by Kamilah Cummings
The old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” carries little weight in my life. I often find myself on miniquests to improve something, anything for that matter. It can range from my favorite turkey burger recipe to my inexplicably pathetic gardening skills. These miniquests are not limited to my personal dalliances with improving food or my garden. Like most of my colleagues, I am always in pursuit of ways to improve the learning experience for my students. Last quarter, this pursuit led me to experiment with using screencasts to provide feedback on writing assignments.
While participating in a workshop, I saw a screencast that was created using Jing software to provide feedback for a student. Screencasts are short videos that allow users to capture and record the content and activity on a computer screen. Depending on the software used to create the screencast, the user can record audio as well. Given my penchant for improvement, my interest was immediately piqued. I had already started using audio to supplement written feedback. That yielded positive feedback and better revisions from my students. I thought if my audio feedback improved the learning experience for students, why not try audiovisual feedback?
Like the example I saw, I used Jing software to create my screencasts. Jing is free software that allows users to record 5-minute videos. According to the software maker’s site, the 5-minute limit is intended to assist users in creating “focused communication.” I found that this 5-minute limit challenged me to be even more focused and concise with my feedback. After having to redo a few videos because I exceeded the time limit, I had an increased awareness of the major areas where I needed to give feedback and focused on limiting my narrative to those specific areas. In doing this, I realized that I can actually say a lot more in five minutes than I can write.
Although the ability to record audio as I reviewed a student’s paper was great, I did not rely solely on screencasts for my feedback. As was the case with my audio feedback, I used screencasts to supplement my written feedback. Therefore, I followed my usual approach of first reviewing student papers in Word and inserting comments. Afterward, I used Jing to create a screencast where I recorded a narrative that summarized and further explained my comments as I moved through the paper. Reviewing the papers in Word first required some additional work. However, this method works best for me at the moment because it connects my written and oral comments. With that being said, I will probably improve this method over time to make it more efficient. By my third round of screencasts, I could already see my process becoming quicker because of the reciprocal nature of this method. Focusing my feedback to five minutes for the screencasts made me rethink what was most important to address in the written feedback before I even recorded the screencast video. For example, I found myself leaving the more complex, detailed comments for the audio portion of the screencast because I felt I could explain them better orally than with my written comments.
Recording the screencasts allowed me to review my written feedback. I was able to explain corrections and offer solutions in real time with the screencast. It allowed me to interact with the student and the paper in a different way. The audiovisual aspect of screencasts felt as if I was reviewing the paper with the student. I was able to provide a more thorough explanation of my feedback. As a result, I found that students did a better job of applying the screencast feedback to their revisions in every area from content development to grammar. In a recent study where screencasts were used to provide feedback, researchers found that, “Many students implied that the auditory explanations, coupled with the visual representation of their essay, gave them enough information to make meaningful revisions and apply feedback” (Thompson and Lee). Several of my students told me that the audio personalized the feedback for them and that they found it more helpful than written feedback alone.
Student response to the screencast feedback was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I cannot remember the last time students were so enthusiastic about feedback. Although Jing and similar screencasting software have been available for a few years, none of my students reported ever receiving screencast feedback. Several students told me that they even shared the link to their screencasts with family, friends, and co-workers so that they could see how it worked. While the newness of the technology brought with it a certain wow factor, it did not negate the impact on the student learning experience. I received several unsolicited emails from students extolling the screencasts. One of my students wrote, “Amazing work with the feedback. This was very helpful in connecting your comments with actual commentary analysis. This tool was powerful because of the multiple learning theories you applied in your feedback. Thank you very much, and please continue this type of feedback.” Another student wrote, “I just saw your feedback. It was fantastic! Thank you so much. The Jing feature on the feedback was extremely helpful.”
I noticed that students who were previously apprehensive or sensitive about feedback seemed more at ease with the screencasts. Some students told me that it felt as if I was talking to them when they viewed the screencast. They commented that they felt better about the feedback and less intimidated than with written comments alone. Thompson and Lee assert, “The feedback may be perceived as friendly because students can hear tone of voice, recognizing that we as teachers are encouraging them and not criticizing them. We surmise that students may be gaining a way into the conversation because they hear us talking with them about writing, not preaching or using teacherly discourse” (Thompson and Lee).
Although my barking dogs ruined a few recordings, the overall screencasting experience was positive. It can require more time to create a screencast. However, as one perfects the process, it becomes less time consuming. In the end, I think the positive impact on student learning is worth it. Screencasts can be used in any discipline or field because they can be used to provide feedback on anything that can be viewed on a computer screen. They also offer an opportunity for feedback to become a conversation between students and teachers because students can download Jing or similar software and record a 5-minute video explaining their work or responding to the feedback. In fact, I just might experiment with adding this as an option for students next quarter. As I see it, there’s always room for improvement.
For examples of screencast feedback provided by The Transparent Teacher blog, visit http://alytapp.com/2011/10/27/assessment-feedback-via-screencast-examples/.
For more on Jing software, visit http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html
Thompson, Riki and Meredith J Lee. "Talking with Students through Screencasting: Experimentations with Video Feedback to Improve Student Learning." The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy 1 (2012).