual feedback was arguably better than my in-person (i.e. writing conference) feedback. For example, this particular class was comprised entirely of non-native speakers of English, thus potentially reducing the effectiveness of in-person conferences due to oral comprehension issues. By contrast, the screencast feedback could be played, paused, and re-played by students as often and as many times as they wished.

Another unexpected plus came from the “flipping”—particularly the in-class redrafting. What started as a kind of stop-gap measure because of late-night, last-minute feedback (i.e. students viewing the screencasts to start the class) eventually emerged as a dynamic activity that made class time more productive and student-centered. (And this was noticed by students too, as revealed in both mid-course and end-of-semester class surveys).

Anything negative?

It would be disingenuous to suggest that screencasting was a time-saver. It wasn’t. In some cases the screencasting took about as much time as I would normally expend giving just written feedback; on other occasions—longer papers in particular—the reading followed by oral commentary involved much more time than one would expect to spend if just writing in the margins of a student’s essay. But then “just writing in the margins” was never the point of giving screencasting a try in the first place.

Ferris, D. (1997). The influence of teacher commentary on student revision. TESOL Quarterly, 31(2), 315-339.

Hyland, K., & Hyland, F. (2006). Interpersonal aspects of response: Constructing and interpreting teacher written feedback. Feedback in second language writing: Contexts and issues, 206-224.

Ron Martinez has taught language and language learning at a number of universities, including the University of Oxford and San Francisco State University. He is currently an assistant professor of English at the Federal University of Paraná in Curitiba, Brazil, where he also heads a research group focusing on the challenges faced by Brazilian scientists who need to publish their work in English.

  • Jeff Sommers

    There's a very long history of using audio comments on student writing (dating back to 1958). Here are two recent publications of my own on the topic:
    “Response 2.0: Commentary on Student Writing for the New Millennium.” Journal of College Literacy and Learning. 39 (2013). 21-37. Print.
    “Response Rethought…Again: Exploring Recorded Comments and the Teacher-Student Bond.” Journal of Writing Assessment. 5:1 (January 2012) (22 pp.) http://www.journalofwritingassessment.org/

  • Hi, Dr. Martinez!
    We love the fact that you see the value in given your student a more human, personal type of feedback through audio. We would love to show you how VoiceThread can further improve that communication with students.

    • Lake

      I'm interested in what direction the people at VoiceThread would take with this idea. I like the thought of recording audio comments as I read, but the prospect of uploading dozens of videos to YouTube immediately turned me off the idea somewhat. Could VoiceThread make the process this article describes more efficient? Or would it basically just be a different place to upload the Screencast video?

      • Hi, Lake!
        Uploading the videos to VoiceThread is different for a few reasons:
        1. VoiceThread is FERPA compliant and we signed the Student Privacy Pledge
        2. You can upload multiple videos to the same VoiceThread, each on its own "slide".
        3. Students can ask questions, answer questions and discuss right on the video
        4. You can easily and privately share the VoiceThread
        5. You can easily change, rearrange and edit the content on a VoiceThread

  • Mike Ramirez

    Well done! I have used screencasts in several ways in my courses. Of course, it can be a very effective way to deliver content in short segments (online classes). I often use it to create tutorials, explanations, discussion starters, and yes, use it for feedback purposes. I also do like Screencast-o-matic. It is my "go-to" tool. It is easy to use. Using screencasts for feedback purposes offers a personal touch. This is an essential and effective component whether it is a F2F or online class. I liked your point about students being able to review the feedback as often as necessary. Students can take the time they need to process the information.

    You are correct. Screencasting feedback is not necessarily a time saver. Some of my students also struggle with academic writing. By offering video feedback, this can be an effective tool to help them develop this skill. Thanks for sharing!

  • Gord Preston

    Great article. Love the passion for student centred teaching. Having students review the feedback in class is a great idea.

    I have used various forms of this type of feedback; audio comments in .pdf documents, video summary (talking head), VoiceThread. I have settled on putting line numbering on the student documents and then doing purely audio commentary (.mp3 with Audacity) with reference to the line numbers. I upload the document with line numbers and the audio file to the assignment feedback section of the course site on the learning management system. I find this is most efficient use of my time while giving robust feedback to students. As well, run into no technological/compatibility issues, and have had good student utilization and feedback. Thanks again for the article.

  • Dr. T

    Was the Screen-cast-o-Matic feedback for each student ADA compliant, the guidelines of which posit that a text-based transcript and/or audio captioning must accompany all audio/visual learning objects? If not, complying with ADA may considerably increase the instructor's time/work, especially for a larger-than usual class load, rather than just providing text-based formative feedback only.

    • Dr. LWP

      Learning objects must be ADA compliant, but feedback is not considered a learning object. The only feedback that needs to be ADA compliant is feedback to students who have requested accommodations. In a fully online course, you might advise students that they will be given feedback via audio, then allow them to request another option if needed.