In a previous article I talked about the benefits of providing voice feedback on student work. (See “Voice Feedback for Better Learning” in the November 2013 issue of Online Classroom.
) To summarize, research has shown that voice feedback:
- Increases student retention of both the feedback itself, and the content to which the feedback refers
- Facilitates a sense of greater instructor caring
- Allows for more feedback in less time
- Improves a student's ability to understand nuance
- Reduces a student's sense of isolation
But instructors can do one better by delivering feedback through screencasting. A screencast is a recording of the action on a monitor along with voice narration. Many people already use it to record tutorials on technical functions, such as how to post a discussion message to an online forum. Screencasts are easy to make. You simply open the software, define the area to be recorded by dragging your cursor across the monitor to make a rectangular field, click “record,” and start speaking and doing. The system will record everything that happens on the monitor along with the narration.
Screencasting is an ideal way for instructors to add a visual component to voice feedback, and make the experience similar to the student sitting next to them in the office. The instructor records his or her comments while highlighting passages in the student's work where the feedback applies. A faculty member can say “Here you talked about this particular concept, but notice that you did not include a discussion of this related concept. It should have gone right here.” Now students get both the voice comments and an understanding of where they apply.
For instance, very often a student's problem is in the organization of their work. Paragraphs might be in the wrong place, or ideas fragmented and spread across a paper. A screencast allows the instructor to not only highlight the problems, but also move the passages around the work in front of the student's eyes so that the student can see alternate organizations. Now the student gets the benefit of not only learning the problem, but seeing the solution. Screencasting has the additional benefit that is it recorded, so the student can go back over it again piece by piece later to recall points, unlike a live session where the points can be forgotten or misremembered later.
One of the simplest screencasting tools is Jing, made by Techsmith. Jing allows for recordings up to five minutes long. Once done, the result can be saved on the user's desktop as a video file, or uploaded to Screencast.com, Techsmith's free cloud-based video hosting system. Cloud hosting is the preferable method, since video files can be quite large—often too large for an email attachment or to be sent through an LMS's messaging system. Once the video is loaded to the cloud, the instructor merely has to provide students with a link to the video and they can play it on their own.
Screencast-O-Matic has the advantage of allowing for screencasts up to 15 minutes long that can be uploaded to the cloud. Unlike Jing, the free version produces a watermark over the video, but the paid version is only $15 per year, and well worth the investment. Plus, Screencast-O-Matic allows you to record yourself by webcam at the same time that you record the screen, with the webcam shot showing up as a smaller box in the corner of the video. This is a potentially valuable addition, because much of communication comes through non-verbal cues such as facial expressions. The student will be more focused on the feedback when they can see the instructor's face. Even the mere presence of a face helps remind the student that the instructor is a person, which improves the sense of social presence, and can help comfort a student if the feedback points out particularly severe deficiencies.
Camtasia Studio is Techsmith's paid screencasting and editing software, and something to strongly consider if you plan to get serious about screencasting. Camtasia Studio is also an excellent video editing tool, and ideal for putting together video content for an online course. Techsmith just released Camtasia Relay, which comes free with Camtasia Studio, and allows you to record your webcam with your screencast, just like Screencast-O-Matic. One nice feature is the ability to change the size of the webcam shot in the video. You might want to start a video with just a shot of your face through the webcam, then shrink that when you are directing the viewer's attention to the monitor, and enlarge it again for your conclusion. This can create a great effect for feedback or a tutorial.
Take a look at this example of screencasting feedback, and try it with your students:
John Orlando has 15 years' experience in online education, mostly learning by trial and error. He helped develop and lead online learning programs at the University of Vermont and Norwich University, and he has taught faculty how to teach online as well as how to use technology in their face-to-face teaching. He serves on the Online Classroom editorial advisory board.