Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Responding to student papers with audiovisual feedback

Especially if you are in a true distance learning environment, you may be struck by how difficult it is to communicate with your students via writing all the time. You may never see them or talk to them, so you may find yourself under significant pressure to articulate to them clearly what you think should be done to improve their writing.

Welcome to the 21 st century.

I have been experimenting with the use of audiovisual (av) responses for my students’ writing, using the program Camtasia.

Here’s an example (on this Webpage you will see two links, one for a broadband connection and one for a 56k connection; you'll need some kind of software to play the video [I use RealPlayer]): http://broadcast.drexel.edu:8080/HTTPxml/

If you have the right technology, the process here is pretty clean and straightforward.

You need the students’ writing—I’ll call it a “paper” here—in electronic form. Then you open Camtasia, follow the pretty straightforward instructions to set up a recording, turn the recorder on, and then begin--almost as if you were in a conference--talking about and writing on the paper.

As you can see from the video above, any movement on the screen—highlights of blocks of text, notations made with a pen tablet, typed text—are recorded, as is the accompanying audio. Essentially, you’re talking through the student’s essay in a kind of virtual conference, commenting and annotating as you proceed. Writing teachers have long employed a similar philosophy in using tape recorders for feedback, but, as you can imagine, av feedback cranks this process up considerably by including a video of the paper.

In general, my students over the past two years have responded positively to this form of feedback, especially when asked specifically to compare it to conventional written feedback. For me, this process is much faster than evaluating papers conventionally, and I give the students more extensive feedback--perhaps saying nearly twice as many words as a I write in a written response.

One of the biggest obstacles, unsurprisingly, is the technology. You need a way to make the recordings, and then you need a way to get the file to the student. Here at Drexel, we have a cutting-edge system to solve the latter problem. The Camtasia-created video you viewed above was formatted automatically for your viewing pleasure by our Information Resources & Technology (IRT) department. All I did was load a file via the Web, and IRT took care of the rest. You could also load the file onto a course management system or even put the file on a cd; teachers who use tape recorded feedback have asked students to bring a tape to class, so you could ask them to bring a cd.

It's an intriguing technology, one that might improve the response conversation between student and teacher in a number of ways, while, not insignificantly, reducing the amount of time teachers spend responding.