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Video Response to Student Writing: The Greatest Love of All?

posted: 11.8.10 by archived

Isn’t it interesting that, while we ask our students to develop flexibility as they write across literacies, genres, and media, we rarely alter our own style of teaching? So much of what we do is pretty standard and predictable, not to mention print based. The feedback we provide on student papers is the perfect example of our overreliance on print, I think. We write and write and write—in the margins, on the backs of pages, in memos. And maybe, just maybe, some of it gets read.

untitled4So I’ve tried to shake things up and offer students the option of receiving traditional written comments on papers, getting audio feedback, or simply coming to meet with me for direct conversational feedback. For audio feedback, I used to record comments on an old Fisher-Price, battery-powered tape recorder. Since students don’t have tape decks anymore, I can do the same thing easily via MP3s.

My friend Jeff Sommers has collected lots of great advice, research, and even feedback examples on his site devoted to this practice, A Heterotopic Space. Jeff does a good job presenting the reasons audio feedback is effective.

For me, talking through my comments allows me to feel that I can better control the tone of my feedback through my voice, I can better connect with students, and also personalize the process. And it’s important to me to give students a choice, because I think it recognizes that we all learn differently.

Also, audio response allows me to delay getting to the assessment—thus ensuring that students have to listen to all (or most) of my feedback before (but hopefully instead of) focusing solely on the grade.

Finally, and here I’ll address a huge worry: an audio response always takes me less time than a written response.  I can say far more in five minutes than I can write in that same time—and a lot of this is explication, expansion, qualification, extra praise and encouragement (the things that we tend to skip when our wrists get tired).

So I’ve used most of this post to explain why audio feedback is good. But this post is actually about video feedback, which I’ve just started experimenting with. I’m going to ask for your feedback on one of my first tries with this mode of response.

I set rules for myself for these first few experiments. For instance, the process of responding to a single paper should take no longer than ten minutes (and hopefully I’ll get faster as I get used to this media), including editing. Here is one of my first tries:

I am responding to a student (whose name has been changed for this video) about a real paper—an evaluation essay on the video for Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.” I just used a Webcam and iMovie (you could use similar editing software like Premiere, Movie Maker or a few open-source options).

I think that what works about video feedback is that the response seems more personal, and I can make even constructive criticism sound more encouraging (I hope). I can also lead the student to read back through their work, as I do. And adding the text to the video reiterates and amplifies my key points, hopefully making them memorable.

However, there are also things that don’t work about this method. So, I am asking for your feedback. I’m sure others have experimented with video feedback too, and I’d love to hear what you do!

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Categories: Assessment, Jay Dolmage, Teaching with Technology
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4 Responses to “Video Response to Student Writing: The Greatest Love of All?”

  1. Holly Pappas Says:

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this–it’s both inspiring and terrifying! Especially for my online classes, I’ve been thinking about trying audio commenting for a more personal touch (and had also been pointed in the direction of Jeff Sommers’s website), but I hadn’t considered video. I would think that most students would love it, and the added text really helps to pull things together, I think.

    I’d be concerned about how long it would take me, not so much to actually say what I have to say but more in terms of getting my thoughts together and I can imagine fighting a sort of stage fright each time I started a new paper. Any advice? Do you bullet-point things ahead of time?

    And, come to think of it, what I was imagining was really video–my audio with a pdf of student paper on screen and marking things up as I spoke. A math colleague of mine does this, then send students both video file (via screencast) and their marked-up pdf. I never quite got all the technology down, though…Do you end up marking up drafts at all? Also, would you use this technique more in beginning drafts? Do you use different technologies at different stages? (Sorry for the bombardment.)

    I can imagine combining both techniques, but there would be a bit of a learning curve and perhaps time-consuming even when technology was mastered. Or I can imagine trying a pilot where I switch around commenting formats so that for a given essay assignment I’m doing pen-and-paper comments for one section, track changes for another, and audio/video for a third… At any rate, thanks for the inspiration!!

  2. Jay Dolmage, U.Waterloo Says:

    Hi Holly,
    Thanks so much for the comment.
    I wish there were a way to create a sort of video template for this, but there isn’t. It honestly only takes me about 10 minutes though. 12, max. And I think of that as pretty efficient. I also find that written comments exhaust me, and this format is still pretty fun for me.
    I like the screencast idea. But honestly, the benefit of audio that I liked the most was that I could use the tone of my voice to modulate comments. Video allows even more of this “para-language.” Being able to smile on camera is a great way to encourage students to revise, I think!
    Finally, I still very much believe in doing all kinds of forms of feedback, and also giving students some choice.
    Again thanks for the feedback — let me know how your experiments go!
    Jay

  3. Mary Alice Basconi Says:

    First, congrats on being so encouraging. I think your tone of voice is the key, and your lack of interruptors (uh, etc.). It’s great for content feedback but I wonder how you handle errors in mechanics.

  4. Jay Dolmage, U.Waterloo Says:

    Hi Mary Alice —

    Great question!
    No matter what form of feedback I am giving, I am still always handing the paper back to the student. For mechanical issues, I will try and circle one recurrent issue per draft, but throughout the paper.
    Then, I would actually bring the issue up in the commentary (video or audio) and refer them to an example that is circled on their paper: “have a look at page 2, the beginning of paragraph 3.” Something like that.
    Then I can actually read the sentence aloud, for instance, so they can “hear” what I am pointing out.

    Hope this makes sense!

    Jay